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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: No, women in Sweden don’t yet have it all

Women in Sweden may have (almost) equal salaries and shared parental leave, but what's it all worth if we can't feel safe, asks Swedish columnist Lisa Bjurwald after five women were killed in three weeks.

OPINION: No, women in Sweden don't yet have it all
Swedish writer Lisa Bjurwald shares her thoughts on being a woman in Sweden in 2021. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

For some, Swedish women seem to have it all. The impression around the world is often that of near-total equality, from the home (a much-envied paternal leave, sharing of household duties) to the workplace. Compared to countries like Saudi Arabia, where women can rebel by getting in the driver’s seat of a car, Sweden is way ahead – but in truth, much remains to be done. One issue, in particular, has stirred up anger this spring: sexual and other forms of violence towards women.

Mirroring the development in the United Kingdom, where protests have taken place over the murder of Sarah Everard (a Met police officer has been charged, facing a provisional trial in October), this Swedish post-MeToo uproar was triggered by a chain of news events. First, our former Chancellor of Justice Göran Lambertz held an impromptu press conference in his own garden after rape charges against him were dropped. On live television, a pleased-looking Lambertz held court in front of the assembled press and called his young female accuser a liar.

The broadcast was a major ethical error of judgment by Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT, who later apologised. But only weeks later, SVT again let an accused rapist – stand-up comedian Soran Ismail, who has never been charged – give his lengthy version of events in a documentary.

The sentiment among many women here is: “Enough of this patriarchal bullshit.” Things seemed to be going so well around #MeToo in 2017 and 2018, and we all looked forward to a new dawn for gender equality, so what’s this apparent backlash about?

It’s not just a feeling, its fact: the development towards gender equality in Sweden has been ground to a halt for the last couple of years. Now, a backlash is accelerating, on several fronts. Women who have named their rapists in closed Facebook groups during the #MeToo movement are facing charges of defamation, with several already convicted. At the same time, the percentage of convicted rapists is startlingly low. Of the 8,820 reported rapes in 2018, only 333 – not even 4 percent – led to a conviction.

This goes for those in charge of upholding the law, too. For the past year, I’ve worked on a newly published reportage book on the topic, Gärningsmannen är polis (“The perpetrator is an officer”), as well as an investigative programme which recently aired on TV4. I was shocked by what we uncovered.

Namely, that Swedish police officers enjoy a state of near impunity when committing sex crimes. Out of 484 cases of reported sexual crimes by police, 469 preliminary investigations were closed or not initiated at all. That’s even worse than the meagre statistics for Swedish rape convictions in general. All the while, abused female employees are told to keep quiet or are punished by their superiors, with various means.

But what’s really set off this spring’s outrage among Swedish women (and some men) are the killings of five women in just three weeks. In one of these heartbreaking cases, the woman had lived under protection for several years, fearing her former partner and the father of her children would kill her. And he is suspected of having done just that. She was killed in broad daylight in front of witnesses at Linköping’s central station on April 15th. That very same day, a young mother was allegedly stabbed to death by her partner in their apartment in Älta, south of Stockholm. Their baby was present at the time.

All five suspected perpetrators are men, and all five of them had some sort of relationship with the victims. According to the latest figures from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet, Brå for short), 23,200 cases of physical abuse of women over the age of 18 were reported in 2020. In 8 out of 10 cases, the perpetrator was known to the victim. And in almost 9 out of 10 cases of fatal violence in close relationships, the victim is a woman.

So while Swedish women may enjoy almost equal salaries in some (but far from all) professions, are represented in both government and parliament by outspoken female politicians from left and right, and so on, the question for many women here is: what is it all worth, if we can’t feel safe on our streets, in our workplace, alone with a male colleague, even in our own homes?

More from Lisa Bjurwald:

Lisa Bjurwald is a Swedish journalist and author covering current affairs, culture and politics since the mid-1990s. Her latest work BB-krisen, on the Swedish maternity care crisis, was dubbed Best reportage book of 2019 by Aftonbladet daily newspaper. She is also an external columnist for The Local – read her columns here.

Member comments

  1. What I can’t understand about Sweden is that these convicted rapists and murderers have their identity hidden in the press. After serving time, they can just go out and do it again with another unsuspecting partner. The extent to which criminals are protected here is insane.

  2. I agree with the title of this article. Swedish women has taken almost all of it leaving too little for men. If they want to leave nothing for men, they only need to decided, and take all the opportunities. As I have known about several real cases in Sweden, if a woman in Sweden want to make problems for a man, she can easily just complain him to the sexist HR while keeping her own identity, that is the identity of the complaining female, hidden. Then the HR system will unilaterally torture the man and hurts him without even telling him what has happened or who has complained. The unknown woman’s words have been enough for them. Indeed, this is a crime, and if the woman has lied, both the lying woman and her supporters are criminals.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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