Thursday, March 6, 2014

Finland's scandalous record on violence against women

Finland generally does well in comparison to other countries in many areas, including the prevalence of corruption and quality of education. The country was even ranked best country to live in by Newsweek magazine in 2010. But when it comes to violence against women, one of the most salient issues of our time, Finland performs very poorly when compared with other countries in the European Union (EU).

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) presented results of the biggest ever violence against women survey in the EU at a conference in Brussels on 5 March 2014. According to FRA, the survey titled Violence against women: an EU-wide survey was based on face-to-face interviews with 42,000 women in the EU's 28 member states. The survey asked questions about women's experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence (including domestic violence), childhood victimization, sexual harassment and stalking, including abuse through the internet.

The FRA survey revealed that Finland is the second most violent country for women in the EU. According to the survey 47 percent of women (almost half of the women surveyed) in Finland have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point after they turned 15 years old.

In my view, the hard-to-ignore finding of the survey is disturbing but not surprising. Numerous cases of violence against women have been reported in Finland over the years. Many of the cases result in death. "Family murders" (or "perhemurhat" in Finnish) are common and many women have lost their lives are as result of the social ill. Last year, two cases resulting in the death of women were reported between June and September.

Finland should take urgent steps to put an end to violence that affects almost half of the country's women. This can be done by, in my opinion, providing more "safe houses" for women in abusive relationships and responding to reports of violence immediately --- without waiting for cases to escalate or worsen. According to an editorial (in Finnish) on Iltalehti, Finland is supposed to have 500 spaces in safe houses but there're only a little over 100 -- mostly in the south of the country. A long term solution which could be pursued is sensitization school campaigns for young boys. Boys should understand early enough the implications of violence against women.

More importantly women should report cases of violence to the police or any other authority for assistance. What shocked me most in the survey is that a staggering 67 percent of women violated by their partners did not contact the police or any other organization.

Personally, I advocate tougher action against men who violate women. Perpetrators of violence against women should bear the full weight of the law. A mere slap on the wrist of a violent man is, in my view, grossly insufficient. Finland and other EU countries like Denmark (which has the highest prevalence of violence against women according to the FRA survey) should develop a hard line, zero-tolerance sentencing policy for violence against women.


 Ps: I share the view that real men don't hit (or violate) women. Violence against women is a sign of weakness not strength.

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