Sweden can do more to prevent men’s violence against women

12:e maj 2014

Sweden has long been touted as a global leader on gender equality and violence prevention, and the country has made strides in reducing women's experiences of abuse as well as other forms of violence. However, as in other countries, there is still work to be done. Critical reflection on where we are today and how we envision our field in the coming decades will help us to map a trajectory towards more violence-free societies – in Sweden and abroad.

We are excited to have been invited by Men for Gender EqualityThe Swedish Association of Women’s Shelters and Young Women’s Empowerment Centers (SKR) and The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society to contribute to and help develop the field of violence prevention work in Sweden at the event 5 Days of Violence Prevention (May 12-16th).

Sweden is one of the most gender equal countries in the world. The general awareness of gender-based violence (GBV) is high, legislation concerning domestic violence and rape is strong and the support and protection offered to battered women and their children is relatively well-developed.

Yet gender-based violence is a serious public health and social problem and hindrance to true gender equality, even in Sweden. While the Swedish government and official programs are at the forefront in most aspects of the GBV-field, the prevention field is still underdeveloped both regarding practical interventions and research. This is partly due to a lack of understanding or the root causes of violence against women and girls, and of forms of male violence which are still not identified as such; street harassment, sexist advertising, the pornification of the public sphere and sexualisation of girls and boys. Violence is not only about physical and sexual abuse, it is also about values, attitudes, pressure, social norms and implicit trivialization in all spheres of society. While preventing and combating violence against women and girls, all gender inequalities must be addressed and tackled.

We know that men’s violence against women can in fact be prevented. Many if not most men and boys already treat girls and women with respect and try their best to stop violence. One of the key strategies to reach change is to challenge the social norms of masculinity that we all play a part in upholding and that too often equate manhood with dominance over women, aggression, and sexual conquest. There is not one single model just as there is not one single understanding of masculinity.

Therefore, we need to combine an individualistic approach with a structural and intersectional analysis, and all of society has to be involved. Data from the UN Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific illustrate how men’s individual experiences, combined with the structural and environmental context in which they live, contribute to increased risk of violence perpetration. Social and individual gender norms and practices, men’s victimization hiarticle, psychological factors and substance abuse, and men’s involvement in other forms of violence: these factors all relate to hegemonic masculinities and contribute to incidents of violence. Yet, we know that these factors can be changed. 

Research from World Bank Group and The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society indicates a connection between violent behavior and inequitable gender attitudes. We have the opportunity to vent and discuss how these norms can be damaging. Research from the WHO has shown that the most effective way to prevent men’s and boys’ violence is through preventive work based on an understanding of gender hierarchy and masculinities.

Successful work with perpetrators often consists of talking about how the violence harms the victim and their loved ones, and how the victim responds to, and resists, the violence. After some time, the perpetrator often expresses that he is starting to understand the consequences of his actions.

In Sweden preventive work based on these findings is still not in place, in spite of the fact that society would benefit as a whole. Research from Brazilian organization Promundo and the International Center for Research on Women shows that more equitable gender norms regarding masculinity in combination with public policy that engages men and boys in this work reduce men’s violence against women and children; as well as reduce the disproportionate burden of domestic tasks on women; increase men’s involvement in their children’s lives; engage men as partners in women’s economic empowerment; achieve more equitable relationships at the household, community and societal levels; and reduce homophobia and discrimination towards LGBTI people.

We want to spread knowledge and practical examples of violence prevention work. The opportunity to meet with international experts is to establish what works and what does not work in different socio-cultural settings. The role of the man as bread winner in one country or household may be the opposite somewhere else.

Our perceptions of Sweden’s efforts to prevent violence and abuse are positive and hopeful. Some of us have had the chance to engage in and learn more about the careful thinking and strategic planning that is currently underway to promote and sustain a “violence-free” Sweden. Preventing gender based violence and abuse will take sophisticated thinking and complex actions – both of which Men for Gender Equality, SKR and The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society are willing to engage in and implement moving forward. 

Involving society as a whole is necessary, and the conditions to do so are excellent. Yet, there is little action, even though we know more than ever what works to prevent men’s violence against women and can learn from emerging success stories across world.  We need to dare to use models that already exist and adjust them to our contexts, and at the same time dare to try new work. We cannot afford to say no to ideas that aim to prevent violence, just because we don’t know in advance if they will work.

So what are you waiting for?

Violence is not inevitable, it is preventable.


Gary Barker, PhD, International Director, Promundo and Co-Chair, MenEngage Alliance

Linda Coates, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Okanagan College, Vancouver, Canada

John Doyle, Coordinator of Domestic Violence Intervention Programme (MEND), Men Ending Domestic Abuse, The Men's Development Network Ltd. Dublin, Ireland

Graham Goulden, Chief Inspector, Violence Reduction Unit, Edinburgh, Scotland

Alan Haisterkamp, Ed.D., Director of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Leadership Institute, Center for Violence Prevention, University of Northern Iowa, US

Liz Kelly, PhD, Professor of Sexualised Violence at London Metropolitan University and Director of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU), London, England

Stephanie Miedema, Research Consultant, Partners for Prevention, UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women & UNV, Asia-Pacific regional joint programme for gender-based violence prevention, Bangkok, Thailand

Jeffrey O’Brien, Director of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) National; a program of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society (CSSS) and the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS), US

Pierrette Pape, Acting Coordinator of the European Women's Lobby (EWL), Brussels, Belgium

Dean Peacock, Founding Director, Sonke Gender Justice Network, Cape Town Area, South Africa

Sharyn J. Potter   PhD, MPH, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Co-Director, Prevention Innovations, University of New Hampshire, US

Allan Wade, PhD, senior faculty with the Master of Counselling Program, City University of Seattle and Adjunct Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada