Chiara Costa Virtanen: Gender-based violence in Finland through the eyes of the immigrant women community

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By Chiara Costa Virtanen

Due to the Coronavirus spread throughout Europe, people are required to stay home in safe. Same in Finland, where also the hashtag #stayhome is in trend. Unfortunately, for many women, home doesn’t mean safety. On the contrary.

According to a 2012 study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), 47% of Finnish women have experienced gender-based violence at some point in their lives, starting at the age of 15. It puts Finland as second in the list of the 28 European Union countries that participated in the survey, right after Denmark.

This is quite a smack on the face, considering that The Nordic countries are often praised for their achievements on gender equality.

But what do we mean with gender-based violence?

Gender-based violence is violence directed against a person because of their gender. The majority of victims of gender-based violence are women and girls. Gender-based violence and violence against women are terms that are often used interchangeably, but the ‘gender-based’ definition is the one that we should use more as it highlights more the aspect of inequality among men and women.

The Istanbul Convention is a Council of Europe Convention that focuses on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, and published its first evaluation report on Finland on 2 September 2019.

The UN Entity for Gender Equality have stated that generally women of ethnic and cultural minorities are more in danger to become victims of violence. There is not a research that states why it is so, but in my opinion one of the factor is the sexualization of some ethnic groups ( like women of color, or south Asian women ) with an exasperation of their sexual characteristics and even porn categories only about them.

The Rape Crisis Center “Tukinainen” reports to receive 1000-1200 calls and attempted calls each month. The risk of physical assault is highest between the ages 15 and 34 years. ( datas from Tilastokeskus ) .


Nearly half of African background women reported experiencing discrimination during the past five years, that study found — most often at the hands of strangers. They were often subjected to name-calling or other forms of verbal abuse. (source Yle)

However, estimating the prevalence of sexual violence in Finland is difficult, because a big number of are not reported to the police.

Instead of telling to women how to dress up for not being raped and to blame the victims for not having reported the perpetrator to the authorities, let`s try to analyze some of the possible causes of lack of reaction from the immigrant women victims of gender-based violence:

  1. ·Failed integration: Following a quote of Mia Poutanen, chief superintendent on the National Police Board: “Integration programs focus on educating foreigners with regard to attitudes and values, but in many cases, it unfortunately does not start quickly enough, because asylum processing takes too long.”(source Yle). This explication speaks for itself, and I totally agree. Often, even with integration program completed, the sensation of not being part of the community is strong: social integration is only feasible once immigrants are accepted as members of the society. Unfortunately, for many minorities this represent a big struggle.
  • ·Lack of peer support and network: A big part of the foreign women living in Finland comes for following their partner/spouse. Women with a foreign mother tongue are more likely to be married than Finnish-, Swedish- or Sami-speaking women.: 43% of women with a foreign mother tongue and 32 % of women with a national mother tongue were married. (source ulkomaalaistaustaisethelsingissa.fi).This means that they don’t necessarily have a network of supportive people in case of need. They might face loneliness and exclusion, and the risk of social isolation is high. In case of danger or need, they might not have a person that can support them in the hard times.
  • ·Poor language skills: According to a study of 2019, 82% of the population of foreigners living in Helsinki is born abroad. Immigration is still a relatively new phenomenon in Finland: The majority of Helsinki residents born abroad have migrated to Finland less than 10 years ago. This means that the majority of the international community, doesn’t speak Finnish as mother tongue. Reaching for help, searching information online, even just explaining what happened can become a struggle.
  • ·Lack of knowledge of own rights: Many foreign women don’t know that they don’t have to stay in an abusive relationship for staying in Finland. The perpetrator might blackmail the victim by claiming that she might lose her kids or be deported if she calls the authorities.
  • ·Women poverty: Despite the welfare benefits available in Finland, the struggle of poverty is still real, especially for those women that are not in the working-age anymore. Indeed, nearly 70 percent of over-65-year-olds are living exclusively on basic benefits are women. In practice this means that they only receive a guarantee pension of 784 euros monthly, paid to persons whose pre-tax pension income is otherwise less than 777.84 euros per month. (source Yle)
  • ·Fixed-term work, unemployment and zero-hours contracts: Higher education does not protect residents with a foreign mother tongue from unemployment as efficiently as Finnish- and Swedish-speaking residents. The unemployment rate among residents with a foreign mother tongue remains fairly constant regardless of their education. Residents with refugee background have had more difficulties in finding a job than other people.

But how can to get help?

If you are a victim of gender-based violence, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone, it is not shameful to reach for help and it is more common than you imagine.

Here there is a list of some of possibilities to reach for help.
If you have become or see someone else becoming the victim of violence, immediately call the emergency number 112. Intervention is always required in cases of violence.If you have sustained physical injuries, go to the nearest emergency room or call 112 for help.

Here is a list of some organizations that can be a good support:

  • · Monika Naiset ry is probably the most famous for promoting the equality and inclusion of immigrant women in Finland and prevents violence against women.
  • · Mieli the Finnish Association for Mental Health, provides crisis assistance and support in order to prevent mental health problems and suicides.
  • · RIKU, the Victim Support Finland`s organization, aims to improve the position of victims of crime, their loved ones and witnesses of criminal cases by influencing and producing support services.

Tukinainen, the crisis centre for sexually abused women, is a national victim support centre that provides support and guidance for people who have been sexually assaulted/ or abused, as well as providing guidance for their families.

See the original posting here.

This post was published with permission.

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