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POLICE

Violence against women: A look at the Swedish government’s 40-point plan

Sweden's government has announced a nationwide plan to fight male violence against women after several recent killings of women by their current or former partners. The proposals include tougher sentences but also preventative work.

Violence against women: A look at the Swedish government's 40-point plan
The proposals include strengthening sentences for several crimes against women, but no concrete support for shelters. File photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The government says that its measures are intended to work towards the following goals: “Violence must be prevented and the men who commit crimes against women must be punished. Women who are exposed to crime should get the help they need.”

“This is the most comprehensive package against men’s violence against women for at least 20 years,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson told a press conference where he announced the measures with Minister for Gender Equality Märta Stenevi and Interior Minister Mikael Damberg.

Märta Stenevi said efforts are needed to change norms “so that no boys will grow up and become men who beat and rape”.

Preventative work 

The measures include a national focus on violence prevention, including initiatives aimed at sharing knowledge and strengthening cooperation between relevant authorities. This includes both early stage preventative work (to stop men at risk of violence from committing crimes) but also initiatives to reduce the risk of re-offending.

From autumn 2022, school curriculums will be changed so that the subject that was previously called “sex and relationships” will also address gender equality. And the government proposes initiatives to raise awareness of its consent law, which makes explicit in legislation that passivity does not equal consent.

As well as schools, sports associations were highlighted as a part of society to be involved in preventative work, and Sweden’s Center for Sports Research (CIF) will be asked to identify opportunities to introduce anti-violence initiatives.

Better victim support

The government pledged to review “possible ways to provide women’s and girls’ shelters and other non-profit organisations that work with crime victims better planning conditions” but stopped short of promising funding. One of the challenges these organisations face is their reliance on donations and government support, which is often only guaranteed for a fixed time, therefore making long-term work difficult.

It did say that it would review the need for more funding for The National Center for Women’s Peace (NCK), which runs a phone line for victims of crime and which reported an increase in calls in recent years.

And it noted: “Women exposed to violence should not have to leave a shelter and return to the perpetrator of violence because they lack a permanent home.” An inquiry will therefore look into municipalities’ responsibilities in providing housing for women and children exposed to violence, for example whether people in this situation can be prioritised.

Vulnerable groups

The report outlined the need to support particularly vulnerable groups, including those who are involved in pornography and victims of human trafficking, but also foreign residents who are in Sweden on a permit based on their relationship. 

“In some situations, there needs to be an opportunity to grant a person a residence permit despite the fact that the relationship on which the permit was based on has ceased, e.g. due to violence in the relationship,” it noted, saying that an investigation will be launched into possible changes to Sweden’s migration laws to protect these people from the threat of deportation.

Stricter penalties

The proposals also include tougher penalties for crimes including rape, hate crimes with a gender motive, violation of a woman’s integrity, and soliciting. Some of these harsher penalties had already been submitted, others are currently being investigated and some will now be added to the agenda.

One example of a review that the government says it will now act on will see punishments of fines for paying for sex removed, so that the crime is punishable by imprisonment only. The government now plans to put this to parliament.

And as well as increasing the sentences, the government proposes lowering the threshold for issuing restraining orders, making it easier to use electronic tags on people subject to restraining orders, and increasing the punishment for violating such orders.

And the government will investigate whether it should be made easier to deprive perpetrators of contact with their children. 

“We have far too many cases where women live with a protected identity, but still somehow have to solve the issue of contact with the father. We must move away from the view that the man does not hit his children and therefore should have contact with them,” said Johansson.

Improving skills and methods used by authorities

When The Local has spoken to people working in the field of male violence, a commonly raised obstacle is limited understanding of how to deal with these crimes by police and other authorities.

Seven of the 40 measures outlined by the government relate to development of skills and methods, including more in-depth statistics on violence against women; skills development within the police including improved understanding of mental health issues and how to work with other agencies or social services; mapping the research currently being done into violence against women, and a review into the situation for women and children who have been exposed to violence and are living under a protected identity.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

Why is Sweden’s parliamentary speaker election so important?

Sweden's parliamentary speaker is second only to the King in terms of formal rank. The prospect of a Sweden Democrat speaker taking over the role from popular Moderate Andreas Norlén has sparked debate. Here's why.

Why is Sweden's parliamentary speaker election so important?

On Monday, Sweden’s newly-elected parliament will elect a new speaker – talman in Swedish, but it’s still not clear who is likely to take over the post from Moderate Andreas Norlén, who has held the position since 2018.

How is a speaker candidate usually chosen?

There is no formal rule on how a speaker candidate is nominated, with the Social Democrats usually insisting the largest party supplies the speaker, and the Moderates arguing that the largest party in their bloc should provide the speaker.

Until now, that has meant that the Social Democrats believe the speaker should be a Social Democrat, and the Moderates believe the speaker should be a Moderate.

However, with the Sweden Democrats now the second-largest party in Sweden’s parliament, they have made claims on the speaker post, as they are now the largest party in their bloc, meaning under the Moderates’ rules, they should supply the speaker.

This has made the question of who should take over as the new speaker unusually charged.

Often – but not always, the speaker has been from the same party or bloc as the government. However, there are examples, such as in the case of Norlén, who has held the post despite there being a Social Democrat government for the last eight years, as there was a majority supporting him in parliament.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson sits down for a talk with Andreas Norlén, speaker of the Swedish parliament. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

How is the speaker elected?

The first time parliament meets after an election, members of parliament (MPs) decide which MP will become the parliamentary speaker and which three MPs will become the deputy speakers. These four speakers are elected in separate ballots, first the speaker, then the first deputy speaker, the second deputy speaker and the third deputy speaker.

The candidates are nominated by parliamentary party groups, after which a secret ballot is held where each MP votes anonymously. To be successful, a speaker candidate must secure a majority of votes – 175.

If no candidate secures a majority, another vote is held, where a candidate must still gain 175 or more votes to win.

If no candidate is successful, a third vote is held, where the candidate with the most votes is elected – they do not need a majority.

If the third vote ends in a tie between two candidates, lots are drawn to determine which candidate is elected speaker.

A speaker is elected for an entire election period – they cannot be removed by parliament during this period, and the role can only change hands after a new parliamentary election, which usually means that a speaker sits for four years at a time.

What does the speaker do?

The speaker – aside from being the second-highest ranking official in the country after the King – holds a prestigious position.

They do not have political influence and, if elected, must resign from their role as a member of parliament. But they have an important role to play in building a government, nominating Sweden’s new prime minister after an election and dismissing the prime minister if they lose a no-confidence vote.

Although there are checks on these powers – a new prime minister must be approved by parliament before they take power – a speaker could, theoretically, nominate four prime ministerial candidates to parliament in succession, knowing that each would lose a parliamentary vote, and thereby trigger a general election.

The speaker, currently Andreas Norlén (left) regularly welcomes foreign dignitaries alongside Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf. Here seen with King Carl Gustaf (left) and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö (centre).
Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The speaker could also theoretically refuse to nominate a prime ministerial candidate despite them being the leader of the largest bloc, although this has never happened in practice.

It is also impossible for parliament to remove a speaker once they are elected, unless a new parliamentary election is held and an entire new parliament is elected, meaning that if a speaker were to misuse their powers, it would be difficult for parliament to replace them.

The speaker is the main representative of parliament, leading and planning parliamentary activities. The speaker is chairman of meetings in the parliamentary chamber and is an official representative for Sweden at home and abroad.

Why would it be controversial if the Sweden Democrats supplied the speaker?

Electing a Sweden Democrat speaker would be a win for the far-right party, as a confirmation that the party has finally been accepted into the corridors of power.

According to a source at newspaper Aftonbladet, the four parties backing Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson to become Sweden’s next prime minister have already agreed on stricter migration and crime policies, as well as who should be voted in as speaker of the country’s parliament when the role goes up for a vote on Monday. 

Multiple parties in the left-wing bloc have objected to a Sweden Democrat supplying the speaker, with outgoing Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stating that her party is willing to collaborate with the Moderates and reelect Andreas Norlén as Sweden’s speaker instead in order to avoid a Sweden Democrat taking on the role.

Andersson said her party would be willing to “make an exception” to its principle. “We think there are arguments at this time, to have a speaker who can be appointed with very broad support in the parliament. What’s important is that it’s someone who can bring people together, either a Social Democrat or a Moderate”.

“I can state that Andreas Norlén enjoys great respect, both in the parliament, and among the Swedish people,” she said. “He has handled his duties creditably and during a turbulent time, and a problematic parliamentary situation.”

She said she was offering to discuss the issue with Kristersson to avoid the risk of a Sweden Democrat speaker, something she said would be “problematic”.

“This is a party whose whole rationale is to split rather than unite. This is also about the picture of Sweden overseas.”

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson has not responded to Andersson’s comments.

Sweden Democrat former deputy speaker Björn Söder (left) and party leader Jimmie Åkesson (right). Photo: Jessica Gow//TT

There are also some MPs in the Liberal Party – who have agreed to support a Moderate-led government alongside the Sweden Democrats – who have stated they will not approve a government with Sweden Democrat ministers, and may also vote against letting them have the role of speaker.

Sweden Democrat Björn Söder, who held the role of deputy speaker between 2014-18, is a possible candidate for the far-right party. Söder is a controversial figure, having previously stated that Jewish people and Sami are “not Swedes”, leading to calls that he is not suitable for a role as a representative for all of Sweden.

Söder has also previously likened homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, stating in an article on the Sweden Democrats’ official online news site that “these sexual aversions are not normal and will never be normal”.

A public petition against electing Björn Söder as parliament’s new speaker had over 65,000 signatures as of September 23rd.

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