Gender equality in focus when Iceland takes over Nordic Council of Ministers

Income differences and gender equality in the western Nordic region are in focus when Iceland takes on the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. This year marks the 40-year anniversary of the Nordic cooperation on gender equality. ‘We still have a lot to learn from each other,’ says Ingi Valur Jóhannsson.

Illustration: Emma Hanquist

Illustration: Emma Hanquist

The gender segregation in education lingers on and women are still being paid less than men.

‘The Nordic countries are at the forefront, but we’re nevertheless at a standstill in some areas,’ says Valur Jóhannsson, chair of the Nordic Committee of Senior Officials for Gender Equality under Iceland’s presidency.

The work for gender equality in the labour market continues

The presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers rotates between the five different Nordic countries. At the turn of the year, Sweden passed the baton to Iceland. This year’s programme is almost ready and there will be a special focus on the western Nordic region, with the autonomous countries Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Valur Jóhannsson says that the Faroe Islands in particular is facing major challenges, not least because many women are choosing to move away to more populated areas.
‘The weaknesses in gender equality may be one reason women are leaving. Gender equality is an important factor if you want to solve socio-economic problems,’ he says.

Last year, the work of the Nordic Council of Ministers focused on education and the labour market, and these areas will receive priority this year as well.
‘We’ll take over what was started during the Swedish presidency,’ says Valur Jóhannsson and mentions for example the project Part-Time Work in the Nordic Region, which concerns part-time work in a gender equality perspective.

The differences in working time affects men’s and women’s economic opportunities at the individual level, but they also affect the gender equality in the labour market in a wider sense. The project Part-Time Work in the Nordic Region is managed by NIKK and will conclude with a conference in Iceland in November. A conference on the salary gap between men and women will be held at the same time.
‘We will present research in the area and methods to reduce the differences. The fact that womens’ salaries keep lagging is a major problem,’ says Valur Jóhannsson.

Karin Bengtson chaired the Nordic Committee of Senior Officials for Gender Equality during the Swedish presidency. She supports the continued prioritisation of gender equality in the labour market.
‘A lot of work remains. The gender inequality in the labour market has consequences also in other areas. It affects for example pensions and the distribution of household work between men and women,’ she says.

Among the gender equality initiatives made under the Swedish presidency, she also mentions a project focusing on exchange of experiences regarding men’s violence against women. Representatives from for example the police and social services in the Nordic countries have met to discuss risk assessments – when should society intervene against this type of violence, and how?

‘Countries act differently in this respect, and it’s interesting to study the effects,’ says Karin Bengtson and continues:
‘Since the Nordic countries share roughly the same level of development, we can learn a lot from each other,’ she says, and Valur Jóhannsson agrees.

Nordic gender equality work turns 40

Glancing at the neighbours has inspired the countries to launch new reforms, he says. When Norway introduced gender quotas for corporate boards, Iceland and others followed suit, and the countries have inspired each other in the context of parental insurance in a similar way.
‘There are numerous examples,’ says Valur Jóhannsson.

The 40-year milestone of the Nordic gender equality work will be acknowledged with a conference in August, to which the Icelandic presidency has invited persons who have been at the forefront of the work. Valur Jóhannsson hopes that the event will reach a broad audience. This is also the objective of other initiatives throughout the year.
‘We need to reach the public and young people in particular. That’s how we can achieve real change,’ he says.

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