The discussion on #metoo has only just begun


Image: Yadid Levy/norden.org

The #metoo campaign has awoken many memories. Memories that one would rather have buried, but never could. Memories of a speeding and fearful heart, of sweaty hands placed where they should not, of a sex pressed against your thigh in an elevator or hurtful words and humiliating comments.

But #metoo has also made us women talk openly about sexual harassment and sexual abuse. We have shared the memories which we’ve often kept to ourselves, and we have proven that which we knew all along, that sexual harassment is an epidemic found in our daily lives, an epidemic that is never latent but which flares up and casts ugly shadows on our society and that scars for life. That no woman is vaccinated against this epidemic, regardless of age. The testimonies that arose from the #metoo campaign show that this type of offensive treatment – especially affecting girls and women – is widespread in the Nordic countries. The harassment is everywhere in our community and the field of culture is definitely no exception.

For several decades, the Nordic Region has served as inspiration in gender equality for other countries, often at the top of global rankings with regards to this. At the same time we cannot boast and say that the job is done when women in Sweden, in industry after industry, have called out “enough”. In Norway, both actors and musicians have signed an appeal against this treatment, while in Iceland politicians and actors have spoken out as witnesses to abuse. In Finland, women in the cultural sector have signed an appeal and testified of broken boundaries and offensive behavior and the Finland-Swedish hashtag #dammenbrister [red: translates to “the dam is breaking” – a reference to the Finland-Swedish community which often refers to itself as the ‘duck pond’] has collected more than 6000 signatures. Also in Denmark, female singers have testified of abuse and harassment.

Sexual harassment and abuse is not a private matter, it is a societal problem. It shows women and men are not fully equal in the society. And no, of course, ALL men do not grope, harass or use others bodies without permission. But almost all women have been exposed to this behavior. When nearly half of everyone in a society is affected, it is the other half that need to put an end to the harassment and abuse. The problem of sexual harassment should be addressed on a broad political front, but it is also our responsibility to address the structural problem. I am pleased that the Finnish Parliament has debated sexual harassment. And I am pleased that the Swedish minister of culture has taken a strong stand against harassment and abuse. The fact that the Nordic prime ministers discussed #metoo during a ministerial meeting in Helsinki was also very welcome and I look forward to see how Sweden will be taking the matter further and what proposals for action will be presented in the coming year when the Swedes hold the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

We can start by reviewing our own work community, associations and organizations, and ensuring that we have a plan for how to identify harassment and how to deal with these issues. And we must continue to talk about sexual harassment. The #metoo campaign has served as an eye opener, now we have all responsibility to use this knowledge. Together we can create a society where girls and women, boys and men are respected and feel safe and heard by others. A society where no one laughs at a friend’s questionable story or turns a blind eye when he or she can see that the woman sitting opposite them obviously does not want the stranger’s hands on her breasts. Together, we can also raise future generations in a way that makes them respect others bodies, to boldly face unpleasant situations and to be responsive and respectful. Then we deserve to be an inspirational example on the road towards equality in eyes of the world.

NIKK (Nordic Information on Gender) has done a survey of what legislation applies in the Nordic countries when it comes to sexual harassment. The survey can be found here.


WRITTEN BY: Anna Jungner-Nordgren, Communications Advisor, Norden i Fokus Finland.

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