Sexual harassment does not have a nationality

Updated: Apr 6, 2019

By: Edinah Masanga

This commentary was written in response to a new study which found that "In Sweden, foreign-born youths are given harsher sentences for sexual offences than natives"

I will never defend sexual harassment nor will I ever defend any vile actions of men against women but I will not, with the same measure, stand for baseless accusations of men based on broad generalisations because of their race, religion or skin colour. I will not allow that because sexual harassment does not have a nationality.

The #metoo movement in Sweden, which apparently shows no sign of abating, revealed how women in Sweden experience sexual harassment at alarming levels from Swedish men. This after the far-right has drummed our ears deaf by proclaiming that foreign men are raping and terrorising "their women."

The far-right movement in Sweden blames everything on immigrants. In 2015, Sweden experienced a heavy influx of refugees which sparked racist rhetoric by the so-called nationalists. One of the major talking points was, and still is, that refugees are sexual predators and that ‘Swedish women get harassed by foreigners everywhere’.

For a moment, this could have been true, in fact, it began to gain momentum until one hashtag, #metoo exposed the dark lie about sexual harassment in Sweden: women had long been suffering at the hands of male sexual predators long before the thousands of refugees thronged Swedish shores.

There was even a hashtag (#nödvärn) against the police – custodians of the law.

But because the politically popular thing in Europe now is to blame everything on refugees, far-right political parties capitalised on the refugee influx to gain political capital by presenting refugee men as savages.

While all this may be, devastatingly, true, it is not true for refugees only.

The conversation about sexual harassment should always be about gender; and the fact that men’s behaviour towards women – whether intended or unintended – is informed by the unequal social status between men and women in the whole world today. And not by the nationality of the victim.

Let’s face it, men all over the world, irrespective of their race, continue to benefit from patriarchy. One of those benefits include sexually abusing women and being pardoned through whimsical excuses such as ‘they are men’ and ‘it’s a men’s thing.’

Famous Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, in her famous TEDx speech rightly said, ‘the idea of men as savage beings, unable to control themselves’ is somewhat troubling.

Patriarch keeps getting the pass. People choose to pay a blind eye to the gender dynamics that lead men to behave the way they do against women.

While I agree that some men may indeed be coming from countries where women’s rights and dignity are undervalued in comparison to western cultures, I also know that they commit sexual crimes because of the unequal power relations between men and women.

Women get attacked by men because they are considered weak; and that when they say no it is interpreted as yes because men have been raised to think that they must initiate sexual contact and if turned away they must persist against the will of the female partner because that’s what a ‘real’ man should do.

Men are socialised to see women as sexual objects meant for men’s sexual gratification. Women are therefore considered receivers of sex, docile beings which must wait for men to give them sex while they must not ask for it when they want it or turn it down when they do not want it. Sex is often posited as a man’s right and a woman’s luxury and in that analogy, men can’t live without sex while women can do without it unless they are ‘sluts’.

I want to encourage people to think deeply about the fact that while blaming race for a crime of testosterone is an attractive narrative in Europe, it’s not going to help address sexually related violations of women’s rights and dignity because it simply does not make sense.

On the 2016 New Year’s Eve, there was a groping scandal in German. Women who had stepped out to enjoy New Year’s Eve celebrations were touched and felt inappropriately by a mob of unruly men and left violated and traumatised. Underline the word men. The women were groped by men. Men.

The reality in the world today is that women are groped, harassed, raped, beaten and degraded because they are women and not because they are Swedish or German or – in the grand scheme of things – European. Or Western.

In the aftermath of the German groping scandal most people – influenced by media sympathetic to the far-right movement – focused on the perceived race of the alleged perpetrators and not on the gender of the victims or of the perpetrators.

This narrative, which persists today in Sweden, is untrue, xenophobic and racist.

Women get attacked because men are raised to be ‘strong’ and control women and their desires, ambitions, aspirations and bodies. And the over two dozen #metoo hashtags in Sweden proved that Swedish women indeed suffered at the hands of Swedish men and thus race is irrelevant in the case of sexual harassment. It is both a hindrance and scapegoat in facing reality and addressing gender-based sexual harassment of women. In Sweden or elsewhere in the world.

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