Nordic women’s organisations want to strengthen girls’ rights

Nordic women’s organisations are troubled by the increasingly common reports of girls in the Nordic countries being sexually harassed in the school environment and other public places. The project titled Full Rights for Girls in the Nordic Countries aims to increase the awareness of the problem.

The Swedish women’s organisation WOCAD is very critical of the way girls are treated in the Nordic region.

‘Girls in the Nordic countries are being harassed, groped and sexually abused. Pictures of them are spread on the internet and they are called derogatory words. This can’t go on,’ says the organisation’s general manager Leena Haraké.

She believes the situation of girls has gone downhill in the last ten years.

‘One difference today compared with in the past is that it has become more common that whole gangs of people bully, harass and violate lone girls.

Leena Haraké, organisation’s general manager

The violations can have serious consequences for young women’s health.

‘The victims feel ashamed when they are told they have themselves to blame for the attacks, that their skirts were too short or they wore too much lipstick. This makes the girls lose their self-confidence and self-esteem,’ says Leena Haraké.

The increasingly harsh climate in society made WOCAD initiate the project Full Rights for Girls in the Nordic Countries. The one-year project, which started last autumn and is funded by the Nordic Gender Equality Fund, also involves three additional organisations that work to promote the rights of girls and women: Naistenkartano from Finland, Blatt Afram from Iceland and Retretten from Norway.

What is the purpose of the project? 

‘We want to increase the support for girls’ rights in the Nordic countries. It should go without saying that girls shouldn’t have to risk being violated, regardless of what they wear or what they look like.

If we can initiate a dialogue and a discussion, more people and organisations will get involved in the work to strengthen girls’ rights, says Leena Haraké, who is heading the project.

How do you strengthen girls’ rights in the project?

‘We have organised four one-day courses in Karlstad, Mellerud, Falun and Gothenburg. Two more will be held in Reykjavik and Helsinki. At the courses, which are attended by for example policy makers, public health planners and people from youth organisations, we inform the participants about the latest development in the area of girls’ rights. Then we hold a discussion about how the participants plan to support girls. And a drama teacher leads a forum play where the participants get to practise how to identify violations, harassment and derogatory language and actions at an early point, and how to act in response.’

‘We also organised a seminar during the Almedalen Week in early July to reach out to politicians who can do something about the problem.’

What is needed in order for girls in the Nordic countries to enjoy their full rights? 

‘There’s a need for a change in attitudes and values. Parents, sports coaches and adults in the school system have a big responsibility. They need to have knowledge about what harassment, molestation and rape entail and clearly take action every time a girl is violated.’

What are the Nordic countries doing to strengthen girls’ rights? 

‘Finland has a deeply ingrained equity perspective. Freedom from harassment is a civil right. The issue is discussed a lot and is therefore taken very seriously. This makes it easier for victims to speak up. In Iceland, there are national efforts to prevent violations of both boys and girls. Parents have received information about how to tell their children that they have the right to defend themselves if someone touches their body and that they should tell someone if they are violated. Norwegian schools are boosting girls by clearly telling them that no one has the right to violate them. Sweden is the Nordic country that has the furthest to go. For example, there’s a need for reminders from the political level that violations of girls are criminal acts,’ says Leena Haraké.

Logotype Nordic Council of Ministers Logotype Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research Logotype University of Gothenburg