When it comes to economic success, educational opportunities, healthcare, and political rights, Sweden is one of the best places in the world to be a woman. But it's becoming an increasingly popular destination for men: According to recent census data, men now outnumber women in Sweden for the first time since the country began keeping population records in 1749.
Part of the reason for the shift is the nation's open-door immigration policy. Last year, 163,000 immigrants applied for asylum in Sweden, many arriving from Iraq and Syria. Of those applicants, 70 percent were men. Among unaccompanied minors arriving in the country, 90 percent were boys.
And it's not just Sweden: Of the migrants who have arrived in Europe by boat in the past year, only 20 percent were women, while 45 percent were men and the remainder were children, according to United Nations statistics. Two-thirds of migrants who entered through Italy or Greece were male. The influx of overwhelmingly male migrants has led to what some are calling "Europe's man problem."
It's not yet clear if the demographic shift will change Sweden's famously egalitarian society, but some scholars—like Texas A&M professor Valerie Hudson—have suggested that the rise in men could lead to greater violence against women in Sweden, as it has in other countries with populations that skew male.
VICE posed that question to Gulan Avci, a former member of Swedish parliament and president of the Swedish Federation of Liberal Women, the women's rights arm of the Swedish Liberal Party. Avci, an immigrant herself, came to Stockholm in the 1980s with her Kurdish parents. We asked her how things have changed since then and what the country can do to better absorb all the new men.
This interview has been edited for clarity, length, and grammar.
VICE: Why does it matter that more men are arriving in Sweden?
Gulan Avci: In countries like Syria, women and men don't have equal rights. There is another view of women. So when you come to a country like Sweden, a country that ranks fourth in the world for equality between men and women, of course there will be a big clash here. So that's what we are dealing with right now.
Unfortunately, we have been very afraid to talk about these kinds of problems. We have always been afraid to be seen as a racist if you talk about different cultural views. And what happens then? You bury the problem under the carpet, and it will grow until there is an explosion.
What do you think needs to be done? Start a national education program? Accept more women migrants?
I think that we have to do both. We have a situation where seventy percent of the asylum applicants are men, and thirty percent are women. We need to make a change, so we take seventy percent women and thirty percent men.
The other thing is that we need to have serious educational programs for all people who come to Sweden. It doesn't matter what country you come from, but if you come into Sweden, everybody needs to go to a national program to learn about their rights, about their obligations, about the Swedish law. And not only the law, but also about the values that are holding up Swedish society, about equality between men and women.
We need to also address challenges in the labor market, because most of the people that come here, they're unemployed. We need to address challenges in the Swedish schools. And then we have our policy with housing. The way this system looks in Sweden, we have a lot of segregation here. When new people arrive in Sweden, they are directed to a suburb where there are people that have been on the outskirts of society, where people don't have jobs. They don't come to a place where they see an opportunity to start a new life.
"If you want to become an American, it's possible to become an American. In Sweden, it's like, 'Well, you are half of a Swede.'" — Gulan Avci
Do you think people living in Sweden also need to do more to respect the culture of migrants?
You need to see culture in two different ways: Culture can have to do with language, your traditions, and so on. But culture doesn't have anything to do with equality between men and women. We have a big problem with cultural relativists in Sweden, especially identity politics where we excuse people's views of human rights and equality between men and women by saying, "Well, that's a part of their culture." You would never say that to Swedish men that would oppress their own women.
That's why you have to be clear from the beginning when people come here. I think that's the only way to have a good immigration policy. If we don't do that, then Swedish people, they will become scared. If they don't feel that politicians can stand up for them, then I think the reaction will be to seek out a caucus that has another agenda. Society becomes very dangerous when people are afraid.
As an immigrant, do you have more understanding of what the migrants are going through?
Immigrants are going through the worst war in modern time in Syria. You have this terrorist organization, Daesh [ISIS], they kill people, they hang people. So of course I understand how people want to flee from their own country. But that can't be an excuse. We can welcome people to Sweden, but we want them also to become a part of this society. We want you to have your human rights, but you also need to make commitment toward the Swedish society and say that, "We are standing behind the Swedish law, and we are standing behind the values that built this country so strong."
When it comes to migration, do you think the US could learn from what you're doing in Sweden?
In the US, if you want to become an American, it's possible to become an American. In Sweden, it's like, "Well, you are half of a Swede." And this is an attitude that needs to be changed if we want people to be part of the Swedish society.
You said you came to Sweden when you were five years old. Did you feel like "half of a Swede"?
When I came to Sweden, it was the beginning of the 80s. My family fled from the military coup in Turkey. There were not so many immigrants here. I grew up with a lot of Swedish friends, and I spoke Swedish. In my school, there were Swedish students.
If you go to some suburbs in Sweden now, in some of the schools, you need to really look to find a Swedish student. There are cases in Sweden where people don't speak Swedish. You can't have a situation like that, because if you're going to live in Sweden—or whatever country you come to—you need to learn the language of the country. That's the key to successful integration and to come into the society. In the view of the Swedish politicians traditionally, you haven't seen the language as an important key factor to successful integration.
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