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1,300 women in Swedish politics allege harassment ‘in the corridors of power’

Over 1,000 women working in Swedish politics have signed a document alleging sexism and harassment connected to their work.

1,300 women in Swedish politics allege harassment 'in the corridors of power'
Sweden's Minister for Gender Equality, Åsa Regnér. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

It's the latest in a series of campaigns launched to raise awareness of and tackle sexism in the worlds of music, lawsports, politics, theatre, and media in Sweden, a country frequently labelled one of the most gender-equal in the world.

The latest document is titled 'I maktens korridorer' (In the corridors of power) and has been published in Svenska Dagbladet, signed by 1,300 women in politics. The women who signed the document include Party Secretary of the governing Social Democrats Lena Rådström Baastad, former leader of the Liberals Maria Leissner, as well as MPs, former ministers, and women active at all levels of politics.

“I was 17 years old and was assaulted by a Stockholm politician who is now a top candidate in the 2018 election,” one woman wrote.

Other testimonies described assaults as well as sexist and degrading comments made by older, more powerful men in politics.

“Above all, it is you men who must take responsibility” to tackle the problem, the writers of the appeal wrote. They added that it was not too late for parties to withdraw “unsuitable candidates who have gone over the line” from next year's election campaign.

READ ALSO: 'We think we're an equal society, but harassment happens here too'

The appeal began as a Facebook group which gathered testimonies. It started out with around 200 members but now counts over 5,000.

In a debate article in Svenska Dagbladet on Sunday, Sweden's Minister for Gender Equality, Åsa Regnér, urged men in politics to support women in the fight against sexism and sexual harassment. Regnér, the only female minister who signed the 'I maktens korridorer' appeal, said the document showed “a serious democratic problem in Swedish politics”.

“I urge men in politics to step up and stand on the side of women. How do you contribute to the gender equality policy goal of evenly distributing power and influence in Sweden? Everybody can do something and work is starting now,”  she wrote.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven had earlier said he was “disturbed” by the stories which have come to light.

“We knew that the problem existed, but I don't think anyone could imagine the scope,” he commented.

At a press conference held with French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Sweden for an EU summit  last Friday, Löfven encouraged women to report assault and harassment to police, and also called for more “information and discussion in our schools, so boys learn what it means to be a man”.

Macron said that France had “exactly the same” issues in terms of reports of sexism, and called for open debate on the topic. He added: “But we must avoid taking over the work of judges and the judiciary.”

The global '#MeToo' campaign, started in response to rape and harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, has had a huge impact in Sweden.

Hundreds of Swedish women, including well-known figures from the worlds of acting, comedy, journalism, and tech, have shared their stories under the #MeToo hashtag and called for more to be done to tackle harassment.

In recent weeks, this has led to organized efforts to gather testimonies and call for concrete change within specific industries in Sweden ranging from music to law.

READ ALSO: Is Sweden really the best place in the world for women?

SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: PM Andersson bids to reclaim patriotism and the big election issues

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson mentioned Sweden and Swedishness no fewer than 70 times in her speech at the country's largest political event, writes The Local's editor Emma Löfgren in our new column Sweden Elects – which launches this week with just over two months to go until the election.

Sweden Elects: PM Andersson bids to reclaim patriotism and the big election issues

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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“I love Sweden and I’m proud to be Swedish.”

If you want to win the hearts and minds of Swedes, talk about the loveliness of long summer nights, barbecues and wild swimming, and do so from a stage in one of the most picturesque towns in Sweden.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson understood that much when she last night, on the first day of Sweden’s annual political festival Almedalen Week, gave a speech that did not shy away from invoking some of the most proudly Swedish of perceived Swedish features and values – everything from fields of daisies to trust, solidarity and hard work.

It was a speech clearly designed to reclaim patriotism from the nationalists ahead of the September 11th election, with a grand total of 71 mentions of “Swedish” or “Sweden” in half an hour. There was so much talk about Swedish values that it felt at times like those forced-collective notes you get in the laundry room: In this housing association we don’t leave fluff in the dryer. “In Sweden we don’t queue jump – not the supermarket queues and not in healthcare.”

“Sweden should be that Sweden which we love in every neighbourhood,” she said as she pledged to crack down on segregation and gang crime, one of three priority areas she has previously laid out for her government.

When it came to her other two priority areas, she spoke relatively briefly about the climate crisis but spent considerably more time on her third pledge to stop privatisation and profit-making in the welfare system – an issue where the Social Democrats have tried to firmly return to their traditional left-wing roots, while moving right on crime and punishment.

If you think I’m not talking much about specific policies, it’s because the speech didn’t address them much – but to be fair to the prime minister, an Almedalen speech at the height of summer rarely does. Andersson even said it herself: “What’s at stake in this election is more than different opinions on exactly how many prison cells we need (…) it’s which values should permeate Sweden. What kind of country we should be”.

But can a technocrat such as Andersson sell that vision? A former finance minister with a successful track record, she carried herself with the most gravitas when she spoke about the negative effects on the economy on the back of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, referring to the high rate of inflation as “Putin prices”. As a leader who enjoys far higher confidence figures than her main opponent – Ulf Kristersson of the Moderate Party – she sounds more convincing when talking about the economy and specific policies than about her love for “Swedish nature, the right to roam, paddling silently over a quiet lake or smelling the coniferous forest”.

I’m curious to know how you as a reader of The Local feel when politicians talk about “Swedish values”. Do you feel included or excluded, does it depend on how they talk about them and if so, what makes the difference? Is it possible to paint a positive patriotic vision? We’re likely going to hear much more talk about Swedishness and values from other politicians in the coming days at Almedalen Week, so feel free to email your thoughts to me at [email protected] – if I’m allowed to share them on The Local or in a future newsletter, please state so clearly in your email and whether or not we may use your name.

You can read Andersson’s full speech in Swedish here and watch it here.

A more international election?

Andersson also spoke about Sweden’s military defence and landmark decision to join Nato (“it’s how we best defend Sweden’s freedom, democracy and our way of life”), and it was fitting that she did so during Almedalen Week, which is held in Visby on the island of Gotland.

Gotland, as you probably know, has received attention in Sweden and beyond in the past months. Strategically located in the Baltic Sea, the popular tourism island was at the centre of Sweden’s defence debate even before the invasion of Ukraine, and that’s even more the case now.

We can expect foreign policy to play a bigger part in this election campaign than it normally does, after Sweden and Finland last week struck a deal that moved them one step closer to joining Nato.

The most controversial point of that deal is Turkey’s claim that Sweden promised to extradite 73 individuals Turkey labelled “terrorists” in exchange for them allowing Sweden to join Nato. Swedish ministers have since said that it is in the hands of independent courts and Swedish citizens cannot in any case be deported, but Andersson has stopped short of fully denying it, and there is growing concern among Turkish and Kurdish refugees about the protection of non-citizens vs realpolitik.

It’s another example of how important it is that the voices of non-citizens are also heard in the political debate – there are a lot of people who live in Sweden, perhaps even intend to stay here permanently, who are just as invested in its future as everyone else, but aren’t yet formally citizens.

The election on September 11th is likely to be a crucial vote, with a win for the opposition bringing the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats their first chance to form national policy, and a win for the Social Democrats putting a fragile government in power for the third term in a row.

What’s next?

Almedalen Week is Sweden’s annual political festival. It takes place in the medieval town of Visby on the island of Gotland and is typically attended by around 40,000 people – 95 percent of them coming from outside Gotland. Interest has been falling in recent years, but with two months to go until the election, it’s a key event in all party leaders’ calendars.

The main highlights of the week will be the party leaders’ speeches at Almedalen, which will all be broadcast live at almedalsveckanplay.info. Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT will show them with expert comments immediately afterwards (in Swedish) – I had a look at their website and it should be possible to watch these wherever you are in the world.

Here’s when they’ll take the stage:

Monday (today), 11am. Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson.

Monday (today), 7pm. Left leader Nooshi Dadgostar.

Tuesday, 11am. Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch.

Tuesday, 7pm. Liberal leader Johan Pehrson.

Wednesday, 11am. Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson.

Wednesday, 7pm. Centre leader Annie Lööf.

Thursday, 11am. Green leader Per Bolund.

Also, don’t miss The Local’s special Almedalen episode of our Sweden in Focus podcast. Our publisher James Savage and acting editor Richard Orange have been mingling with politicians and pundits and will have the latest news for you in a special episode which will be released this week.

The Local will as always cover the Swedish election from the point of view of international citizens living in Sweden. In our Sweden Elects newsletter, I will take a look every week at the issues that affect you; the biggest talking points; the whos, hows and whys; and several extra features just for paying members (you can find out HERE how to receive the newsletter to your inbox with everything included, and membership also gives you unlimited access to all of The Local’s articles).

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