From Kvinnofolk to Kvinnocentrum
Ada Women’s Shelter and Young Women’s Empowerment Centre is a feminist non-profit organisation that has been active since 1978. Kvinnohusets Krisjour, which was the organisation’s original name, was situated in Kvinnohuset in the old Måsen pharmacy building in Gamlestan. We have not been affiliated with any political party or religious group at any time in our history.
It all began in autumn 1975. A group of women who called themselves Kvinnofolk gathered together individual women and women from the organisations Grupp 8, Feministerna, and Lesbisk Front to form a new association to promote female culture and fight for women’s rights. More than 40 women took part in the first meeting, which was held in December 1975. The various women’s groups wanted to establish a kind of centre for women where individuals and organisations come with their various issues and questions, but they also conducted active outreach initiatives. They wanted the association to be unifying, not simply a new fraction in the fight for women’s rights. The association was given the name Kvinnocentrum.
Kvinnocentrum continued to take shape in spring 1976. The various working groups that existed or were being formed were presented at a meeting in March 1976. Read the letter that became the start of Kvinnocentrum. One of the working groups, Kvinnocentrum’s Rape Group, later launched Sweden’s first crisis centre for women in Kvinnohuset.
Sexual Policy Group plans an “emergency centre”
The Rape Group began its political fight by criticising the sexual assault investigation taking place at that time, SOU 1976:9, in a consultation response. When this work was complete, the group changed its name to the Sexual Policy Group and started a study circle. From the outset, the group was determined to start a crisis centre for women. In spring 1977, the group contacted coroners to find out the process for examining women who had been victims of an assault. They contacted lawyers to study the laws and rights of women who had been raped and beaten. They visited the head of the vice squad and contacted psychologists. They conducted an exchange with another sexual policy group that was based in Stockholm. New courses were started: Legal aspects of women’s oppression, and Women in crisis.
Right from the start of Kvinnocentrum, a “house group” worked intensively to establish a women’s house in Gothenburg. All of their hard work finally paid off in August 1977, when Kvinnocentrum was offered the old Måsen pharmacy building in Gamlestan. In the autumn, the fight continued as they worked to obtain grants from the municipality to cover costs associated with the premises. There were lively demonstrations and events to call attention to the issue. “Kvinnohus at symbolic rent” was the slogan.
On 11 January 1978, the municipal government finally decided to allocate SEK 72,000 to rent and heating costs for Kvinnohus in the old Måsen pharmacy building. Sweden’s first women’s house was finally becoming a reality! Work to plan how the building would be used began immediately. The basement would house workshops and a printing room. The ground floor would have a café, library, large meeting room, and playroom. The “emergency centre” would be on the middle floor. This would be used to help women in emergency situations, and there would be space for social and legal counselling. The top floor would have small rooms for study circles and self-help groups.
At a general meeting in February 1978, the Sexual Policy Group was given two rooms for their emergency services. At the same time, the decision was made that there would be no emergency shelter accommodations in the building. At the end of February, the women began renovating the Måsen pharmacy building, and on 6 March 1978 the first general meeting was held in Kvinnohuset. Preparations to open the crisis centre continued in the spring and summer of 1978. This work was handled by the Crisis Centre Group, which was an offshoot of Sexual Policy Group. After Kvinnocentrum decided against having emergency shelter accommodations in Kvinnohuset, a plan was made to rent a “secret” apartment in central Gothenburg.
The history of the Sexual Policy Group was presented at the Crisis Centre Group’s first meeting in April. There were discussions about crisis therapy and what view of human life would shape the interactions with the women who contacted the crisis centre. It was considered important to put faith in women’s own strength, and to avoid creating an “expert vs. layperson” atmosphere. The crisis centre’s approach was based on the conviction that each individual has the power within themselves to take responsibility for their own actions. Issues that had to be addressed were how to guarantee the anonymity of the women, whether there would be base groups (see below), how to reach out to women, and the general organisation of everything.
Before the crisis centre could open, a lot of practical matters had to be taken care of, such as painting and decorating the rooms and installing phones. There were discussions about how to spread the information and what approach should be used in relation to the mass media. The Crisis Centre Group did not want to appear in the press too much to avoid sensationalised articles. To learn when women most often seek assistance, other types of emergency centres were contacted.
In the spring, the Crisis Centre had a central apartment available for at-risk women in need of accommodation. They later chose to give this up because Kvinnocentrum could not be listed as the contract holder. This means that the Crisis Centre did not have any accommodations for women during its time in Kvinnohuset.
From Kvinnocentrum’s Rape Group to Kvinnohuset’s Crisis Centre
In May 1978, the centre got its name – Kvinnohuset’s Crisis Centre (Kvinnohusets Krisjour) – and the decision was made that the counselling sessions and other activities would be thoroughly documented in a journal. The journal-keeping was carried out according to plan and over the period 1978–1989 twelve notebooks were filled with staff accounts of counselling sessions and events at the centre. These notebooks are valuable documentation of the experiences of both the staff and the women seeking assistance. Naturally, the women seeking help from the Crisis Centre were kept completely anonymous in the journals. A quantitative documentation method introduced in 1989 involved filling in forms, resulting in the loss of the staff’s reflections about the counselling sessions.
Crisis Centre opens
On 1 September 1978, Kvinnohuset opened its hotline. At that time, the Crisis Centre was open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. From the beginning, the staff chose to work in base groups. Five base groups with 6–7 women each were formed – Ada, Kata, Julia, Sofie and Group 9. The base groups served as both working groups and support groups in the complex fight against male violence against women. Kvinnohuset was the home of this work to help at-risk women for twelve years.
Kvinnohuset initially received a lot of attention in the mass media, among the general public, and among people working in social work. Many women came to Kvinnohuset and the Crisis Centre for study visits to see how it all worked and to get inspiration and impressions for their own projects.
Naturally, a lot happened at the Crisis Centre during its twelve years at Kvinnohuset. A large number of women fought against male violence against women, and many women were given the support they needed to break away from male sexualised violence. During its time at Kvinnohuset, the Crisis Centre saw an increase in the number of exchanges between women’s empowerment centres throughout Sweden, and the women’s empowerment movement began to take shape more and more both in Sweden and internationally. ROKS (National Organisation for Women’s Shelters and Young Women’s Shelters in Sweden) was formed in 1984, with the Crisis Centre taking part right from the start. Knowledge about women’s empowerment centres and women’s research on sexualised violence emerged in the 1980s. Society began paying greater attention to male sexualised violence against women and children.