In the unusually heated debate about the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, Sweden.se throws in four nominees for the future. They are Swedish non-profit organizations working for a more equal and inclusive society. Other suggestions that fit the profile? Just post a comment.
With Rättviseförmedlingen, founder Lina Thomsgård has made a name for herself as a young changemaker. Photo: Stefan Gustavsson
Rättviseförmedlingen promotes new role models
Rättviseförmedlingen (the equality agency) finds new role models for participation in TV programs, interviews, history books, debates, events and more. It may, for example, help media by suggesting a man to speak about parenting, or an immigrant female scholar to participate in a panel discussion.
Lina Thomsgård, founder of rapidly growing Rättviseförmedlingen, explains why the organization is needed: “Today, media perpetuates the old stereotypes of men and women, and we want to break old prejudices. All the people sitting on an expert panel do not have to be white men who speak perfect Swedish,” she says.
Thomsgård, whose day job is working with PR and communications (in a PR firm that she also founded), started the non-profit, web-based organization Rättviseförmedlingen in March 2010. Thanks to the speedy communication of Facebook and Twitter, the organization has already managed to achieve a network of more than 20,000 people who recommend alternative role models.
“One of the Swedish newspapers could only find male experts on The Rolling Stones until our network suggested a number of female options,” Thomsgård says. “We also came up with a list of female magicians for a kid’s event. It’s important to show children that you don’t need a penis to be a magician!”
Rather than pointing the finger, Thomsgård decided to do something concrete to alter underrepresentation in society and used her internet and communication skills to make things happen. Describing herself as “an optimist fueled by anger,” she says: “I always think ‘this isn’t good enough — we can do better.’”
In the future, she hopes that her organization won’t be necessary. For now, however, she is very much in demand, propelled by the overwhelming response to her cry for justice. Requests to help start similar organizations in other countries have also started coming in.
“If you have a vision about how the world could be, there are always others who agree, and the internet is a great tool to get things going,” Thomsgård says. “Be open and welcoming and let all those who want to join, come in. Together you can take the vision far.”
With more than 20,000 "likers" on Facebook, Rättviseförmedlingen is convincing proof of this. And new role models are slowly but surely making Sweden more equal.
Rättviseförmedlingen on Facebook
Rättviseförmedlingen on Twitter
Andreas Drufva, marketing manager at Swedish NGO Friends, fights against bullying. Photo: Friends
Friends against bullying
Sixty thousand children are bullied in Sweden, according to a 2002 report by the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket). Friends, a non-profit organization, is working with schools, pre-schools and sports associations to change this situation and give kids a sense of security.
The report about Swedish schooling also reveals that one out of ten students is beaten and every fourth student is subjected to sexual harassment. Andreas Drufva, marketing manager at Friends, has a lot to fight against.
“Children have the right to feel good at school and at their after-school activities. They also have the right to be seen and heard — and be themselves. These are the foundations for developing as a person.”
An anti-bullying law, enacted in 2006, has given Swedish schools clearer guidelines for taking action, reporting and responding to the problem which, up until recently, was only addressed in the working world. As Drufva points out, “School is a kid’s workplace.”
There is, unfortunately, no quick fix to the problem, but Friends is working long-term to improve the social environment within groups and schools, aiming to ensure that children aren’t excluded. So far, it has trained 300,000 adults, mainly teachers, on how to handle bullying.
Friends has also trained around 30,000 students, encouraging them to take a stand against bullying and discrimination. “Adults are ultimately responsible, but it is important to involve students in the process as well and have open discussions with them,” Drufva says. “Kids often see and hear things that adults don’t notice, such as group pressure or a bad atmosphere.”
Intervention remains just as important, as bullying moves into new channels like the internet and cell phones. Friends encourages parents to pop in on the digital world as they might do at a school and to engage in discussion with their children. “In addition to asking your child how school was, you can ask: ‘How were things on the net today?’” Drufva says.
Currently operating only in Sweden, other countries have shown an interest in Friends’ efforts, and the organization has started working with Save the Children to improve the situation in the Baltic countries.
Unfortunately, bullying is an issue that affects people worldwide. “I don’t think the situation is worse in Sweden than elsewhere, but we have brought attention to it here,” Drufva says. “All of us at Friends are convinced that bullying can be eliminated with knowledge, discussion and enough resources.”
Friends on Facebook (only in Swedish)
According to Frida Metso, chairwoman of FARR, many Swedes are willing to help refugees. Photo: Press photo
FARR stands up for refugees in Sweden
FARR, the Swedish Network of Asylum and Refugee Support Groups, offers help to asylum seekers coming to Sweden. With anti-immigrant parties slipping into European governments — including the Swedish parliament — many people feel that organizations like this are needed more than ever.
Since 1988, the Swedish volunteer group FARR has been working diligently to assist asylum seekers coming to Sweden. FARR Chairwoman Frida Metso explains that the battle has often just begun for the thousands of people who overcome the hurdles of leaving their homes for a new country, only to be turned away.
“We take very concrete actions,” Metso says. This includes offering help with everything from defending the right to asylum and appealing refugee cases, to comforting asylum seekers and helping them hide when the need arises.
“There are so many stories and so many cases where the laws have not been upheld for asylum seekers,” Metso says. “For instance, there was recently a case of a young homosexual man from Afghanistan whose refugee status was rejected despite the clear laws to the contrary and the known risks of him returning to Afghanistan.”
Today Sweden, like most of Europe, has tightened up on immigration and the authorities are not as generous when it comes to asylum seekers as they were in the past. In the 1970s, 70 percent of asylum seekers were accepted, says Metso.
About 9,000 out of 24,000 people seeking asylum received residency in 2009 according to the Swedish Migration Board, which estimates that the number of asylum seekers for 2010 will reach 32,000.
But although Sweden — a country that has long been recognized as one of the most welcoming in the world — may be handing out fewer residence permits, plenty of individuals are prepared to help out. Metso believes that Swedes are increasingly engaged in the issue and willing to stand up for asylum seekers’ rights. “More and more people in Sweden are willing to make an enormous effort for these people who are scared to death and don’t know where to turn,” she says.
FARR has about 70 refugee lawyers among its more than 750 members. It’s an independent, grassroots organization with no political or religious affiliation.
The Swedish Migration Board (pdf) — Statistics on asylum seekers in Sweden 1984–2009 (in Swedish)
Helen Jaktlund has been patrolling the streets of Stockholm with Farsor och morsor på stan since 1989. Photo: Farsor och morsor på stan
Farsor och morsor på stan — parents on patrol
Swedish non-profit NGO Farsor och morsor på stan (dads and moms in the city) has taken to the streets of Stockholm on weekends and holidays since 1989, after an exceptionally rowdy summer with young people rioting in the city center. They’re out in all kinds of weather, late at night, looking after other parents’ teenagers.
Helen Jaktlund, who has been with Farsor och morsor på stan since the beginning, says that the need for adults patrolling the streets is greater than ever.
“Unfortunately, the problem is even worse with young people today compared with 20 years ago,” she says. “The kids seem even more lost. There is more alcohol, more drugs and fewer adults taking care of them.”
The “dads and moms,” identifiable by their bright red jackets, wander the downtown streets, talking to youngsters and helping out if there is a problem. They work with the police and social services on an informal basis, calling on one of them in case of a fight or a serious problem that needs solving. The group can also alert the officials to a potential problem early on, preventing it from getting worse.
“We have a completely different function than the authorities,” says Jaktlund. “We are just adults who are there for kids. We’re no threat to them.”
The task means sacrificing some sleep and free time without pay, but Jaktlund says that the night wanderers get so much back from the thankful teenagers. “They appreciate our help and are very positive towards us,” Jaktlund says. “I’m often surprised by how much they open up and talk to us. This has made me realize how important we are for them.”
Although the situation around them sometimes gets out of hand and the adults have had to intervene in a fight or help very drunk young girls come home, none of those wandering have ever been harmed, Jaktlund points out.
She wishes that parents would take a bigger responsibility for their children — and that more adults would join Farsor och morsor på stan. Today, just 30 adults shoulder the responsibility of looking after teenagers on the streets of Stockholm, despite it being a rewarding effort. “We are so many different people with different jobs and interests and it’s also fun to be out together,” Jaktlund says. “And, at the same time, we are doing some good.”
Farsor och morsor på stan (only in Swedish)
Cari Simmons is a freelance writer from Canada who has spent many years in Sweden. Perhaps it’s the Swedish–Canadian combination, or being a Libra, that’s responsible for her tendency towards balancing the scales of justice.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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