Great Swedish Women Part 3 – The Creator

Since March 8th was International Women’s Day, I am republishing my series on Great Swedish Women. I hope you want to join me in celebrating them.

astrid lindgren

Part 3: writer Astrid Lindgren, creator of the strongest girl in the world.

When I moved to Sweden, I vaguely knew  about writer Astrid Lindgren. It wasn’t until I arrived here that I understood what impact she has had on generations of Swedish children, and not least on generations of girls. The creator of fictional character Pippi Longstocking (Långstrump in Swedish) showed girls that it is ok to be strong, to be independent, to be different and to be the best.

Astrid Lindgren grew up in Näs, Sweden, and many of her books are based on her family and childhood memories and landscapes. Her most famous character Pippi Longstocking was invented for her daughter to amuse her while she was ill in bed.

She wrote many classic stories – the most famous being  Emil in Lönnerberga, Karlsson on the Roof, the Six Bullerby Children, Mio my Mio, The Brothers Lionheart and, my personal favourite Ronja the Robber’s Daughter. Her fiction formed the backdrop of the childhood of many Swedish children and, even today for children around the globe.

She is the fourth most published childrens’ author in the world and has to date sold around 144 million books in 95 different languages. She received many awards during her life and was known for her support for  children’s and animal rights and her opposition to corporal punishment.

Astrid is a national icon in Sweden and her image currently decorates the 20 kronor note.

At her funeral in Stockholm’s Cathedral in 2002, Sweden’s King and Queen and other Royals were in attendance reflecting her importance and contribution to Swedish culture.

Astrid Lindgren gave strength to young Swedish girls and helped them to believe in themselves. In the confident words of the strongest girl in the world, Pippi Longstocking, :

‘I’ve never done that before so I’m sure I can do it’

 

 

 

 

 

Great Swedish Women Part 2 – The Prosecutor

March 8th was International Women’s Day.

I am republishing my series on Great Swedish Women, past and present: women with strength and passion, women with a voice, women who create change.

For seven days, one per day. I hope you want to join me in celebrating them.

massifritz

Part 2 – Swedish lawyer and prosecutor Elisabeth Massi Fritz.

On 24 June 1999, a 19 year old woman by the name of Pela Atroshi was murdered in a honour-related crime. The murder occured when she was visiting her family in Irak. Killed by her two uncles and her father, the crime was witnessed by Pela’s mother Fatima and sister Breen. The case was concluded with life time sentences for the two uncles. Pela’s father lives in Irak, where Pela is buried in an unmarked grave for bringing dishonour to her family.

In the court, in Sweden, Breen testified against her uncles which led to the conviction. She was represented by lawyer Elisabeth Massi Fritz.  After this case, Elisabeth Massi Fritz became known as one of Sweden’s leading lawyers and prosecutors, and Sweden’s only lawyer specialising in honour crimes. She stands up for the victims of crime, many of them women, and is an active contributor in the debate against honour crimes in Sweden.

Born in Motala, Sweden, to Christian Syrian parents, Elisabeth Massi Fritz personally gained insight into honour culture as she was not allowed to have a boyfriend or to move away to study. At the age of 19, she defied her family and moved to Stockholm to study law. 

Today, she runs a legal firm where she employs only female staff and where they specialise in defending the victims of crime and prosecuting the perpetrator. She has worked on many high profile cases, such as the rape cases against plastic surgeon Carl-Åke Troilius and the Chief of Police Göran Lindberg, both of which resulted in prison sentences for the accused.

In 2017, she was one of the front-runners in the Swedish MeToo movement and for the change of the Sexual Crime Act in 2018. (Which was changed to a law of consent).

Elisabeth Massi Fritz continues to fight injustice and is the champion of the victim of crime.

 

Great Swedish Women Part 1 – The Catalyst

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day.

In support, I am re publishing my series on Great Swedish Women, past and present: women with stength and passion, women with a voice, women who create change.

For seven days, I will write about these Great Swedish Women, one per day. I hope you want to join me in celebrating them.

Fredrikabremer

First out is the 1800’s writer and feminist reformer Fredrika Bremer, a kind of Swedish Jane Austen and one of the catalysts of the early feminist movement in Sweden.

Many of the women’s rights that we take for granted in Sweden today did not exist in the Fredrika Bremer’s time. For example, in 1800’s Sweden, women were not free to educate themselves as they liked, marry as they liked, live as they wanted, to have economic independence or to vote in elections. Married women were controlled in all manner by their husbands, unmarried women by their closest male relative.

Fredrika Bremer was born into this kind of society in 1801 in Åbo, Sweden, which today is part of Finland. At the age of three, her family moved to Stockholm where Fredrika and her sisters were raised to marry well.

Fredrika found the limited and passive family life of Swedish women of her time suffocating and she described her family as “under the oppression of a male iron hand’. Fredrika never was forced under the shackles of marriage, so had a certain level of independence inaccessible to married women at that time.

Throughout her adult life, she became a world traveler, an accomplished author (at first anonymously) and a political activist. She was very interested in social reform regarding gender equality and social work and she participated actively in debates around women’s rights in Sweden.

Fredrika Bremer was a catalyst of the first real feminist movement in Sweden. There is much in modern day Sweden to thank her for. In 1853, she started by co-founding the ‘Stockholm Women’s Fund for Childcare’ and the following year, the ‘Women’s Society for the Improvement of Prisoners’. 

However, it was in her novel, Hertha (1856) that she issued in most change, making it probably her most influential literary work. In the book, she wrote about the lack of freedom for women, which subsequently raised a debate in the parliament called “The Hertha debate”. This directly contributed to a new favourable law for adult unmarried women in Sweden in 1858, and was a starting point for the campaign for women’s rights in Sweden. Hertha also raised the debate of higher formal education for women and, in 1861, the University for Women Teachers was founded by the Swedish state.

In 1860, Fredrika helped to fund Tysta Skolan, a school for the deaf and mute in Stockholm. Now an established and respected citizen and patron, she supported giving women the vote in the electoral reforms of 1862. In the same year, women of legal age were granted this in municipal elections in Sweden. The first real women’s rights movement in Sweden, the ‘Fredrika Bremer Association’, founded by Sophie Adlersparre in 1884, was named after her, 19 years after her death.

Fredrika Bremer’s leaves a legacy of equality and autonomy behind her. Her legacy extends far beyond Sweden’s borders. Not only is she recognised as an influencial writer and reformer, but the town of Frederika in Bremer County Iowa, USA is named after her.

 

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Vasaloppet in Sweden – the world’s longest cross country ski race


Tomorrow, the world’s longest cross country ski race takes place in Sweden. Called Vasaloppet, it entails participants skiing 90 kilometers from start to finish. It’s an extremely popular international race which is broadcast live on tv. When tickets to participate are released, they usually sell out in 15 minutes – it’s that popular.

The first Vasalopp was in 1922 and takes place annually, the first Sunday in March and it is a first sign of spring.  Normal participants can take up to 12 hours to complete the gruelling course, but the elite athletes do it in a comparatively speedy time of around 4 hours.

So why is this race called ‘Vasaloppet’? Well, it takes its name from a Swedish king. The race commemorates the escape to Norway, through the forest, of King Gustav Vasa in 1521. Legend has it that he carried out the long journey on skis,  but experts believe he more likely completed this escape on snow shoes. Nevertheless, out of this legend sprung the race which is so popular today. ‘Vasa’ after the king, and ‘loppet’ meaning ‘the race’.

Modern day skiers don’t see the experience as an escape, they see it as a challenge and for many of them it’s a rite of passage.

And as you sit watching the TV comfortably from the sofa, with tea and toast, you take vicarious pleasure in this long, amazing Swedish race.

It will be broadcast tomorrow from 7.30 on SVT ( Swedish TV). You can also check it out on the internet in the streaming service SVT Play.

It’s fatty Tuesday – Swedish style!

Today it’s ‘Fat Tuesday’ in Sweden, known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras around the world.

While in the UK we eat pancakes (today is even called Pancake Day) and in Latin America they scoff down fried bread, Swedes celebrate by eating the traditional cream Lent bun – the ‘semla’. 40 million of them every year! I’m also clearly going to indulge. In fact, my mouth is watering just writing this post.

The semla is a creamy bun filled with delicious almond paste. They were eaten traditionally in Sweden to commemorate the start of Lent and the great Fast, leading up to Easter. In the south of Sweden, they still refer to them as ‘fastlagsbullar’ – Shrovetide buns. Nowadays however, semlas are usually sold anytime between Christmas and Easter.

I just love them. I could eat a barrel load. But I’d end up looking like a barrel if I did. I love the taste of them, and the feeling of luxurious indulgence. I also love the knowledge that as you take a bite into a creamy semla, you are biting into over 500 years’ history of Scandinavian baking.

The word ‘semla’ comes from the Latin ‘simila’ which means fine flour and originally referred just to the bun without any filling. As long ago as the 1500’s, bakers started to hollow out the middle of the bun and fill it with cream and butter. As ingredients became more available, bakers started adding almond and cardemon and the type of semla that we know today developed towards the end of the 1800’s. After rationing of sugar and dairy products ceased at the end of WW2, the semla took off and became very popular.

Nowadays the semla trend has reached new heights. Every year bakers around the country try to launch new types of semla, with their own spin on it -for example, the semla wrap, the semla burger, the semla layer cake, the semla cocktail, semla ice cream, semla nachos, semla langos, the chocolate semla, the vanilla semla, the lactose-free, gluten-free vegan semla. Last year, the gross-sounding fermented Baltic herring semla was revealed.

But I’m a traditionalist in this matter. Give me a round fluffy cardemon-scented wheat bun brimming over with whipped cream and almond paste.

And give it to me NOOOOWWW!!!