Sweden: Sweden takes aim at honor crimes

The oppression of women and girls in the name of family honor has become an urgent problem in Sweden with the arrival of growing numbers of immigrants over the past few years, the country’s integration minister said Tuesday. Nyamko Sabuni, herself a Congolese immigrant and Sweden’s first black minister, said in an interview with The Associated Press that Swedes should not accept traditions that clash with the Scandinavian nation’s fundamental values, including equality between the sexes. Sabuni has angered many Muslims in the past by calling for a ban on headscarves for teenage girls in Sweden. “Honor-related violence is an urgent gender equality issue,” said Sabuni, 37. “Everyone who works with it – the police, social services and women’s shelters – say that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. It’s a big problem.” Many European countries have reported so-called honor crimes, in which women are punished or even killed by relatives for committing adultery or violating other sexual mores. But Sabuni, who took office with the center-right government in October, said the problem was much bigger than the handful of murders that have gained major media attention in Sweden in recent years. “I know there are girls who cannot choose with whom to marry. I know there are girls whose genitals are mutilated. I know there are girls whose virginity is checked before they marry,” Sabuni said. “For me it’s unacceptable that these phenomena exist in a democratic country.” About 12 percent of Sweden’s 9 million residents are foreign-born, and the proportion is growing. Last year, Sweden received about 80,000 immigrants – the highest number ever – led by an influx of Iraqi refugees. Many Muslims in Sweden have lashed out at Sabuni, saying they feel unfairly targeted by her campaign against honor crimes. They say such traditions date back hundreds of years in some Middle Eastern and African countries and have nothing to do with Islam. Sabuni, who was raised in a Muslim family but considers herself an agnostic, said: “I’m not that interested in what Islam stipulates. I am very interested in saying that some traditions, some practices are completely unacceptable and illegal.” Sabuni has also angered Muslims by calling for withdrawing state support to religious schools and a ban on headscarves for girls under 15, although those proposals have not won support in the four-party government. “Everything suggests this tradition is emerging here in Sweden, it’s not something you bring from your former home country,” Sabuni said about the Islamic headscarf. “And that brings the question: What is happening in our society that makes parents put headscarves on their children?” Unlike in France, there are no laws against wearing religious symbols in schools in Sweden. Sabuni said Sweden would be able to absorb the growing tide of refugees, but added that discrimination and self-imposed seclusion by some immigrants were hampering integration. “We have a generation today that does not really feel Swedish. Many with an African background, like myself, are not addressed as Afro-Swedes, but as Congolese or Somalis or something else,” she said. “In that respect I feel that we have failed.”