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The Nordic Countries Stand United Against Violence

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Zero tolerance for gender-based violence is a theme identified by the Nordic Council of Ministers as particularly important in the Nordic gender equality work. As a result, conference participants from across the Nordic region met in late September in Iceland to discuss how men’s violence against women can be prevented.

Foto: Colourbox
 Foto: Colourbox

Under the banner Zero Tolerance: Seminar on Actions to Prevent Gender-based Violence, eleven speakers talked about successful examples from the Nordic countries. The Istanbul Convention served as an important springboard for the conference: there was a strong focus on strategies to prevent and combat violence, to protect victims and to prosecute the perpetrators. (Read more about the Convention to the right on this page).

‘Patriarchal structures behind the violence’

José Mendes Bota, the Council of Europe’s Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, was one of the first speakers at the conference. When talking about the underlying reasons for the violence, he showed no hesitation:

‘Men’s violence against women is ultimately a result of patriarchal structures. All men bear a responsibility for the violence women have to endure. Even if the majority of all men do not engage in violence, we all have a responsibility to work against it, to say no.’

One-third of all women victimised

Another issue that received attention was the large number of unreported cases. A new prevalence study by FRA – the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights – was presented at the conference. The study, based on interviews with 42 000 women in 28 EU countries, shows that one-third of the women had been the victim of physical or sexual violence after turning 15 years old.

The women in the EU study were also asked about the consequences of the violence. Many of them, especially those who had experienced sexual violence, talked about feelings of guilt and shame and an unwillingness to report the crimes to the police. Only a small fraction of the victims end up reporting them or requesting support.

Talking about the violence helps

The healthcare system is the primary channel through which victims of violence are reached. Development of routines to detect violence and adequate knowledge among healthcare staff are therefore of central importance. Helena Ewalds from Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare presented the work in her country to routinely ask patients questions about violence:

‘The best way to prevent violence is to talk about it. Routinely asking questions about violence in the healthcare system can mean increased security for both patients and staff. It may initiate a process in the patient, which in turn can lead to the victim receiving the support he or she needs.’

Carin Götblad. Photo: Ulrika Helldén
 Carin Götblad. Photo: Ulrika Helldén

Carin Götblad, Sweden’s national coordinator against violence in intimate relationships, had similar thoughts. Last spring, she submitted 50 propositions to the Swedish Government, including that healthcare and social service providers should routinely ask questions about violence.

‘Asking questions about violence is controversial, but the results show that we have a lot to gain from it. We need to ask in a non-accusing way. Let’s compare it to how we already are asking questions about smoking and drinking,’ he said.

Another strategy to improve the care of victims is to talk to them in their own homes. María Gunnarsdóttir presented ‘keeping the window open’ – a method that has proved successful in Iceland.

‘When the police get to a crime scene where there is suspicion of domestic violence, they have noticed that the victims are more open to receiving help. So therefore there are social workers present to guide the victims to healthcare providers and other support functions.’

Women’s shelters – for whom?

The issue of shelters for abused women caused intense debate. Many of the conference participants agreed that the state needs to accept greater responsibility, as also pointed out in the Istanbul Convention. Finland recently passed a law providing that the national government must offer and pay for shelters for victims of violence. Norwegian legislation places this responsibility on the municipalities. José Mendes Bota agreed that society should do more, but said that the discussion is misdirected.

‘We need temporary shelters for the perpetrators, not their victims. It’s important that the victims get to stay in their home environment.’

Some countries – for example parts of Iceland – have laws providing that the perpetrator must leave the home. However, this does not solve the problem for abused women who want to exit a relationship without contacting the police or other authorities.

Successful cooperation

Dag Simen Grøtterud coordinates the work of the Oslo police against violence in intimate relationships. He said that all police officers in Oslo have received training both on risk assessments of perpetrators and on how to best deal with victims. The Norwegian police’s use of SARA and MARAC, risk assessment manuals that are also used in the other Nordic countries, were presented as ‘best practice’.

The conference showed clearly that all Nordic countries agree that prevention, early detection, structured risk analyses and broad cooperation are all key to combating men’s violence against women. The intergovernmental Nordic cooperation appeared successful.

Eygló-Harðardóttir. Photo: Ulrika Helldén
 Eygló-Harðardóttir. Photo: Ulrika Helldén

Iceland’s gender equality minister Eygló Harðardóttir closed the conference.

‘Focusing on prevention work with men who commit violence against women and children is crucial. It is also important to gather statistics, work together and support research on abused women and children.’

Updated 30 August 2020