Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Rights and Diversity: A Swedish Minister’s Views on Gender Equality in an Immigrant Country

[![][2]][2] There is economic progress and development all around us, all around the world. People and countries are getting richer. But yet there exists a large gap between the rich and the poor, as well as between women and men. Institutionally laws and constitutions have been passed in favor of gender equality. Morally more and more people are “persuaded” of the importance of gender equality—that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities. Yet we are far from achieving gender equality.

One country that has promoted gender equality is Sweden where women are almost equally represented in all sectors of society. Yet Sweden, since a mass of immigration from the Middle-East, principally from Iraq (in fact, Sweden welcomes more refugees from Iraq than any other country in Europe). This wave of immigration has forced a society debate about Swedish identity and its values and rights in relation to those of immigrants. We are supposed to respect and accept different cultures and their beliefs. But are there limits to accepting all cultures and behaviors equally, especially when certain culture practices clearly infringe upon so-called universal rights and freedoms?

This is one of the more difficult dialogues going on in Europe concerning Islam and Islamic values and those of the host country. For example, can Swedish values, supported and maintained by the Swedish society and people “mix with” and function in harmony with those of their immigrant populations? Can two clearly different cultural systems of values and morals live in peace without one dominating the other, without demanding the right to trump the other, to deny the other?

This becomes particularly sticky when one set of values is said to be about universal rights. Clearly, we want to be openly welcoming to that which is different and that which we don’t understand. But once we’ve reached a certain understanding, it is clear that the two cannot live side-by-side without a certain stress, a certain need to choose.


Nyamko Subuni, the Swedish Minister for Integration and Gender Equality, has the following message on her site:

“My vision of Sweden is of a tolerant, humane society, rich in diversity and characterised by respect for the basic freedoms and rights of the individual.”

But as she looks to defend these basic freedoms, especially those of girls and women, she cannot help but coming into contact with the question of how to “welcome” the other while also defending certain rights not (yet?) found in the immigrant culture.

Let’s look at two of her speeches on these topics (I highlighted the important parts).

**Speech UN Commission, New York 25 February 2008

**

Mr/Madam Chairperson, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,

I am honoured to be speaking here at the 52nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and I would like to commend the Commission on its important work. Sweden aligns itself with the statement made by Slovenia on behalf of the European Union.

Mr/Madam Chairperson,

The opportunities for the world’s countries to work for gender equality and women’s empowerment have never been better.

There have never been so many democracies in the world. Never have so many women been able to vote in elections or run for political office. Economic development has been rapid. Fewer people live in poverty. At the same time, a gap between rich and poor countries still persists.

Globalisation is contributing to prosperity and well being. I agree with former UN Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan when he says that the main losers in today’s unequal world are not those exposed to globalisation, but those who are left out.

Mr/Madam Chairperson,

Despite all the progress, gender inequality is still a fact.

It is time that the world’s countries ensure that women and men, girls and boys, benefit equally from the rich harvest of global development. Respect must be given to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person. Sweden urges the world’s countries to support and implement more forcefully the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The same applies to the other international human rights instruments.

The UN has a key role in moving forward international efforts to promote gender equality. Progress in UN reform in terms of strengthening the gender architecture and improving the UN’s work on gender equality and gender mainstreaming is a matter of urgency.

The basic principle is simply that all people - regardless of sex, ethnic origin, age, religion, sexual orientation or disability - are of equal value and must be able to enjoy the same human rights, responsibilities and opportunities in all areas of society.

Sweden will continue to uphold the rights of girls and women and their access to sexual and reproductive health care, including contraception and safe and legal abortion. Sweden is deeply concerned with the difficulty in fulfilling the UN Millennium Development Goal to halve maternal mortality in the world. In many parts of the world, developments are at a standstill or losing ground; women are still dying during pregnancy and childbirth, or from unsafe abortions.

**Without being able to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, and without access to adequate sexual and reproductive health services, women stand little chance of having the same opportunities as men. Investments in these areas are investments in sustainable social and economic development and in the protection and promotion of human rights. The Swedish Government is convinced that we gain a better and more just society when women and men share power and influence in all sectors. In order to achieve gender equality, two strategies are needed.

Firstly, a gender equality perspective must be mainstreamed into all policies and all areas of political decision-making. Sustainable change can only be achieved by long-term strategic work to integrate a gender perspective in policies.

We must measure the effects for women and men, girls and boys, when preparing, outlining and implementing policies at local, national and global level. Therefore, statistics must be disaggregated by sex and analysis done from a gender equality and women’s empowerment perspective. This calls for political commitment and accountability, as well as practical instruments and methods for civil servants.

Secondly, gender mainstreaming efforts can be supplemented by special measures in areas where urgent action is needed. Therefore, the Swedish Government has dramatically increased the national budget for gender equality policy - from 4 to 40 million Euros.

**Let me give you some examples of how these resources have been used: 1. A national action plan to combat men’s violence against women was adopted by the Government in November last year. It was developed in close cooperation with other ministries and involved public consultations with NGOs.

2. A research programme was launched to promote research on women’s health.

3.The Government finances a comprehensive programme to promote gender mainstreaming in local and regional authorities. Municipalities play a crucial role, since they are responsible for a major part of the basic services that influence people’s everyday lives, such as schooling, child care and health care.

In light of the strong focus on combating men’s violence against women in Sweden, I welcome the UN campaign to end violence against women that was announced earlier this morning by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Mr/Madam Chairperson,

One starting point for this session’s follow-up theme should be Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Sweden was one of the first countries to adopt a national action plan for the implementation of this Resolution.

Women and girls are victims of violence, rape and other abuse in conflict situations. However, women are also important actors in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution. Women’s knowledge and experiences are invaluable for sustainable post-conflict peacebuilding.

Sweden takes a very serious view of the reports that UN staff on peace-keeping missions have been involved in sexual exploitation and other abuses of women and girls. It is unacceptable and must stop! Therefore, we welcome efforts within the UN system to investigate the occurrence of such abuse, and to prosecute perpetrators.

Mr/Madam Chairperson,

Investments in gender equality are investments in hope and in the future. Globally, we have a range of legal and policy instruments for the effective promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The moment has come to implement them. It is our responsibility to allocate resources, to set clear targets and to take action. Together, we can make the world a better and more equal place for both women and men to live in. Let us begin today!

Thank you!

Speech UN Commission on the Status of Women 26 February 2007

Madame Chair,
Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,

I am speaking on behalf of the Swedish Government.

Sweden aligns itself with the statement made by Germany on behalf of the European Union.

I am honoured to be speaking here at the 51st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women and would like to commend the Commission on its important work.

Respect for democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms are essential values that that must be realized and defended across the world. Gender equality is integral to democracy and central to sustainable development. To realize these values, girls and women must be empowered.

Sweden is pleased to see that strengthening gender mainstreaming, promoting gender equality and empowering girls and women are still priorities in the UN’s reform work.

The basic principle is simple: all people, regardless of sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability or cultural and religious traditions, are of equal value - and must be able to enjoy human rights. All people must have equal opportunities in all areas of society.

One of the most important human rights principles is that of non-discrimination. This is guaranteed by the UN Declaration on Human Rights as well as through other human rights instruments, such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Each girl and boy has equal rights and every single one of them deserves respect. It is the responsibility of all states to protect children from violence and abuse.

Sweden has fought for many years to achieve gender equality and has certainly made progress.

Sweden constantly strives to ensure girls and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. Combating violence and discrimination has long been a priority for the Swedish government. Corporal punishment has been prohibited since 1979, and the ban has gained wide support throughout the Swedish society. Recent efforts include projects that aim to boost girls’ self-confidence, work done to reduce gender-stereotyping and a national action plan against female genital mutilation.

Girls and boys, women and men, all have the same right to education. In fact, women in Sweden are gainfully employed to almost the same extent as men. We have about the same numbers of women as men in parliament, government and other areas of public and political life. And more women than men hold university degrees.

Madame chair,

Of course, I look at this overall picture with pride. However, when I look more closely at the situation in my country, cracks begin to emerge.

Women still earn less than their male colleagues.

Although women and men in general are gainfully employed to the same extent, this does not apply to all women and men in Swedish society.

If we look more closely at the present situation for girls and women in Sweden, it becomes clear that not everyone has the same opportunities. Your chances of participating fully in all aspects of society are affected by your background - what country you or your parents come from; how much money your parents earn; what area you live in; what schools you went to and so on.

Despite considerable progress, we still have a long way to go before we achieve gender equality. Many more measures need to be taken in order to ensure equal rights and equal opportunities for all girls and women, and boys and men, in Sweden.

Madame chair,

In light of today’s priority theme, I would like to take the opportunity to focus on one of my main priorities as Minister for Gender Equality. That is, the issue of discrimination and patriarchal violence against girls and women. I especially want to highlight violence in the name of honour and other customs and practices that discriminate against and harm girls and women especially, but also boys and young men.

Having control over your own mind, body and sexuality are clear markers of integrity and independence. Threats, abuse and violence are severe forms of oppression and where they exist, girls and women can not equal human rights.

It pains me to say, that I represent a country in which some men do beat and abuse women. Despite all the laws and programmes that Sweden has put in place.

I represent a country where some young women and men are denied the right to decide who they will marry, when they will marry or whether they will marry at all.

And I represent a country where some girls, despite all the laws and information programmes, risk genital mutilation, physical and psychological abuse, and even death, at the hands of the very people who are charged with their care and safety - their parents and other family members.

When we discuss gender equality in Sweden and elsewhere around the world, and in particular the protection of the girl child against discrimination and violence, we cannot keep quiet about these damaging and demeaning acts.

I am talking about girls and women who live in a country that has enjoyed universal suffrage for more than 85 years. That has signed, ratified, and fully committed itself to the international treaties on human rights. A country whose constitution guarantees freedom from persecution and freedom of religion. Yet some girls and women feel unsafe and let down. So I ask myself what further steps should we take to support them.

Madame chair,

It is time to agree and implement concrete actions that determine clearly how states and societies can guarantee all women and girls their fundamental freedoms and rights. Even if this may mean going against traditional customs and practices.

The Secretary General’s study on all forms of violence against women and the study on violence against children include recommendations for intensified action on all levels.

All states have a responsibility to abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that discriminate against girls and women. We must put into place laws, policies and institutional mechanisms that make it easier to promote gender equality, with a much needed emphasis on actively improving the life-situation for girls. A precondition is that both women and men take an active part in this important work.

The women’s movement plays an important part in this work. Their efforts should be commended. They deserve our support and recognition. We also need to involve relevant actors, including religious leaders, NGOs, moulders of public opinion, and of course, girls and boys themselves.

I would like to state that while it is essential to ensure that girls are aware of their rights, it is also important to ensure that the rest of society shares this knowledge. These girls and young women have the right to equal power to shape society and their own lives. They have the right to integrity and respect.

The theme of this year’s session - the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child - is a question of high priority for the Swedish government. I hope to be able to share with you the results of our efforts over the years, and warmly welcome the opportunity to learn from your experiences.

Thank you!