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When women’s issues disappear from the conversation: the human rights situation in Sweden

February 5, 2015

Racial discrimination, hate speech, rights of migrant workers, etc.: various were the issues raised as priorities during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sweden. However, gender equality and women’s issues were dramatically absent from the discussion. But is all the work already done on gender equality?

Gender based violence

Each year, about 17 women and girls are killed in Sweden by a current or former partner. 50% of the reported cases of deadly violence could have been avoided, had the authorities reacted adequately. 46% of all women in Sweden have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner and/or a non-partner since the age of 15, while the EU average is 33%[1].

Despite WILPF Sweden’s recommendations to tackle high rates of domestic violence and ensure that victims have access to an adequate support system, very few countries addressed gender issues. In fact, only 12 out of 93 participants expressed concerns regarding women’s rights.

The majority of gender-related recommendations focused on reducing the wage gap between men and women. Greece and the Philippines, however, did recommend Sweden to analyze and address root causes of violence against women.

WILPF, nonetheless, deplores the under-representation of gender and women’s issues in the human rights conversation on Sweden.

Racial discrimination and xenophobia

In 2010, the political party Sverigedemokraterna (SD), springing from the neo Nazi movement and whose politics rest on a fascist ideology, was elected into the national parliament for the first time. In 2014, this party won almost 13% of the votes.

Furthermore, according to a report by the Afro-Swedish Association, while hate crimes are decreasing in general, afro-phobic hate crimes are increasing. In addition, the Roma remain very exposed to discrimination in the Swedish society, including institutionalised discrimination such as the Roma register established by the police in southern Sweden in 2013.

Many UN state members expressed concerns with regard to the rising of hate speech, racial discrimination and xenophobia.

WILPF, who supports prevention of, and action against, structural racism and extremism, welcomed the high number of recommendations addressing such issues. Slovenia, for instance, encouraged Sweden to better promote tolerance and further develop inter-cultural dialogue.

Similarly, several countries, such as Canada and Argentina, recommended adopting judicial and administrative measure to ensure effective investigation and prosecutions in cases of hate speech as well as hate crimes.

WILPF’s remaining concerns

Given the fact that Sweden has a large weapons industry and exports arms to non-democratic countries where human rights are violated, we regret that no member state raised the issue and the consequences of international arms trade on human rights. In fact, WILPF argues that arms sales to countries where there is risk of weapons being used to violate human rights must end immediately as mandated by the Arms Trade Treaty.

Even though the Human Rights Council has recognized the link between human rights violations and arms transfer, UPR sessions are still not addressing the violations of the rights of citizens in other countries and are, in particular, ignoring topics such as arms sales and its consequences on human rights.

What to do now?

Both the Human Rights programme and WILPF Sweden will now advocate for the full implementation of all recommendations and hope that the government will be open to receive support and advice in this task.

If you would like to know more on the UPR process, visit UPR Info’s webpage to find out how you can engage in the advancement of the human rights situation in your country.

Do you know what part of the process your country is in? You might still be in time to make a change! Spreading the word about the UPR mechanism is also essential to the protection and promotion of human rights.

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[1] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Violence against women: an EU-wide survey, Main results

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