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Nordic Protection of Battered Women Relying on Volunteers

All Nordic national governments have violence against women on the political agenda. However, many women and children who need protection must still turn to voluntary organisations. The network Nordic Women Against Violence wants to spread awareness among decision-makers and stimulate discussion about women’s shelters.

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‘To reduce the violence once and for all, we need better preventive work. We have the same number of women and children at the shelters today as we had 20 years ago,’ says Tove Smaadahl.
She has been involved in the women’s shelter movement for 35 years and has followed the work to protect battered women closely. She is currently the head of the Norwegian national secretariat for coordination of women’s shelters, Krisesentersekretariatet.

You and your Nordic cooperation partners will host an event at the Nordic Forum in Malmö 12–15 June. Can you tell us about it?
‘Through the network Nordic Women Against Violence, we have made a film about the work of the Nordic women’s shelters. We’re going to show the film at the Forum. We have already shown the film in several U.S. cities, and it’s really inspiring. It portrays the creativity and engagement that can be found in the movement. After the film, we’re going to have a discussion about the violence prevention work and the challenges that the shelters are facing. Many of them are struggling financially.’

Looking at the Nordic countries, are there any differences?
‘The Swedish shelters have the largest share of volunteers. I think it’s fantastic that their movement is so strong, but the focus on volunteerism makes the financial side of it unpredictable. Norway is the only Nordic country where the municipalities have a legal responsibility to offer protection to women and children exposed to violence. This has given some shelters a more solid financial base. However, it has also forced some shelters in small municipalities to close when local governments have decided to buy the shelter services from a neighbouring municipality.’

Tove Smaadahl
 Tove Smaadahl

Why do the Nordic women’s shelters need to cooperate? 
‘Sometimes when a woman has to flee the country, it can be coordinated through the network Nordic Women Against Violence. It’s not easy to hide in the small Nordic countries. The network enables shelters and other actors to exchange experiences and put joint pressure on politicians. Those of us who are involved in the shelters can see what the problems are and it is our responsibility to try to make things better.’

What are some of the problems?
‘For example, we encounter many women who came to our part of the world through marriage. To gain permanent residency status, they have to stay married to their husbands for 2–7 years depending on where they are from. This can make it difficult to leave a destructive relationship. We need new rules so that these women will be able to stay in their new country without being married to an abusive husband.’

How can men’s violence against women be stopped?
‘The violence is a criminality and public health problem, and the Nordic governments have to invest more in preventive work. There have been huge campaigns to combat other public health problems, such as smoking, but we still haven’t seen a similar initiative for this type of violence.’


This is an article about one of the projects granted funding through the Nordic Gender Equality Fund.

Updated 11 February 2021