"Exhibiting You" - Story

Confronting Ugly with Ugly

Amnesty International Norway Takes Creative Action Against Domestic Violence

Submitted: 02/13/2008

In 2005, human rights group Amnesty International Norway launched a nationwide public education campaign to confront Norwegians with some shocking images of their own country's women. The resulting uproar put the urgent issue of domestic violence on top of the Norwegian government's agenda.

Posters of the campaign, along with a public service announcement used in Norwegian media, are shown at the left.

For six years straight, the United Nations Development Programme had rated Norway The World's Best Country to Live In. Norwegians' homeland was seen by the world, and by themselves, as a utopian place where people were happy and full-bellied. Children were safe and educated, the sick were insured, and the elderly were respected. Unemployment and poverty were merely concepts studied in elementary school history classes rather than realities of everyday life. All this, in a place where women hold 40 percent of all leadership positions and enjoy equal rights.

Norway is that country, but many have been unaware of the living reality for a shocking number of women -- domestic violence.

At first glance, Amnesty Norway's Stop Violence Against Women campaign seemed to be promoting tourism. Posters proclaiming "Discover Norway," "Welcome to Norway" or "Made in Norway," offered up images of young, attractive women. They seemed the perfect "spokes models" for all that's good about Norway, all except for the heavy bruises and cuts that disfigured their faces.

Domestic violence in Norway was an issue that had been reported on, but ignored, by the government and the public. A 2005 report by the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research had presented sobering statistics:

  • One in four Norwegian women experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

  • Every year at least 20,000 women are subjected to violence or threats of violence by someone they share an intimate relationship with.

  • Less than half of these women contact public services, doctors or hospitals for help.

However appalling its findings, the report could not shake visions of an idyllic, perfect Norway. Amnesty Norway decided that since talking about the problem was getting nowhere, they needed to show its harsh reality.

Confronting an "ugly" topic with an "ugly" protest worked. It inspired an open, honest, and continuing discussion in the parliament, media and at home. Local municipalities throughout Norway built women's shelters. They translated information on facilities and women's rights into languages of Norway's immigrant population, and formed teams of experts to better take care of female victims of rape and violence. Prior to the campaign, only seven counties had emergency facilities for rape victims; after the campaign, all nineteen counties did.

Domestic violence anywhere in the world cannot be ignored and the safety of women cannot be hidden behind a pristine national image. In Norway, Amnesty activists and their allies are working to make domestic violence an ugly blemish of the past.

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