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Initiatives and action in the wake of the Me Too movement

How has the Me Too movement influenced the political agenda in the Nordic countries and the Baltic States? A recent survey by Nordic Information on Gender, NIKK, shows that these countries have taken a number of initiatives to deal with and prevent sexual harassment. These range from tougher legislation and expanding the remit of the responsible authorities to broad-scale information campaigns.

In autumn 2017, the Me Too movement went viral across the world. Women from many different industries shared their experiences of sexual harassment and united call for action. Women’s testimonies were given more space in the media and generated debate. In the Nordic and Baltic countries, the Me Too movement became part of the national political agenda, but what happened afterwards?

The new survey “One year after Me Too – Initiatives and action in the Nordic and Baltic countries” was developed on the initiative of the Swedish presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2018. The material was compiled by NIKK and is based on data from these countries and supplemental interviews with key individuals.

Four areas in particular have emerged from the survey in which these countries have acted based on Me Too: New and updated legislation, mission and organisation, requirements for employers, and surveys and spreading knowledge.
In the Nordic countries, sexual harassment is prohibited in the workplace and in the community at large. Legislation in each of these countries regulates this in working life. There is also criminal law legislation which makes it clear that sexual harassment is a crime that must be reported to the police. But the legislation are not always entirely clear and need to be supplemented and developed further. In the wake of Me Too, many countries in the Nordic and Baltic regions, have strengthened their legislation concerning abuse, harassment and sexual violence against women.

Another key issue has been ensuring compliance with the legislation. In the Nordic countries, employers have a responsibility to create a work environment that is free from sexual harassment. In connection with Me Too, various steps have been taken to strengthen and expand the remit of the supervisory authorities, with the aim of empowering them to ensure that employers know about the legislation and shoulder their responsibilities under it. In several countries, the chain of justice has also been discussed and steps have been taken to strengthen the judicial follow-up of sexual harassment.

But to put a stop to sexual harassment, you need more than just political will: decisions must be well anchored, and abuses must be prevented and combated at every turn – at work, at school and in the public domain. This requires broad cooperation and dialogue between social institutions and other parties. In the wake of Me Too, broad-scale information campaigns have been initiated targeting employers as well as other civil society actors. Several countries have also initiated surveys and investigations aimed at gathering facts and knowledge on which to base ongoing efforts to put a stop to sexual harassment.

NIKK’s survey of initiatives and action was presented at a seminar in Stockholm in November. It was attended by government representatives from the Nordic and Baltic countries, as well as stakeholders from civil society, the Nordic Association, and the international arena. One of the speakers was Åsa Regnér. When the Me Too campaign was gathering momentum, she was serving as the Minister for Gender Equality in Sweden. Today, she is the Deputy Executive Director of UN Women.
“When the Me Too movement began, in my role as the Minister for Gender Equality I felt immediately  that I wanted to act. But what struck me was that in Sweden we already had the regulatory framework in place. It was clear what the employer and the trade unions were to do, but almost nobody was doing anything! It was a shock.”
In her view, a positive aspect of the campaign in Sweden was that it really was a wake-up call which led to additional political action. On the global stage, Åsa Regnér has seen how Me Too is continuing as an ongoing, live debate. But she also expresses concern over an ongoing backlash against gender equality and questions related to sexual and reproductive health.

NIKK’s survey highlights various initiatives that have been taken in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Estonia amended in its criminal law legislation in 2017 to introduce sexual harassment as a separate category of offence. One of the participants at the conference was Kadi Viik, editor of the feminist platform and Internet magazine Feministeerium, which published the Me too manifesto in Estonia. In her opinion, the campaign has had a huge impact in Estonia and been discussed at many levels.

According to Kadi Viik, the political response in the wake of Me Too in Estonia has been mixed. She believes that one of the reasons for this is the influence of conservative forces on current politics.
“The government is so afraid of extremists gaining more power that they are being accommodating,” she says.

Read NIKK’s survey “One year after Me Too – Initiatives and action in the Nordic and Baltic countries” here.

Updated 2 July 2020