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Violence against women: A look at the Swedish government’s 40-point plan

Sweden's government has announced a nationwide plan to fight male violence against women after several recent killings of women by their current or former partners. The proposals include tougher sentences but also preventative work.

Violence against women: A look at the Swedish government's 40-point plan
The proposals include strengthening sentences for several crimes against women, but no concrete support for shelters. File photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The government says that its measures are intended to work towards the following goals: “Violence must be prevented and the men who commit crimes against women must be punished. Women who are exposed to crime should get the help they need.”

“This is the most comprehensive package against men’s violence against women for at least 20 years,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson told a press conference where he announced the measures with Minister for Gender Equality Märta Stenevi and Interior Minister Mikael Damberg.

Märta Stenevi said efforts are needed to change norms “so that no boys will grow up and become men who beat and rape”.

Preventative work 

The measures include a national focus on violence prevention, including initiatives aimed at sharing knowledge and strengthening cooperation between relevant authorities. This includes both early stage preventative work (to stop men at risk of violence from committing crimes) but also initiatives to reduce the risk of re-offending.

From autumn 2022, school curriculums will be changed so that the subject that was previously called “sex and relationships” will also address gender equality. And the government proposes initiatives to raise awareness of its consent law, which makes explicit in legislation that passivity does not equal consent.

As well as schools, sports associations were highlighted as a part of society to be involved in preventative work, and Sweden’s Center for Sports Research (CIF) will be asked to identify opportunities to introduce anti-violence initiatives.

Better victim support

The government pledged to review “possible ways to provide women’s and girls’ shelters and other non-profit organisations that work with crime victims better planning conditions” but stopped short of promising funding. One of the challenges these organisations face is their reliance on donations and government support, which is often only guaranteed for a fixed time, therefore making long-term work difficult.

It did say that it would review the need for more funding for The National Center for Women’s Peace (NCK), which runs a phone line for victims of crime and which reported an increase in calls in recent years.

And it noted: “Women exposed to violence should not have to leave a shelter and return to the perpetrator of violence because they lack a permanent home.” An inquiry will therefore look into municipalities’ responsibilities in providing housing for women and children exposed to violence, for example whether people in this situation can be prioritised.

Vulnerable groups

The report outlined the need to support particularly vulnerable groups, including those who are involved in pornography and victims of human trafficking, but also foreign residents who are in Sweden on a permit based on their relationship. 

“In some situations, there needs to be an opportunity to grant a person a residence permit despite the fact that the relationship on which the permit was based on has ceased, e.g. due to violence in the relationship,” it noted, saying that an investigation will be launched into possible changes to Sweden’s migration laws to protect these people from the threat of deportation.

Stricter penalties

The proposals also include tougher penalties for crimes including rape, hate crimes with a gender motive, violation of a woman’s integrity, and soliciting. Some of these harsher penalties had already been submitted, others are currently being investigated and some will now be added to the agenda.

One example of a review that the government says it will now act on will see punishments of fines for paying for sex removed, so that the crime is punishable by imprisonment only. The government now plans to put this to parliament.

And as well as increasing the sentences, the government proposes lowering the threshold for issuing restraining orders, making it easier to use electronic tags on people subject to restraining orders, and increasing the punishment for violating such orders.

And the government will investigate whether it should be made easier to deprive perpetrators of contact with their children. 

“We have far too many cases where women live with a protected identity, but still somehow have to solve the issue of contact with the father. We must move away from the view that the man does not hit his children and therefore should have contact with them,” said Johansson.

Improving skills and methods used by authorities

When The Local has spoken to people working in the field of male violence, a commonly raised obstacle is limited understanding of how to deal with these crimes by police and other authorities.

Seven of the 40 measures outlined by the government relate to development of skills and methods, including more in-depth statistics on violence against women; skills development within the police including improved understanding of mental health issues and how to work with other agencies or social services; mapping the research currently being done into violence against women, and a review into the situation for women and children who have been exposed to violence and are living under a protected identity.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party

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