Gender Politics

Swedish Gender Politics and the Assange case

Gender politics has shaped Swedish politics over the past decade. Gender politics in Sweden has also been decisive in shaping the Swedish Sexual Offences legislation that criminalises conduct that is considered legal in the UK as long as it is consensual (which is the case in the alleged conduct involving Julian Assange).

We don’t have equal rights between men and women in Sweden. The women have more rights than men. - Ann Helena Rudberg to Channel 4 UK

Brita Sundberg-Weitman, a Swedish lawyer, retired judge and distinguished jurist, spoke of Sweden’s gender politics and the Assange case at the Feb 2011 Hearing:

"Outsiders will not be aware of the role gender plays in politics in Sweden. In recent years, elements of the Social Democrat Party, including one of the complainants who is a well-known and aspiring Social Democrat politician, and her lawyer Mr Borgström, and some public officials like Ms Ny have taken the lead in amending Swedish law so as to try to make it more favourable to women. This has become a matter of political debate, but at a legal level, although some reforms have been welcome, there is a concern that others are actually producing unfairness and discrimination against men."

"It is a fact that people like Marianne Ny and Claes Borgström have worked in cooperation on different issues in efforts to produce our new, more stringent sexual offence laws. It is a fact that Marianne Ny was one of the experts for the recent law reform committee which published a report in 2010 recommending even more harsh sexual offence legislation. It is a fact that Marianne Ny approved the contents of that report which concluded that, unlike the law of England and Wales, Swedish rape law is not based upon lack of consent and which specifically rejects any recommendation that Swedish law be amended to adopt the English law approach where rape is based on consent (see page 125 of SOU 2010: 71)."

Marianne Ny

Sundberg-Weitman’s critical comments of Marianne Ny were widely publicised: Ny is ’biased against men’ and ’a well-known radical feminist’.

"Like Mr Borgström, Ms Ny is a well known feminist. For example, she is known to have said that when a woman says she has been assaulted by a man, the man ought to be detained because it is not until he is in prison that the woman may have the peace to consider whether or not she has been mistreated. Ms Ny has stated that she believes that imprisoning the man has a positive effect, "even in cases where the perpetrator is prosecuted but not convicted". It is also informative, in regards to the presumption of innocence, that she uses the term ’perpetrator’ rather than ’defendant’ or ’suspect’ in discussing criminal investigation in rape cases."

Sundberg-Weitman is referring to a report for the act to protect women (Kvinnofridslagen) for the Court Administration in 2001. Marianne Ny argued that:

"It is only after the man is behind bars, and when the woman has the time and peace to get a little perspective, that she has a chance to realise how she has been treated." - This arguably constitutes arbitrary detention. It is also not a legitimate reason for imprisonment: legitimate grounds in Sweden are risk of absconding, risk of collusion, risk of continued criminality.

Brita Sundberg-Weitman:

"Marianne Ny, unlike other prosecutors, has made various statements [...] in which she regards the prosecution of men, even without sufficient evidence, as in the public interest ’pour encourager les autres’ [to deter others] [emphasis added]. She is a high profile prosecutor who is also a crusader on gender issues and the international attention that this case has received may have made her intransigent and, in my view, overly harsh and disproportionate in attacking Mr Assange by way of this EAW rather than by using the Mutual Legal Assistance provisions to obtain his evidence and, indeed, accepting his proffer of evidence by way of video link or Scotland Yard interview suite or attendance at the Swedish embassy."

Claes Borgström

In her witness statement to the court, Sundberg-Weitman writes:

"It is important to note here that an appeal was made on behalf of the complainants by Mr Claes Borgström, a well known politician, lawyer, and ultra radical feminist and activist. [...] Mr Borgström can be described as an ultra radical feminist. He is also a politician whose platform is associated with radical feminist activism, and he has developed a legal practice around acting for complainants in rape cases. Mr Borgström has appeared on numerous occasions in the Swedish and international media condemning Mr Assange."

Borgström supported a proposal for a "man-tax". This proposal suggested that all men should pay a special collective tax, common to all men, to cover the costs to the state of gender-based violence.

The ’man-tax’ proposal was tabled by Gudrun Schyman who was at the time the head of the Leftist Party. Schyman has a history of polemics: in a speech at the party’s congress in 2002 she compared the oppression of women in Sweden with that of women under the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Claes Borgström also likened gender relations in Sweden to the Taliban in the same spirit as Schyman while he was serving as Equal Opportunities Ombudsman in 2006: "I stand by what I have written. Deep down we have a similar view of women in Sweden as the Taliban..."

The Equality Minister, Nyamko Sabuni, remarked: "Perhaps Claes should visit the Taliban and see how women are being treated there. Comparing their situation with Swedish women’s situation shows a lack of empathy and a lack of respect... He’s also not doing us a favour in the equality debate. You don’t get good foundations for cooperation if you just place the blame on men."

Schyman, who likened Swedish men to the Taliban and proposed the man-tax, wrote an article in which she grouped Julian Assange together with a convicted serial rapist (former police chief Göran Lindberg, more about him in Rule of Law) and another man who has confessed to raping several people and who is awaiting conviction. According to Schyman the three have in common ’the inability of those involved to confess, and the inability of those in their surroundings to accept the facts [or take facts in]’.

Naming and shaming suspected sex buyers

A controversial statement by the current Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask in March 2010 is also indicative of the political climate in Sweden when it comes to sexual offences. Minister Ask suggested in a public talk that men suspected of buying sex should be named and shamed. Bright-coloured envelopes could be sent to their homes, so that their children and wives could see them, she suggested. "It is a little like being shamed on the town square... In practice maybe we can’t have coloured envelopes, but we have to show who they are and let those around them know." She received criticism for the statements, not least from Thomas Bodström who called for her resignation: "Sweden cannot have a Minister of Justice who is unable to comprehend the principle of innocent until proven guilty."

’Feminism’ and the Swedish state

A significant interest group, which can be broadly described as ’feminists’ (although most people would not call it thus), has gained prominence in Sweden since the 1980s. It is arguably more defining - almost as an ideology - in today’s Sweden than its (now unrecognisable) model of social democracy.

We are the biggest militant organisation in Sweden today with approximately 7,000 members. And one can easily say that represents a lot of power. So we’re really a militant organisation and we’re opinion makers and we’re a feminist movement and we’re not going to be silent. - Ireen von Wachenfeldt 2005

The self-proclaimed ’feminist’ interest group has successfully established a case for policy reform. It has also given gender politics a particular prominence at different institutional levels which has been used by the more opportunistic (like Police Chief/rapist, pimp and procurer Göran Lindberg) to advance their careers.

This interest group has been forcefully lobbying for the string of reforms in the laws concerning the protection of women, the amplification of the definition of rape, and so on, over the past decade. Some of the groups that make up this lobby are, ideologically speaking, fringe organisations, but they have nevertheless managed to place themselves at the centre of the debate for reform in sexual offences laws. One of the more controversial organisations is ROKS.

The same publication that prosecutor Marianne Ny contributed to in 2001 (about the new Law for the Protection of Women) includes a two-page special on ROKS. The organisation introduces itself in the following terms:

"All Lay Judges should talk to the women counselors at ROKS! Over the past 20 years we have developed a unique experience and competence by helping battered and abused women on a daily basis. Let the women counselors (kvinnojourerna, i.e. ROKS) be a resource bank, instead of considering us from a distance as uneducated rabid manhaters!"

The ROKS organisation was one of the subjects of the documentary ’Könskriget’ (The Gender War, available with English subtitles) from 2005. It led to the resignation of the chairperson Ireen von Wachenfeldt, who made several incendiary statements in the documentary such as ’men are animals’. The documentary was a wake-up call about the rise of radical ’feminism’ in Sweden, and to the prominent role of incendiary rhetoric by people in positions of power.

For English subtitles visit here.

According to its own description, ROKS is made up of local delegations which are financed by the local authorities, although just over half receive a salary. At the national level ROKS is state-funded. ROKS is a women-only organisation. It is associated with controversial fringe groups like Bellas vänner. The documentary The Gender War explains the story of Caroline, a young girl who had sought help from this support group after a bad relationship. Bellas vänner kidnapped her and another girl while they were in their care, claiming that a group of paedophiles were chasing her. They went to several safehouses, one in Norway. The girls fell into depression and became catatonic. The girls were rescued by an ally in Norway.

The documentary also featured Eva Lundgren, reportedly AA’s lecturer at Uppsala University. Lundgren’s outlandish theories on satanic rituals carried out by men on women and children in Sweden led to an inquiry at Uppsala University where she taught until 2011. The inquiry discredited Lundgren’s research about the satanic rituals. Lundgren resigned in 2011. This article summarises the documentary and puts the protagonists into context.

Related articles:

Sexual Offences

Further Resources:

Professor Ferrada Noli on the nature of ’State Feminism’ in Sweden

- ’Welcome to Sweden, Leave as Soon as You Can’ - Summary of ’The Sex War’ documentary in English, part 1 and part 2

Brita-Sundberg Weitman Expert Opinion

Helene Bergman, Feminists in Assange Case Doing Harm to Feminism (Swedish; English translation)

Helene Bergman, Assange is Right: Sweden’s the Saudi Arabia of Feminism (Swedish; English)

Andrew Anthony Göran Lindberg and Sweden’s dark side

2808 days under house arrest.

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