NORDREF Annual Report 2021

An overview of 2020: The first year in the life of NORDREF



The Nordic Digital Rights and Equality Foundation (NORDREF), founded by Thordis Elva, Emma Holten, María Rún Bjarnadóttir, Milla Mölgaard, Moa Bladini and Ida Östensson, had been on the drawing table for over a year before the founding meeting was held on November 20th, 2020. The subject line of the first few brainstorming meetings, Saving the world, was an indicator of how big the founding members dare to think.


A month after the founding meeting, NORDREF‘s manifesto was published in the newspaper Fréttablaðið, as well as on our website, www.nordref.org in Swedish, Icelandic, Danish and English. Our social media channels were launched simultaneously on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.


Nordic Talks and perpetrator research


After months of work by on navigating the bureaucratic jungle, NORDREF received official registration with the Swedish authorities on February 2, 2021. It was just in time for the deadline to apply to do a Nordic Talk, which is a podcast series sponsored by the Nordic Council of Ministers, focusing on a Nordic idea worth spreading to the rest of the world.


We decided that applying to do a Nordic Talk was perfect for a brand new organisation, and that the global distribution of the podcast could be an excellent way to put ourselves on the map. Board member María Rún Bjarnadóttir had written a legislative propopsal on sexual privacy, that had recently entered into Icelandic law, which made it a natural topic for us to dissect. Our hopes were high but our expectations were realistic when we filed our application to do a Nordic Talk on Sexual Privacy in a Digital World: What needs to change? Despite having seasoned and well known Board members, NORDREF was a brand new organisation, lacking in identity and experience.


It was therefore a pleasant surprise when we learned in March that we got the grant we had applied for to do a Nordic Talk. The confetti had hardly landed when the next application deadline was upon us, this time for the Nordic Gender Equality Fund (NIKK). The existing research on online abuse in the Nordic region has indicated that men are overrepresented among perpetrators, and that hate speech is largely perpetrated by men over the age of 40. However, there is still a lot left to learn about perpetrators, what their motives are and what their relationship to their victims is. Establishing that lays the foundation for evidence-based proposals with the aim of countering and ultimately preventing online abuse, which in turn strengthens democracy and gender-equality.


As a result, NORDREF filed an application to the NIKK fund to profile perpetrators of gender-based online abuse in Denmark, Sweden and Iceland, in collaboration with ROKS, Kvennaathvarfið shelter, Stígamót counseling center, Bjarkarhlíð family justice center, Danske Kvindesamfunds krisecentre, police authorities – as well as researcher Christian Mogensen, author of the Angry Internet report (detailing online sexism and misogyny perpetrated in the Nordic region.)

NORDREF’s NIKK application was filed on the day of the deadline, March 31st, 2021. The results were to be announced in May. However, the announcement was delayed almost 5 months. We were to learn that NIKK and Nordic Talks are funded by the same intergovernmental body, namely the Nordic Council of Ministers, which had been audited. This threw a wrench into NORDREF’s plans. In September 2021, it became clear that we had to postpone our Nordic Talk, which was set for October 5, because none of the funds had been paid out. We still had no word from NIKK regarding our research proposal either, and for a moment there, it looked like the momentum was over for NORDREF. To our pleasant surprise, the waiting came to an end when the NIKK grants were finally announced, and we learned that NORDREF had been granted all the funding we had applied to in our first year of existence. If there was ever a reason to raise a glass!


Other memories from 2021


Other noteworthy events of the year were the International Women’s Day March 8th, on which NORDREF launched a series of articles and research from all over the world, that shows how online abuse of women and girls has risen substantially during the Covid19 pandemic. NORDREF’s intern, Praveena Ganesh, was instrumental in that project, as well as in content creation for our social media.


In April, Thordis Elva addressed the Nordic Council’s Committee of Welfare on NORDREF’s behalf, alongside Christian Mogensen, who later joined our ranks.


In June, Board members María Rún and Moa Bladini gave a joint keynote at the Finnish government’s conference on gender-based online harassment, and Thordis Elva was an expert commentator alongside Louna Hakkarainen from Naisten Linja, who later joined NORDREF’s ranks as our first Finnish representative. Also in June, the Danish government hosted a conference called The Angry Internet, where Christian Mogensen’s research findings were presented, and Thordis Elva gave the closing speech as NORDREF’s chairperson. Moreover, Milla Mölgaard, NORDREF’s media consultant, launched a critically acclaimed podcast series about online abuse in a Danish context.


In July, the Swedish representatives of NORDREF, Moa Bladini, Ida Östensson and Thordis Elva wrote an article to newspaper Göteborgsposten together with other stakeholders that criticized the government’s failure to address the problem of online abuse in its action plan to counter violence against women and girls.


In August, NORDREF welcomed its first Finnish representative, when Louna Hakkarainen was welcomed onto the Board.


From September and onward, after the audit that had held all of NORDREF’s funding hostage for nearly half a year came to an end, there has not been a single, dull moment. The Nordic Talk, as well as the research project, require significant planning, with twenty different partners spread across five different countries. The development of the questionnaire that is to be used in our research has led to many lively discussions with women’s shelters in Iceland, Denmark and Sweden, as well as a quagmire of red tape and bureaucracy with the police in all three countries. The application to the Swedish Board of Ethical Research is the equivalent of a master’s thesis at any self-respecting university, as Moa and Thordis learned the hard way. In October, an Icelandic division of NORDREF was founded in Reykjavík and in November, Meta (formerly known as Facebook) requested a meeting with NORDREF board members in order to present a new tool to counter image-based sexual abuse. Moa sealed a partnership between NORDREF and Göteborgs Universitet in our upcoming research, bringing in capital and extra hands. Thordis Elva represented NORDREF in a high-level EU webinar on how to build safe online spaces for women and girls, and to round the year off, María Rún was appointed to the GREVIO committee in December, after having accepted the position of Head of Internet Safety by the Icelandic National Police Commissioner earlier in the year.


In terms of changes to the Board this year, Emma Holten took a temporarily leave of absence from NORDREF in March, to be reinstated in May.

Milla Mölgaard went from being a Board member to becoming NORDREF’s media consultant in June, feeling that it better represented her skills and expertise.

Louna Hakkarainen and Christian Mogensen joined NORDREF in the late summer/early fall.

Last but not least, our intern Praveena Ganesh was accepted into a Master’s programme at Manipal University in Jaipur, India, partly due to her work for NORDREF.


Economic overview:


NORDREF received a total of 599.562 DKK in grants during 2021.

This consists of:


Nordic Talks grant: 99.562 DKK


NIKK research grant: 500.000 DKK


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