At lunchtime today, the steering group for Man Up Sweden will gather for the very first time at the restaurant Pålsjö Mat in Helsingborg. We will organize ourselves and discuss how we can create the maximum exposure in Sweden for the Irish campaign www.manup.ie, whose purpose is to work against domestic violence and abuse of women in society.
Sweden is one of the top countries in the world for equality between men and women. This is something to be proud of. Yet we are often horrified by news items showing that Sweden has a long way to go before becoming a country where women feel safe and have the same opportunities as men.
Reports show a weakness in the judicial system in rape cases, where research studies about sexual crimes are ignored. We know that verbal abuse and vulgar taunting is commonplace in school. We read about female journalists being bullied and abused on the Internet, and even subject to death threats simply for expressing their views in their line of work.
Too many women in Swedish homes live in constant fear of a controlling man, which in turn damages also the children living there. In business there is hardly any gender equality either. Typically, women are paid less for the same job and men have unlimited power in many business situations. How can things be so bad in one of the most equal societies in the world?
Two weeks ago, we were in Ireland in order to help our middle daughter settle into her new job at the Google European head office in Dublin. We had a fantastic weekend enjoying the warm Irish welcome and various cultural offerings such as Guinness and Irish coffee.
In the city centre, at Liberty Hall, we noticed a billboard advertisement. It was practically impossible to avoid, since it was 20 metres long and covered almost the whole side of the building. The campaign featured was Man Up, whose purpose is to make Ireland the safest place in the world for women and children.
Having three grown-up daughters making their way in the world, we felt strongly that we wanted to bring this campaign to Sweden. Through their website www.manup.ie and by e-mail, we contacted the organization behind the campaign and asked whether it would be possible for us to run the campaign in Sweden. Our enquiry was positively received. They had launched the Man Up campaign a couple of weeks earlier and were receiving a fantastic response.
The United Nations General Assembly has designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is the perfect day to launch Man Up in Sweden and to call on all the good forces, especially from men, to speak up and say that enough is enough.
In order to really deal with the abuse and the structural barriers for women, men are required to get involved and commit to this campaign. This is not a women’s problem. It is a men’s problem and to solve it we need men who are ready to act for real change. Many women know the problem all too well and are already fighting. But, for women, it can be tough to challenge a man, since men who abuse lack respect for women.
Men may have a greater opportunity to succeed in this, but it takes courage to challenge another man, courage to voice your disapproval the next time someone tells a joke that belittles or exploits women or by refusing to operate in a context where the female perspective is missing. In acute situations where women are subject to domestic violence, Man Up will encourage us to intervene in a safe manner and take action to get help.
We must get better at recognizing abusive situations and having the courage to speak out when they happen. When more people decide to do this and abusive behaviour no longer is tolerated in society, it will lead to a culture shift which will create a softer society for all our sakes. Let’s no longer settle for being one of the most equal countries in the world. Let us become THE equal country.
Equality is based on mutual respect and it starts with you and me. Let us eliminate domestic violence and abuse against women in society once and for all. We know of no-one who would not welcome it. Together, let us build an equal society where women and children are safe and where everyone has the same opportunities.
Joachim and Petra Samuelsson live in Laröd, outside Helsingborg in Sweden, but will shortly move to Silicon Valley for three months to establish Malmö company Crunchfish in the USA. The couple discovered the Man Up campaign during a recent trip to Ireland.