Stockholm University and Södertörn University recently arranged a conference on the development of global gender equality policy since the 1960s. Professor Judith Squires from Bristol University in the UK, the first key speaker at the conference, concluded that the European gender equality policy – and especially within the EU – has developed in three main phases. In the 1970s there was a focus on equal treatment and anti-discrimination. In the 1980s the focus was shifted to active measures and in the 1990s there was a transition to integration of the gender equality perspective. So what does it look like today in the 2000s?
Today, said Squires, there is a focus on so-called multiple discrimination. Gender is no longer considered a unique, separate ground for discrimination.
‘Now all discrimination, whether it’s based on religion, age, disability or gender, falls under the same umbrella,’ she said.
She sees this as a sign that gender equality policy is moving in the direction of the 1970s again.
‘We’re basically back in the 1970s, with a focus on the concept of anti-discrimination. However, today it also includes multiple discrimination,’ he said.
EU both positive and negative for the Nordic countries
Johanna Kantola made the same conclusions in her speech. The purpose of her current research project is to trace the effects of European gender equality policy in the Nordic countries.
‘I think I’m brave for taking on this task,’ said Kantola and stressed that the research results are strongly linked to the fact that the study is influenced by her Finnish origin
Her research is based on data from Denmark, Norway and Sweden but with a strong emphasis on data from Finland . Although there are significant differences between the Nordic countries, Kantola says that there is a shared pattern of Europeanisation of Nordic gender equality policy. One example is that the countries have become more focused on multidimensional anti-discrimination policy and reinforced human rights.
Kantola’s main conclusions are that the EU has had both positive and negative effects on Nordic gender equality policy. The EU has been powerful when it comes to anti-discrimination legislation, and Kantola mentions in particular the directive on equal treatment of women and men in the access to and supply of goods and services from 2004.
One thing that the EU introduced in Finland was the concept of direct and indirect discrimination. However, said Kantola, EU also used so-called soft law, meaning non-binding legislation serving as recommendations and guidelines.
‘And none of it is binding; rather, it is a matter of ideals and values, which opens up for different approaches and national interpretations,’ she says.
Language use affects progress
The problem with this is that there are no reliable methods to measure whether these soft recommendations really have been used in the member states, says Kantola.
‘This means that the member states can tell the EU that they have implemented all kinds of gender equality measures. They can for example list old policy measures but not implement any new ones, which obviously does not promote gender equality,’ she says.
Kantola also stresses that the EU likes to use the term multiple discrimination instead of intersectionality – a practice she is critical of.
‘The EU uses simpler concepts and for example treats gender and race as two parallel rather than overlapping concepts.’
In addition, when the EU focuses on anti-discrimination instead of active measures, there is a transfer of responsibility that Kantola sees as problematic.
‘When you use the concept of active measures, you transfer the responsibility to the decision-maker, meaning the employer or the institution. It does not target the individual, like the concept of anti-discrimination does.’