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#InternationalWomensDay: Why Women Live in Fear in the First 'Feminist' Nation


STOCKHOLM — When the world's self-described "first feminist government" of Sweden paid a state visit to Tehran in 2017, what Iranians saw on TV was Swedish ministers wearing Islamic head coverings.

Swedish officials could have chosen the moment to bravely show their support for Iranian women, some of whom are risking their lives by fighting for equality and the right to not wear a hijab.

Instead, Swedish officials showed their support for Iran's Islamic government, saying later that to not wear a headscarf would have been illegal.

'Hypocrisy' over Women's Rights

But critics say this kind of double standard on women's rights is nothing new in Sweden, where the "world's first feminist government" has had a role in making the nation less safe for women.

In Sweden today, it seems there are two sets of women's rights: one for native women and another for immigrants.  

"I think there is, just like in many nations, hypocrisy," says Swedish parliament member Amineh Kakabaveh.

She also knows a thing or two about Iran and headscarves. A Kurd born into a Muslim family in Iran, Kakabaveh became a Peshmerga guerilla fighter as a teenager rather than lose her rights as a woman in Iran's Islamic theocracy.

Today she is fighting for women as a member of Sweden's Left party, but she has been called a "racist" and an "Islamophobe" when she has spoken out against Islamic fundamentalism or honor violence in migrant communities.

Honor Violence and 'Virginity Checks'

Kakabaveh's message is that in a nation that likes to think of itself as one of the most advanced societies in the world – a nation with roughly the same population as the state of North Carolina – 200,000 young people are now at risk from honor violence.

Swedish media reports some hospitals have even done virginity checks on young women, which is a key component in honor culture.

Government Obscures the Link between Migrants and Crime

Statistics show that the incidence of sexual crimes has risen dramatically, but Swedish economist and author, Dr. Tino Sanandaji, says the Swedish establishment continues to insist there is no firm link between immigrants and crime, sexual or otherwise.

"And to this day they deny it," says Sanandaji. "I mean, the official government homepage says there is no firm link between immigration and crime."

How can the Swedish government say that? Sanandaji says, "They're irrational and they're in a bubble. It's sort of the feeling of 'fake news.' They're putting propaganda on our government website."

"They will use irrational, aggressively irrational arguments to deny all causal links. They say things like 'the common denominator in honor killings is men [rather than 'migrant men']; just an illogical rhetorical trick to confuse people."

The Swedish government website insists the government is not covering up the link between immigrants and crime, but then goes on to blame the crime on socioeconomic differences.

Swedish Women in Danger

Meanwhile, in a nation where the safety of women should be paramount, Swedish women have had to take action to defend themselves, creating groping guards at public pools to keep men from assaulting them.

Tasers and pepper spray are illegal in Sweden, so authorities somehow think bracelets that say, 'do not molest me,' will help.
One Swedish woman summed up the fears of many when she said, "I feel threatened because if I walk outside at night, it can happen to me too. I can't defend myself."

But the most vulnerable women in Sweden today are migrants, living in refugee shelters. And the media has begun covering the problem.

"I think we are at a tipping point in the debate, as we speak," says Johan Westerholm, conservative Editor-in-Chief of Ledarsidorna.se, an independent social democratic web magazine.

Westerholm is concerned that Sweden has imported a whole host of problems with its immigration policy, including migrants who are not educated enough to get a job in Sweden's high tech economy.  

But, he added, to say publicly that Sweden's immigration policy has been a mistake would bring the "racist" accusation.
'Keep Your Culture,' Even if It Is Violent to Women

Demands that migrant men become more civilized in their treatment of women is also viewed by some in Sweden as a racist notion.

"The Swedish model is multiculturalism and the official message is 'keep your culture, you don't have to integrate,'" says Sanandaji. "That's the government message: 'in fact, we don't want you to integrate.'"

And it feels as if the Swedish government's number one priority is preserving its multicultural experiment and not protecting women.


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