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Research debunks Thai Wife stereotype in Sweden

Tuesday 8th January 2013 1:40pm

Extensive research by university in Stockholm investigates Thai women marrying Swedish men

Ground breaking and extensive research into the increasing levels of Thai women settling in Sweden as life partners to Swedish men is expected to be published soon by one of the leading universities in Sweden.

The report is expected to show that the Thai Swedish relationships behind the growing community of Thai women in Sweden do not conform to the stereotype often portrayed by the media. Most are healthy relationships which form the basis for happy marriages. However initial findings from the research contrast sharply with disturbing reports of increased sex tourism between Sweden and Thailand. It has emerged that reports like this can cause anxiety for Thai Swedish couples living in Sweden who welcome the extensive research which broadly, paints a very encouraging picture of the growing Swedish Thai community.

The research still underway by Swedish researchers in Stockholm show a massive 300% increase in the number of Thai women marrying Swedish men in the last eight years.

Although the picture emerging of Thai Swedish relationships is a relatively positive, low key and happy one, the subject has become a heated topic of debate enmeshed in a bitter struggle between feminists in Sweden and a back lash from some Swedish men who have had enough.

Rise of feminism in Sweden

Sweden is admired by many in the world for its policy underlining equality of opportunity for women and minorities. In recent years feminist groups have wielded considerable influence at the heart of government and Sweden has enacted ground breaking legislation designed to clamp down on abusive behaviour towards women, rape and prostitution. These initiatives are being studied eagerly (or even adopted) by other countries and are hailed by women's groups as the model for the future. But some men in Sweden feel the feminist movement is going too far.

Anti feminist websites and blogs have appeared in Sweden as well as other Scandinavian countries. One blogger reports from Sweden that a feminist video is being shown to high school students under the age of eighteen years funded by the Swedish government. The play or short film features a group of women shooting a middle aged male sun bather and holding a dance party. The directors of the movie claim that it is meant to 'foster discussion' about the feminist agenda.

Successive Swedish governments have introduced progressive and innovative legislation as part of the feminist agenda. Key pieces of legislation, for instance, makes it illegal for men to pay for sex and broadens the definition of rape. This, in a country which was made famous by the Swedish blonde and the Swedish massage in the 1970's when Sweden was seen more as a permissive and open society.

Now some extreme feminist groups in Sweden have even called for further and more draconian government action to include a 'man tax' on all males to compensate for 'abuse' over thousands of years, abolition of marriage and gender specific names. While these proposals have been rejected by most normal Swedes, there is a very aggressive feminist movement in Sweden and throughout Scandinavia.

In recent times, pressure from women's groups in Sweden has been successful in having the Swedish government investigate the numbers of Thai women entering Sweden who may be employed in the sex industry and a Swedish governor, who promotes women's rights, has suggested that the numbers of Thai women entering Sweden may be limited.

However, although it is indisputable that there are many Thai women working in Sweden's sex industry, it appears that the greater proportion of Thai women marrying Swedish men or forming relationships live in rural Sweden.

Women's shelter and domestic abuse in Sweden

Women's groups in Sweden have raised concerns about the numbers of Thai women seeking help at community shelters saying that the figures for recent years show a 10% increase.

Aggressive feminism in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries can be linked and indeed justified on the basis of the particular problems these countries seem to have had with domestic physical abuse. Even now, though Sweden and Norway rank in the world's top 10 countries for women to live, they are also countries which have the highest incidence of domestic physical abuse in developed countries.

In 2009, the reported number of women seeking shelter in women's emergencies shelters was 552 but this included Swedish, Russian, Thai women as well as women from Middle Eastern countries. Given that there could be well over 30,000 Thai women now married to Swedish men, the numbers while high, do not indicate that relationships between Thai women are a recipe for physical abuse.

Women's group protest visa rules for Swedish men with Thai wives

ROKS is the organisation in Sweden that organises women's shelters. The organisation is deeply critical of the Swedish government's visa laws which are similar to those in Australia in that they grant comprehensive visa rights to the large numbers of Thai women living in Sweden but make the visas dependent on an ongoing relationship with the Swedish man for a period of two years.

ROKS argues that the visa regulations place Thai women in a position where the relationship with the Swedish man is one of inequality and can be abused by unscrupulous Swedish men. ROKS spokespeople point out that the Thai women in such a relationship faces deportation if the relationship breaks down.

One such Thai woman was Apisara from Khon Khaen who relationship with her Swedish husband broke down after eight months in Sweden. After spending three weeks in a women's shelter and having been offered an opportunity to stay living in Sweden with government supports she eventually decided to return home to Thailand. 'I was sad about what happened and in my heart, I just wanted to go home. I can go back to Sweden again if I decide,' she says. Apisara says her relationship broke down because he husband was under financial pressure. Her sister is also married to a Swedish man and very happy living in the country in Stockholm.

However ROKS spokesperson Angela Beausang says she fears many Thai women are living in abusive relationships and some women are 'being held prisoner' in such situations. She has also called for Swedish authorities to investigate 'serial wife importers' and the exact circumstances of all such relationships. This is rejected outright by Bengt Axelsson who lives happily with his Thai wife in rural Sweden. 'Everyone knows that these women's groups are really feminist fronts and they want to control or even stop Thai women coming to Sweden. Here in Sweden, I would not have love without my Thai wife and now I have friends who also have Thai wives.' However Mr Axelsson does accept that there Thai women who have been abused by their Swedish partners. 'Yes I think it is good that the government is interested in taking care of this and there should be data on men who are abusive,' he admits.

Although many Swedish men with Thai wives including Bengt suspect that women's groups like ROKS and other feminist groups want to stop Thai women marrying Swedish men, there is no firm evidence for this.

Women's groups like ROKS instead seem to be emphasising that Thai women be given access to government supports and information about their rights when they arrive in Sweden 'I have no problem at all with that, I'm sure 99% of Swedish men have no objection but I live in a country where at times if you are a man, you are a suspect,' Mr Axelsson says.

Sweden's Gender war - centred on women shelters

Bengt's attitude stems from an increasingly shrill debate online over feminism in Sweden and the direction of the country.

He points to a controversial two hour Swedish video called Konskriget links women's shelters funded by the Swedish government to the rise of radical feminists who, so the film claims, have taken over such institutions.

However, it should again be emphasised that although Sweden is now seen as one of the most feminist countries in the world, it is accepted that there a past history in Sweden of high incidences of domestic physical abuse and unreported rape in spite of the broad legislation which has now been introduced making it easier to file and prosecute claims of abuse or rape.

Amnesty, the human rights group, in recent years, has highlighted the failure of the Swedish government to successfully prosecute all rape reports although the Swedish government has taken the mater in hand. The recent high profile prosecution of Julian Assange also places a spotlight on the issue. There have been growing efforts by the Swedish authorities and women's groups to broaden the definition of rape in Sweden to encourage Swedish women to feel comfortable with reporting any behaviour that may be construed as abuse or rape.

Sweden even has its own feminist political party, a breakaway from the former government party the Social Democrats which advocates a completely new standard of feminist politics.

'I think most Swedish people have enough of this, certainly the men. My Thai wife simply does not understand it all and I know many Swedish people who say the same too,' Bengt says. 'I am so proud that Swedish has a country that promotes equality and the rights of women but I do not agree with such extreme views that I see on both sides of this.'

Myth of the oppressed Thai wife in Sweden

The research underway by academics in Sweden is focusing on the entire population of Thai migrants from 1990 to 2008. It has already been notes that from 2004 onwards, the numbers of Thai women marrying or forming relationships with Swedish men has increased dramatically, the rate of increase itself going from 17% to 37%. The study, while not complete or published, has some interesting findings:

  • While the average age of Swedish men marrying Thai women is older by about 11 years, a large proportion of these men are highly educated.
  • A very small proportion of Thai women marrying Swedish men are involved in the sex trade. The report notes that only 0.5% of Thai women in Thailand are actively working in the Thai sex or prostitution industry.
  • Many of the Thai women marrying Swedish men have themselves higher levels of education often higher than their Swedish life partners.
  • The survey has already identified that most Thai women live with their Swedish partners in rural areas and that many of the Thai women themselves originate from rural areas. It also indicates seven or eight distinct areas with Swedish where growing communities of Thai women have developed.
  • Although there has been an explosion of Thai women arriving in Sweden since 2004, the trend began in the 1970s and while 80% of Thais in Sweden are men, there is also a Thai male community in Sweden.

New Swedish sex laws fuel sex tourism in Thailand

Recent annual reports from the Swedish government set up to monitor the effects of laws making it illegal to buy sex in Sweden seem to indicate that it has become a driver in increased sex tourism by Swedish men to Thailand . The disturbing reports indicate a sharp increase in the numbers of Swedish men reporting that they have paid for sex and 60% of them report Thailand as the country of choice. The survey also revealed some disturbing trends:

  • Younger men are travelling to Thailand specifically to engage in sexual encounters or prostitution. The median age of all men was 45 years.
  • There are many examples of father and sons particularly from broken relationships or marriages travelling to Thailand for a sex holiday in what report commentators describe as a 'bonding exercise'.

These reports were compiled by social workers employed by the Swedish government and they also report a growing risk of sexually transmitted diseases The latest survey involved a sample of 158 Swedish men who had bough sex in Bangkok and Pattaya.

Bengt, a Swedish man with a Thai wife is concerned about these reports: 'My concern is that the authorities in Sweden should not link sex tourism with the idea of Swedish men looking for love. Now I don't deny that many Swedish men ,of course, younger men travel to Thailand for sex and fun but the majority of Thai women married to Swedish men are very decent women, they are not prostitutes,' he says.

However there are reports of Swedish men marrying or engaging in long term relationships with Thai women who have worked in the sex industry and there is firm evidence to suggest that Thai women comprise a sizeable proportion of the sex industry in Stockholm which exists in spite of the Sweden's new sex laws. There are also some reports for Thai women commuting to Denmark to work in the sex industry.

'I tell you that most Thai women coming to Sweden know little about this sex business and live all over the country in quiet areas with their husband, it makes me feel bad to hear this talk all the time,' he says. 'I would like to any bad treatment of Thai women stopped.' Bengt feels that many reports and investigations have an agenda to misrepresent Thai women settling with Swedish men.

His comments appear to supported by research currently being undertaken by academics in Stockholm which seems to reject the general claim that Thai women traveling to Sweden for marriage are being exploited or lead into the sex industry on a general basis. There is evidence of a growing community of Thai women in Sweden with more relationships developed online and through word of mouth in recent years.

Unfortunately for Bengt and his Thai wife, there is a small overlap between the large numbers of Thai women travelling to countries all over the world as part of genuine relationships and the abominable sex trade.

Authorities are both duty and morally bound to take steps to investigate and prevent possible abuse of Thai women or indeed Swedish men through government visa programmes, regulations and ongoing monitoring. However the growing success of the Thai community in Sweden and comprehensive studies like that being under taken in Stockholm will assist in recognition of the value and worthiness of relationships between Thai women and Swedish men.

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Thai wives in Sweden tend to live in rural areas
A report into Thai wives in Sweden and the growth of the Thai community is expected to debunk the negative stereotype of Thai girls in Sweden. The report finds that most Thai women living with Swedish men in longterm relationships live in rural areas.
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