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Exploited Foreign Women Lacking Support in Law

Women from foreign countries who come to Norway and Sweden to form families with Norwegian and Swedish men lack support if they become victims of domestic violence. This was the theme of the conference Kvinnor och barn i rättens gränslan – women and children in the legal borderland – arranged 17 March in Oslo.

Katarina Björkgren. Photo: private
 Katarina Björkgren. Photo: private

The conference was a follow-up of a meeting held in 2012 on the same theme. That conference was arranged in connection with the presentation of a Swedish government report on the incidence of violence against foreign women and their children who come to Sweden to live with Swedish men. Measures to improve their situation were also discussed.

‘The background to this year’s conference is that nothing has happened since the report was presented. The problem hasn’t been dealt with, and we wanted to bring attention to that,’ says Katarina Björkgren from the Västra Götaland county board.

What are the most important conclusions from the conference?
‘That we have a large group of women who don’t receive the same treatment as the majority population when it comes to domestic violence, despite the fact that our countries have signed international human rights conventions. Since these minority women fall primarily under the so-called Aliens Act, milder forms of violence often pass unnoticed. Majority women, in contrast, are clearly told that all forms of domestic violence are unacceptable.’

‘Another important conclusion was that the legislation enables men to take advantage of foreign women in a way resembling human trafficking. I also see it as important to focus on the children. Some men are also out to exploit the women’s children, something the women often cannot do anything about. So the legislation doesn’t lead to just exploitation of adult women, but also paedophilia. And nobody is responsible for the children.’

What is the most important work that needs to be done?
‘Sweden has a two-year rule, meaning that during the first two years, a foreigner’s residence permit is conditional on ties with a Swedish resident. In Norway, the limit is three years, but the government has proposed an increase to five years. The measure held as most important was to make Norway reconsider the raising of the limit. Compliance with our human rights commitments will be difficult if we have people in society who are forced to endure violence for five years because they’re afraid they will lose their residence permits if they tell somebody. Many of these women are from countries to which it is socially impossible to return as a divorcee. If they go back, their only opportunity to put bread on the table may be a life in prostitution.

What’s the biggest problem right now: the legislation and the way it’s applied, or the lack of information to the women?
‘Both. When women come to live with a Norwegian or Swedish man, they usually don’t know the language very well, and in Norway they’re not entitled to an interpreter. All of this makes it difficult for them to learn about their rights. They are usually not covered by information campaigns targeting other immigrant groups. We need to focus our work on the legislation, on informing those who implement the laws and on the women.’

The conference was hosted by the three Swedish county boards inVärmland, Västra Götaland and Norrbotten together with the Swedish Embassy and the MiRA Centre. The participants consisted of politicians and public administrators as well as representatives from organisations and academia. The plan is to arrange a new conference in two years to follow up the progress made in the area.

Updated 3 May 2020