RWI’s director Morten Kjaerum writes to commemorate March 8, 2016, International Women’s Day.
“From a gender perspective, 2016 started on a very low note with the terrible rapes, sexual harassment, and violence against hundreds of women in Cologne. Young immigrant men with primarily North African background seem to be the main group of perpetrators.
“For good reasons these attacks have attracted a lot of attention that has developed into a discussion on how to ensure women a joyful evening in town without being harassed.
“Part of the discussion throughout Europe has focused on how to teach young men with a non-European background about gender equality and how to respect women.
“Less upfront in the discussion is how we can teach all young men, – and also older men – to respect women and take a no for an answer. Many forget that it has always been difficult for women to be free from harassment when going out at night.
“In 2015, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) released the biggest study ever done in the EU on violence against women. Based on interviews with 42,000 women on their experiences of sexual, psychological and physical violence, the study showed a shockingly high prevalence of violence against women, in particular, from their partners, but also by un-known perpetrators. This picture of violence was the same in countries with a high and low level of gender equality. Thus, it indicates a very complex picture causing the violence.
“The man’s general upbringing would certainly be one element that impacts his propensity to commit violence against women. But there are many other factors at play, including alcohol consumption and the impact group behaviour has.
“The FRA survey illustrates that in order to combat violence against women more effectively, we also need to understand the impact that a higher level of gender equality in a society has on men. What is the new role for men in a society with a higher level of gender equality? How can the man understand his new role in the family, in the workplace, and in society? Together with this identity uncertainty, men can get anxious and insecure, and in that situation, we know all too well that violence may be a reaction – in particular if it’s combined with alcohol.
“So, on our journey to a society with full gender equality, let’s avoid falling into traps of “ethnifying” violence against women. Rather, let’s try to improve our understanding of why this violence occurs so that we can root it out. Violence against women is one of the most important factors holding back full and complete gender equality.”