Attacks on Women Must Be Exposed to Be Eradicated

Throughout the world we see attacks on women and girls, and in many countries it is by no means given that girls and boys are valued equally. We have seen mass rapes in India, and the documentary "India's Daughters" clearly exposed how many men view women to be of less value. Forced marriages, child brides and mutilation of girls in certain African and Middle Eastern countries remain a widespread problem. And when wars and conflicts rage, women and girls are even more vulnerable and prone to sexual attack. We share a great responsibility to fight against and confront cultures whose medieval and reactionary view of women's and girls' rights quite simply put women lower than men. The fight for women's human rights requires a global effort.

As Minister for Children, Education and Gender Equality in Denmark, I will be travelling to New York in a few days together with the other Nordic Ministers for Gender Equality to attend the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Among the topics of discussion will be the Global Goals for Sustainable Development and their importance for women's empowerment. When we gather together in the UN, I will devote particular energy to promoting the right of women and girls to decide over their own body. As the story from Copenhagen shows, there is plenty of scope for improvement - both globally and in the Nordic countries. Together we must demand action and ensure global progress for women's rights and gender equality.

The events in Cologne on New Year's Eve, where hundreds of German women were subjected to attacks by men of Middle Eastern and North African background were a wake-up call to us that when wars cause mass migration and people with another religion, culture and background journey towards gender-equal and democratic societies, it is absolutely fundamental that we do not tolerate the reactionary view on women's rights that they bring with them. Attacks on women are always a breach of human rights and they can never be excused by religion and culture. We must never accept regression when it comes to gender equality and women's rights. We must never accept that women and girls fleeing from totalitarian societies to Western democracies are prevented from enjoying the same freedoms, opportunities and gender quality that we have fought for and achieved through centuries of struggle.

Even in Denmark, where gender equality between men and women is a cornerstone of our society, we must maintain efforts to ensure gender equality. Last fall, a 25-year-old Danish woman shared her experiences from a bar in Copenhagen on social media. She had been groped and called a bitch by some men, and the bartender instead of helping her felt she was being over-sensitive. Her story was shared over 3,000 times and liked by more than 13,000 people. She is not alone in her experience. According to a YouGov survey, 7 out of 10 women in Denmark have been subjected to episodes of groping in bars and nightclubs. The vast majority of these women and girls have felt this as an unpleasant assault. Unfortunately, this is part of the reality women still face in a modern and gender-equal country like Denmark. Many of the women describe it as unpleasant. Even men perceive unwanted physical attention or touching as intimidating. Everyday sexism in bars and nightclubs is unfortunately also part of the reality in a modern and gender-equal country like Denmark.

The problem is also evident on the internet. On social media, we see new instances of everyday sexism virtually on a daily basis, where women and girls of all ages are subjected to harassment, sexist attacks and a condescending tone, all of which is totally unacceptable. An American study published by the Pew Research Center shows that 40 percent of internet users have been subjected to harassment, and that 73 percent have witnessed others being harassed. According to the study, it is especially young women aged 18 to 24 who are targeted.

A fundamental problem with this form of harassment is that it can scare away both women and men from taking part in the public debate. Sexism and hate speech might be thought of as innocent and humorous, but for those on the receiving end, it can be felt quite keenly. Therefore, it is essential that we share our experiences in the media or on social media, so that we bring to light all the things - both great and small - which go on in bars and nightclubs, in workplaces or in families. The many stories help counter the taboo and draw explicit attention to a problem that needs tackling. It also sends a clear message that sexism and harassment are unacceptable.

Regardless of where sexism and hate speech occur, it is a problem that it affects our democratic society and conflicts with our Nordic values of gender equality and equal opportunities. Equality and the right to express oneself and participate in society irrespective of gender is a fundamental value in all the Nordic countries as well as a great many other places around the world. We must not take these values for granted, but safeguard them. Sexism and hate speech are first and foremost about how we view each other and the perception we have of each other. There is therefore a need for a change in attitude, so that equality and freedom are not only embodied in our legislation, but also observed in everyday life. Therefore, I will put everyday sexism on the agenda at the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Because it is in the everyday that we live our lives. And even though everyday sexism cannot in any way be equated with the many countries where violence, oppression, lack of freedom and social control are part of everyday life for girls and women, it emphasises that even in progressive and gender-equal countries such as Denmark we must maintain our efforts to break gender stereotypes and ensure genuine gender equality.

This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, 2016. It is one of four posts penned by Nordic leaders that focus on online hate speech and sexism. A What's Working series, the posts address solutions tied to the United Nations' theme for International Women's Day this year: "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality." To view all of the posts in the series, click here. .