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Strategies to prevent violence shared across borders

The Nordic countries have come a long way in preventing and combatting men’s violence against women and domestic violence, but the work lacks an intersectional approach. This has been established in the recent report, The Istanbul Convention: the Nordic Way. The document discusses how well different Nordic countries live up to the Istanbul Convention and highlights best practices for prevention work within the various countries.

All Nordic countries have signed the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, and all, with the exception of Iceland, have so far ratified the convention and made it legally binding. The report The Istanbul Convention: the Nordic Way focuses on selected articles in the Convention and how well different countries address them, with a focus on data collection and research, education and awareness.

To summarise, the Nordic countries work on local, regional and national levels against violence, often in close cooperation with NGOs. However, when it comes to data collection and research into specific contexts, the authors lack a more inclusive, intersectional approach. They argue that by discussing violence beyond gender and including other power dimensions that could be as important, an even greater understanding of the problem could be reached and it would be possible to produce better-targeted efforts.

“We know, for example, that people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable in intimate relationships, and women with disabilities contest with a “double” vulnerability. More can be done to understand the issues and more efforts can be taken towards prevention,” says Mari Helenedatter Aarbakke, Senior Adviser at KUN, and one of the authors of the report.

Focus on similarities instead of differences

The authors also point to the risk of stigmatising or disparaging specific groups of victims. Honour-based violence is, for example, a hotly debated issue in several Nordic countries. Meanwhile, violence in national minority communities and among indigenous peoples does not receive the same levels of attention.

“Honour-based violence or shaming-violence as well as controlling behaviour are not necessarily limited to a few ethnic minorities in the Nordic countries and we can decide to have a more open debate about these phenomena. We need to focus on similarities instead of differences, since these are important issues in all cultures: how are women and men restricted by norms of gender and sexuality? And how do these norms promote abuse of power, violence and oppression? A discussion on honour-based violence can provide answers to many challenges revealed during the Western #metoo campaign and vice versa,” said Helenedatter Aarbakke.

The report also highlights a number of strong examples of preventive work in the various countries. Several of the representatives from both NGO’s and the public sector also spoke at KUN’s conference in Oslo on 8 March, Preventing Violence Against Women in the Nordic Countries, when the report was presented.

The Nordic paradox

Although the Nordic countries have among the highest levels of gender equality in the world and take a zero tolerance approach to men’s violence against women as well as domestic violence, a high proportion of women there are subjected to abuse, a phenomena which is often referred to as “the Nordic paradox”.

“The largest challenge to overcoming men’s violence against women as well as domestic violence is to work with and challenge our deep-rooted stereotypes about this violence,” says Dr. Marceline Naudi, President of Grevio, Council of Europe’s expert group, which also oversees countries’ commitments in relation to the Istanbul Convention.

Historically, prevention work for domestic violence has been based on heterosexual relationships and on the assumption that women are victims and men are perpetrators. However, several Nordic countries are now working with special measures to include other relationships and sexual orientations as well as to adopt the perspective that even girls and women can be perpetrators and boys and men can be victims.

The follow-up to the Istanbul Convention is important in order to ensure a continuous effort to prevent gender-based violence.

Updated 10 December 2019