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It’s estimated that 5,000 women are murdered globally each year in the name of honor. Within the three biggest cities of Sweden, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, 6000 young people live under honor-based repression and run the risk of being exposed to honor-based violence (HBV). That is approximately every sixth ninth-grader in Sweden. These results emerged from a study carried out by Örebro University in 2018. Unfortunately, HBV is not a new phenomenon in Sweden nor are the alarming figures. Back in 2009 Sweden’s Agency for Youth and Civil Society Issues were able to confirm, through their study Married Against Their Will, that an estimated 70,000 young people lived in some form of honor-based oppression. And according to the statistics of 2019 from the country administration of Östergötland (who carries out the national preventative and counteracting work against HBV and oppression in Sweden, mandated by the government) 63% of reported victims are under 18 years old and 80% of cases concern women.

Honor-based violence and oppression is expressed in many and different forms.  It is not limited nor bound to a specific cultural, geographical or religious context. Honor killings have been reported not only in India, Pakistan, UK and the US, but also in Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey and Uganda. However, as our world becomes increasingly globalized and people and cultures migrate, they also assimilate. Such developments challenge both liberal and conservative traditions which runs the risk of creating segregation. Within this context the connection between increased segregation and increased violence has become apparent. Experience shows that countries with high levels of equality and integration leads to more peaceful, prosperous and democratic societies.

Honor-based violence is widespread and affects girls and women as well as boys, men, binary, non-binary and people amongst the LBGT-community. Acts of HBV include female genital mutilation, acid attacks, forced marriage, forced travels to the family’s homeland, the pressure or coercion to engage in exercising violence against someone else, as well as many other forms of physical, psychological, sexual, economic and material abuse. The oppression often consists of threats or limitations upon young people’s freedom of movement and freedom of choice. The violence and oppression are particularly characterized by its collective nature and the concept of ‘honor’ being closely tied to the notion of female sexuality and virtue as a vessel of the family’s honor and status. Anyone who challenges or defies the prevailing norms is thus considered to bring shame over the family and risks being subjected to harassment, abuse, threats and social exclusion, in order for the family or an extended collective to regain what is perceived as lost honor.

In Sweden, the problem was first raised in 1996 with the murder of the 15-year-old girl Sara Abed Ali. But it was not until the murder of Pela Atroshi in 1999 and Fadime Sahindal in 2002 that honor-based killings, violence and oppression became a recognized state concern for Sweden. The patriarchal violence against women also received international attention, and in the UN General Assembly resolution on the elimination of crimes against women committed in the name of honour (Resolution 55/66), HBV was reaffirmed as a matter of human rights violations. Consequently, states have an obligation to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and offer protection to those who are exposed of HBV. The resolution also highlighted that an insufficient understanding of the root causes of men’s violence against women and crimes in the name of honor prevents the possibility of counteracting the violence.

Within Sweden, the government has made comprehensive efforts to prevent and combat HBV and oppression and its’ various forms of expression. For example, the issue was addressed in the Action Plan 2007/08: 39 and in the proposition 2013/14: 208, the Government lifted the ban on forced marriage and child marriage. Since then, the Government has also adopted the “Foreign Ministry’s action plan for feminist foreign policy 2019-2022” and the “Power goals and authority – feminist policy for an equal future” (2016) which contains strategies to prevent and combat men’s violence against women. According to the Government Offices website, the Government wants to carry out a comprehensive, perennial initiative to prevent and combat HBV and oppression. This was reflected in the budget bill for 2018, which included measures for SEK 100 million in 2018 and SEK 57 million annually during 2019-2020. But despite these large investments, the efforts have had a limited effect within Sweden. And, the country administration of Östergötland has rather seen an increase in incoming cases of HBV in Sweden since 2014.

Yet, the issue of preventing and combating HBV is not included in Sweden’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2016-2020. This reflects a discrepancy between the national and international work for women, peace and security. It may also indicate that Sweden’s population and its needs are not reflected in Sweden’s national work for women, peace and security. Could this implicate that HBV is not recognized as a national security issue? Would the policy and work against HBV perhaps gain more power and progress if it were viewed as a security issue? And could this be a possible cause and explanation for the limited success of Sweden’s policy on HBV at the national level?

In order to strengthen Sweden’s work for women, peace and security, it is highly relevant that the National Action Plan corresponds to the actual population’s composition and that it considers the security risks and human rights abuses that so many are exposed to within Sweden. The importance of highlighting patriarchal norms and increasing the understanding of its different forms is not only important for the safety of the individual, but a crucial issue for the women, peace and the security agenda. It ultimately concerns the maintenance of our human rights and our democracy. In order to reach a holistic gender equality, intersectional and inclusive analysis based on the victim’s experiences, expertise and needs, is not only crucial but a prerequisite for any real progress in preventing and combatting HBV.

The issue of HBV and oppression is complex and requires expertise and integrity if we want to protect and ensure the safety of the individual. Therefore, more knowledge is needed about norms regarding gender, power and sexuality and its interaction with other factors on individual and societal levels. In this context, the quest of integration as equality becomes an important aspect of countering violence and oppression. We need to broaden Sweden’s security perspective so that the entire population can live a life free from violence and oppression. This means a strengthened preventative and inclusive perspective with long-term, sustainable and carefully balanced solutions that do not run the risk of exposing the individual. That is precisely the ultimate objective: To guarantee human security. For all.

Written by Anna Santos Rasmussen, Intern at Operation 1325 during the spring 2019