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Time For Action: Seven Proposals From Sweden For Reducing Sexism and Sexual Violence in the Midst of #MeToo

"OK…now what?"

Can the popular momentum created by the #MeToo hashtag be converted into tangible, political results? (Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT)

As #MeToo once again hit the headlines with the 2018 Academy Awards, it would be fair to say that initial hopes that the campaign would trigger widespread media attention on violence against women have not been met. Coverage of harassment and assault in “everyday” occupations and industries beyond Hollywood has, to be generous, been hard to find.

Despite a primary focus on celebrity, however, awareness has certainly been raised, and the symbolic importance of this cannot be discounted. Yet, as with many online campaigns, the question is also asked: “OK…now what?” In other words, can the popular momentum created by the #MeToo hashtag be converted into tangible, political results?

In response to this challenge, representatives of 65 #MeToo groups in Sweden (representing a wide range of occupations) have submitted a list of seven concrete proposals—which the authors would like to see embraced by all political parties running in the upcoming Swedish national elections—to the Swedish Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality.

The #MeToo campaign had a particularly strong impact in Sweden, where women in a wide range of professions—such as law, healthcare, police, fashion, acting, music, advertising and academia—started discussion groups and hashtags where they would describe (sometimes anonymously, sometimes not) instances of sexual harassment and assault. These instances would often be summarized and published as opinion pieces in major Swedish newspapers. The pieces were powerful and disturbing, and are the driving force behind the call for action.

A summary of the proposals from the 65 Swedish #MeToo groups, also published as an opinion piece, is as follows:

  1. Use the expertise of those involved in the #MeToo campaign in future government enquiries into how to sanction employers who take a “nonchalant” attitude towards sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, as well as in projects to raise awareness about these issues.

  2. Make the study of sexuality, gender and equality mandatory components in all pre-school teacher and regular teacher training programs.

  3. Institute a national “whistleblower” system for all schools in the country, so that students and staff who are subjected to harassment and assault can report the instances and obtain support.

  4. Mandatory training on sexism, sexual violence, consent and appropriate strategies for recognizing and dealing with victims of trauma for all those who are likely to come into contact with victims of sexual harassment and violence (such as police, lawyers, Human Resources, healthcare workers, etc.).

  5. Increase government support for treatment of victims of sexual harassment and violence—particularly support for organizations that help those who are victims of repeated violence to be able to escape such violence and get the treatment they need.

  6. Improve awareness and integration of preventative measures into corporate governance to stop sexual harassment and violence before it happens. The UK Bribery Act (meant to reduce corruption) was cited as a good example of providing “Adequate Procedures” guidelines to ensure that corporations are aware of the procedures and practices according to the law, and their obligations.

  7. Increase the number of investigations into whether or not employers have adequately addressed accusations of sexual harassment, and, when necessary, taken appropriate disciplinary measures. Employers must face consequences when they do not take these responsibilities seriously.

As I have noted previously, one of the reasons that Sweden has done a better (though far from perfect) job than many other nations when it comes to gender equality is the fact that discussions around “feminism” were largely de-mystified many years ago. Unlike other countries, where to call someone a “feminist” is tantamount to an insult, there was a refusal in Sweden to allow definitions of the term to be hijacked and set by those (primarily men) who saw feminists as nothing more than “man-haters.” However, when such counter-productive rhetorical baggage is unloaded, and there is broad acceptance that gender equality is in the best interests of all citizens, then efforts at real political and social change can begin.

This is why the seven #MeToo proposals presented to the Swedish minister are in line with a more progressive strand of thinking about gender equality: they foreground teaching, dialogue and accountability. Naturally, the prospect of required classes on sexual violence, gender and consent will raise the ire of many who lazily label this is as just another example of “PC culture gone crazy,” but given the global, widespread nature of harassment and sexual violence, such opposition pales in comparison to the obvious social issues faced.

Politicians, corporate leaders and citizens both inside and outside of Sweden would do well to consider this list, and to accept the acute need for an informed, adult conversation about gender equality, harassment and sexual violence.

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Christian Christensen

Christian Christensen

Christian Christensen, American in Sweden, is Professor of Journalism at Stockholm University. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrChristensen

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