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Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, mission to Sweden, A/HRC/4/34/Add.3, February 6, 2007

34. While these types of vulnerabilities are generally not disputed and to some extent are also addressed by special legal provisions (see below), it is hotly debated whether cultural specificities contribute to the vulnerability of women with a foreign background. In this context, the phenomenon of “honour-related violence” has commanded much public attention, especially after the murder of Fadime Sahindal in January 2002. [1] The term –widely used by Swedish policymakers, researchers and practitioners without being clearly defined (which is a problem) – is generally employed to describe cases in which women or girls are subjected to, or threatened with, violence because they are seen as defying their family’s expectations of “honourable” social or sexual behaviour. Some also use the term to refer to cases concerning homosexual or bisexual boys and men suffering violence at the hands of homophobic family members. The Swedish National Police Board calculates that about 400 cases of honour-related violence come to the attention of the authorities every year.

67. In March 2006, Sweden reformed its refugee legislation substantially, enhancing the protection of women coming to Sweden due to a well-founded fear of gender- related persecution. In the past, women who feared persecution solely on the basis of gender were not entitled to refugee status; they could only obtain a subsidiary protection status. The new legislation abolishes this two-tier system and expands the refugee definition to include women and men who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin because of their gender or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, some problems may persist with regard to cases involving gender-related persecution by non-State actors (i.e. the typical cases). The official commentary on the new refugee legislation indicates that it does not suffice that a private actor persecutes a woman due to her gender. In addition, the State of origin has to fail in adequately protecting the woman precisely due to her gender (or one of the grounds outlined in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees: race, nationality, etc.). A woman who has suffered gender-related persecution by a non- State actor because the State cannot protect her due to lack of resources or inefficiency would therefore not be regarded as a refugee. This interpretation of the law, which would introduce a double persecution requirement, diverges from the Guidelines on Gender-Related Persecution of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It is to be hoped that Swedish officials and courts will not follow this restrictive interpretation.


71. In view of the measures already taken and the remaining deficiencies, I would like to make the following recommendations:

(a) To the Government: (…)


(ii). Address root causes of violence against women by: (…)

  • Strengthening efforts to address the perpetuation of unequal gender power relations in the private sphere, including through measures at  the school and preschool levels, to foster the development of male and female identities that break with notions of inequality and use of force;
  • Strengthening efforts, including those outlined in the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Xenophobia, Homophobia and Discrimination, to protect persons belonging to ethnic or religious minorities from discrimination in the labour market, the justice sector and other key areas. Special measures should be considered to facilitate the equal participation of women and men with an immigrant, refugee or minority background in the educational system and the labour market. The Government should also strongly consider signing and ratifying the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Link to full text of the report: Misssion report-SR Violence against Women-Sweden-2007-eng

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Fadime, who grew up in a Kurdish family of Turkish origin, refused to enter into a marriage arranged by her family and had a Swedish boyfriend. She publicly spoke out against patriarchal oppression in immigrant families and also addressed the Parliament in this context. In January 2002 her father shot and killed her in the family’s home in Uppsala. He claimed to have committed the crime to restore the family’s honour.