Mias Systrar (Mia’s Sisters) by Maria Eriksson and Kerstin Weigl
My Thoughts: I am reading this book for the Social Justice Challenge: Domestic and Child Abuse. Because of this I am not going to do a normal review of this book (what I liked, what I didn’t like etc) but rather tell you, my reader, about what I learned from this book. I am going to start with a bit of a back story for those of you not in Sweden, those of you who might not have heard the story of Maria (Mia) Eriksson. First off, Maria Eriksson isn’t her real name. We don’t know her real name because she had to flee Sweden when the threats and attacks by her former partner became so severe that the authorities here couldn’t protect her or her family. Mia Eriksson’s story was first told in the book Gömda (Hidden) and this book and its follow-up books (Asyl, Mia’s hemlighet and Emma, Mias dotter) have been the subject of a lot of criticism here with people arguing that they are not true. I have heard an interview with the journalist who wrote Gömda, Liza Marklund, where she explains that they had to change certain details in order to protect people, and that the fact that Mia was given asylum in the US proves the truth in their story. I, personally, choose to believe that these stories are based in truth. Mias systrar tells the story, not of Mia, but of three other women, Veronica, Anette and Leila. Veronica and Anette are both victims of domestic abuse whereas in Leila’s case it is her father who is the abuser. This book therefore covers both domestic abuse and child abuse. Although Leila’s story also touches upon forced marriages.
The book starts off by raising a very important issue with regards to domestic abuse. The woman portrayed, Veronica, asks (and I am translating myself here) “how can one woman keep doing all this. Women are supposed to keep reporting even though the report goes nowhere—even if it is starting at all. In addition they have to work, tend their children, go to meetings, hunt down lawyers and government agencies, cook nutritious food, keep the house tidy and in every way convince the world of their own excellence and blamelessness.” Women in these situations are asked to keep a record of it all but at the same time we are all busy, would you like to add having to keep a record of threats and calls and contact with a person you would just like to forget, to erase? Can you remember what happened last Monday? What did you have for dinner? Did your child wear the blue sweater or the read one? All of these are things these women are asked to remember. They are also asked to remember if they were hit on the right cheek before the left arm or after. So many times these beatings flow into each other and they can’t remember. These lapses in memory are then used as “proof” that they made things up. Many times they are also afraid that reporting the man will only make it worse. This was the situation Veronica found herself in. She wanted her son to have a relationship with his father. She wanted things to work because of this she didn’t want to anger the man and consequently withdrew her reports. Didn’t call the police.
The book also touches upon another aspect of the aftermath of domestic abuse. The women who can’t get away from the men. When the men are no longer in prison or they haven’t even been sentenced to prison, when these women have to go into hiding. It talks about the inefficiencies and dangers of bureaucratic Sweden. Here in Sweden we have Social Security numbers that we use for EVERYTHING. And I mean everything. You can’t get a library card without one. On one hand it is incredibly practical. Your Social Security number is your date of birth plus four numbers. Easy to remember. But oh so dangerous to these women. Maria Eriksson, at one point in the book, calls up a social worker to talk about Leila and this woman does nothing to verify who Eriksson is. She gives up sensitive information without problem. There was a report on the radio just the other day about the lack of protection for these hidden women and their children, especially when it comes to school. Schools in Sweden are public institutions, and class lists and grades are public record. How do you protect these women and their children then? I got really annoyed while listening to this report because me and my classmates asked the question last term (we never got an answer about what to do when faced with a student with protected identity) but there is a man from the Education Department on claiming that no one has asked the question! Excuse me! (sorry I am getting upset just talking about it).
The bottom line is that we as a society have to get better at protecting these women. At the end of the book the authors list a few things that they feel need to happen in order to protect these women (Neither they nor I claim that only women get abused but this book is about the women) and their children. Some of them are the need for specially trained staff who can put together comprehensive far reaching plans for the protection. There needs to be the power to help these women financially if they have to leave the country. That every report of domestic violence be fast tracked.
Overall I found this book to be very informative. It did this by telling the story of different women. It also showed the toll domestic abuse takes on a woman without being graphic about it. I hope books like this exists in other countries as well.
I have chosen to include this as a book for Women Unbound as well as the Social Justice challenge because Maria Eriksson continues to fight for the rights of these women. She continues to tell her story as well as their stories. She continues to support women in abusive situations and for that she is a strong woman.