Describing the “gender equality experience” in Sweden as being a “contradictory process,” a United Nations rights expert has said that the root causes of violence against women in the country have remain unchallenged and become normalized despite an impressive amount of legislation aimed at stamping out the problem.
Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on violence against women, its causes and consequences, made her remarks after returning from a fact-finding mission to Sweden, where she held meetings with officials, women’s groups and others, and talked with women who have suffered extreme violence.
“The gender equality experience in Sweden has been a contradictory process. While the equal opportunity agenda has paved the way for public representation of women, it was not effective in countering the deeply rooted patriarchal gender norms that sustain unequal power relations between women and men,” she said in a press statement.
“As a result, the root causes of violence against women remained unchallenged and perceived as pertaining to the private realm of life. In the quest for equality, violence against women is said to have become normalized and personalized.”
In particular, Ms. Ertürk highlighted a 2001 survey, commissioned by the Government, which found that 46 per cent of all women have experienced male violence since their fifteenth birthday, while 12 per cent had been subjected to such violence in the last year prior to the survey.
“The study also highlights that those men who perpetrate violence against women can be found at all income and education levels. Contrary to common stereotypes, they are “normal”, more often than not, Swedish-born men. Similarly, women who suffer gender-based violence can be found in all segments of society.”
Describing the “legislative and institutional response” of the authorities to violence against women as “impressive,” she said that despite this, only about 10 per cent of all reported crimes of sexual violence result in a prosecution of the perpetrator. Ways of improving this situation, she suggested, include specific training of police, medical and other personnel, and also more proactive methods of investigation.
While emphasizing that “violence against women remains a mainstream problem in Sweden,” the Special Rapporteur said that some groups appear to face higher risks, including for example women from immigrant communities and he called for special protection and assistance for such groups from both the State and society at large.
“In this regard, it is important to recall that cultural, traditional or religious considerations can never be invoked to justify any form of violence against women,” said the expert, who is unpaid and works in an independent, personal capacity.