"More attention must be paid to domestic
violence against women" said Ms Ingegerd SahlstrŲm, state secretary for
Equality Affairs 1998
A website on violence against women
The government has released this website in order to inform about issues related to violence against women and about the measures proposed in the Bill. The website is administrated by the Division for Equality Affairs at the Ministry of Labour. The main part of the information is in Swedish, but some material in English can be found. The intention is to supplement the English parts of the website gradually.
Commission on the Status of Women
S T A T E M E N T B Y
Ms INGEGERD SAHLSTR÷M
State Secretary for Equality
on agenda item 3 (c): Follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women
3 March 1998
Let me first of all refer to the statement held yesterday by the Presidency of the European Union, to which my delegation fully subscribes.
This year's meeting of the Commission is indeed a crucial one. The four themes we will discuss, are all fundamental in order to achieve gender equality. If women cannot enjoy human rights equally with men and if women continue to be subjected to violence we will never be able to achieve what we agreed upon in Beijing. The human rights of women is at the heart of all four themes. This Commission must be in the forefront of promoting the rights of women world-wide and should therefore now agree on practical and concrete steps to implement our common commitments.
The purpose of my intervention is to deliberate further on the issue of violence against women, and to convey some national experiences from my own country, Sweden, in this field.
I would like to pay tribute to the secretary-generalís report under item 3 c, entitled "Thematic issues before the Commission". The report contains, inter alia, some very valuable recommendations concerning violence against women. I would in particular like to highlight - and subscribe to - two conclusions from the report:
Firstly, there is still a lack of understanding and knowledge about violence against women and its root causes. In addition, approaches tend to be fragmented rather than integrated.
Secondly, more attention must be paid to domestic violence, recognising that violence by a husband - or boy friend for that matter - should be treated in the same way as violence by a stranger.
The CEDAW Committee has made an important contribution to this end in their adoption of General Recommendation No. 19 on violence against women. Sweden would like to stress the important role of the Committee in overseeing compliance with this recommendation.
Much remains to be done to eliminate menís violence against women. It is however evident that many Member States have undertaken a series of measures since the Beijing Conference.
To my Government, measures to combat menís violence against women and to further support women victims of such violence, is a top priority. Violence against women is the most extreme example of imbalance in the power relations between women and men.
It stems from a notion of menís "right to" dominate women. As long as such violence persists, gender equality does not prevail, neither in society at large nor between individual women and men.
Sweden is therefore not an equal society. We have reached far in terms of equality, but in spite of several measures undertaken in recent years, thousands of women still report that they have been subjected to violence - often by a man with whom they have a close relationship.
Domestic violence, although occurring in every society, is however often hidden. It is our duty as Governments to recognise it, and to bring it out from its murky private corners. Domestic violence is not a private matter. It is a matter of human rights and a matter of the very core of equality; namely equal relations between independent women and men, marked by mutual respect, consideration and tolerance.
In Sweden, we are now trying to deal with domestic violence in a partly new way. The Government proposed - last month - a Bill to Parliament on violence against women, including on domestic violence.
One of the main proposals in the Bill is the introduction of a new offence in the Penal Code. The offence is called gross violation of a womanís integrity. Its purpose is to deal with repeated male violence towards women with whom they have a close relationship. The introduction of the new offence will make it possible for the courts to substantially increase the penal value for the acts committed against the woman, when the acts are part of a process which constitutes a violation of integrity. Thus it will be possible, in a much better way than with existing legislation, to take the entire situation of the abused woman into account. The new crime does not exclude that the perpetrator at the same time can be prosecuted, for instance, for rape or other gross crimes.
Changes will also be made to the social welfare legislation, thus marking that the social services must provide women exposed to violence in the home, with help and support.
Allow me to describe some of the other proposals in my Governments Bill on violence against women.
Prostitution is closely linked to violence against women. Sweden will criminalize the buying of sexual services. The prohibition covers the buying of and the attempts to buy prostitution, whether on the street, in so-called massage-institutes or in brothels. Thereby we mark that prostitution is not accepted in our society.
We do however consider that it is not reasonable to punish the person who sells a sexual service. In the majority of cases this person, often a woman, is a weaker part in the transaction, who is exploited bodily and economically.
We firmly believe that by prohibiting the buying of sexual services, prostitution and its damaging effects can be counteracted more effectively. It goes however without saying that such a prohibition must be combined with social measures.
The international sex industry is growing also in my country. This is deplorable. In order to get a clearer picture of the extent of trafficking in women to and from Sweden, my Government has designated the National Police Board to be the Government's national rapporteur on these issues.
Another important legislative change concerns sexual harassment in working life. The present rules will be considerably strengthened, making it an obligation for every employer to prevent such harassment at the work place and to investigate alleged or factual sexual harassment between employees. The employer who does not comply with the rules, runs the risk of having to do so under the penalty of a fine and to pay damages to an injured employee.
May I add, Madam Chairperson, that my Government will substantially increase the punishment for female genital mutilation as well as making it a crime to neglect to report or reveal gross sexual offences. We will also widen the definition of rape so that certain acts, presently defined as sexual coercion, will be considered as rape.
But legislation, important as it is, is however not enough to hinder violence against women, nor to support women victims. As is stated in the secretary-generalís report, a holistic approach is needed. Measures have to be undertaken within the police, the prosecution, the social and health services and in many other areas.
We are now trying to introduce such a holistic approach in my country. Let me give you an example. The Government has, by special decision, charged all relevant agencies to undertake common efforts to prevent violence and make their handling of cases on violence more effective. The agencies involved are, for instance, the administrations of the police, the prosecution, the courts, the prisons and the social services. They must all draw up action plans for their work on violence against women. They must furthermore cooperate with each other and with relevant NGOs and they must follow international developments. They must also report to the Government every year on measures taken.
This way we believe the possibilities will increase for a more coherent and effective work, that can be regularly monitored.
But training is also essential. As has been the case in many other countries, Swedish officials from the justice system, the social services, the health and medical services, at central, regional and local level, will now undergo a training on the causes and consequences of violence against women. This nation wide effort will be financed over the national budget.
We are also making changes in the examination requirements so that those who study law, medicine, psychology, social care, etc. must have studied gender issues and issues of violence against women in order to get a degree.
The important role of NGOs cannot be enough underlined in this context. The work undertaken, for instance, by the shelters is indispensable to the women victims and their children. In Sweden, there are presently 131 such local shelters. They, as well as their umbrella organisations, will now receive increased annual State support. Also other NGOs who work, for example with young people and to improve the situation of migrant and disabled women, will receive special funding.
In Sweden, men have begun to organise themselves in order to deal with and discuss menís violence against women. There are also several crisis centra for men at risk of becoming violent. Such NGOs are of course most welcome. If men themselves do not act to prevent violence, how can we ever believe that it will be eliminated? Men must take their due responsibility for the achievement of gender equality.
Madam Chairperson, we are presently undertaking several other measures. I will not dwell on them in detail. Let me just mention a few: we will improve statistics on violence. We will set up a national crisis telephone line, around the clock. We will study if it is feasible to introduce electronic monitoring of men who breach a restraining order. The Government has recently set up a web site on the Internet on issues concerning violence against women.
Let me finish by saying that Sweden continuously supports activities to combat violence against women in our international development co-operation, inter alia through training programs for law enforcement personnel and personnel within the social services. Furthermore, Sweden will this year also give a financial contribution to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to support the efforts to enhance the enjoyment by women of their human rights and to prevent violence against women. In this context, may I add that Sweden strongly supports the work of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.
Women are denied their rights in all parts of the world, every day. They are subject to domestic abuse, to rape and other sexual offences, to sexual harassment, to dowry-related violence, to female genital mutilation. In some parts of the world they are denied their right to work, to receive health care and other human rights. According to recent reports, some women are denied work because they are not virgins.
These appalling atrocities occur in times of peace, as well as in times of war. In public life as well as in private. It is the duty of all Governments and of the international community to take effective measures to put an end to such crimes. The international instruments are in place. There is simply no excuse.
Thank you Madam Chairperson.