The leadership of the Nordic gender equality cooperation changes every year. In 2017, Norway has held the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers and has focused its efforts on the work against violence and hate speech. Norway has also given attention to gender equality in the labour market as well as men and gender equality.
Solveig Horne, Norway’s minister of children and equality, has been in charge of the Nordic cooperation in the area of gender equality during the year.
‘It has been an exciting year and I’ve learned a lot. The Nordic countries have come a long way when it comes to gender equality, but we still have some challenges to tackle. It’s great that we in the Nordic countries can share experiences and knowledge with each other,’ she says.
Focus on gender equality in the workplace
Norway started its presidency with a conference on the future of the labour market and the workplace.
‘This is an area where the Nordic countries are facing similar challenges, such as gendered choices of education and occupations. Another challenge concerns how to bring women with immigrant backgrounds into the labour market, which is an issue that we’re working on in the Nordic cooperation. I am pleased to see that Sweden will continue to work on this problem during its upcoming presidency,’ says Solveig Horne.
Gender equality in the workplace was also the main theme of the meeting of the UN Women’s Commission in New York earlier this year. At the conference, the issue was discussed in a public panel discussion with the Nordic gender equality ministers.
‘There was a huge interest in the panel discussion. The room was filled to capacity and a lot of people weren’t even able to get in.’
The freedom of speech stands strong
The question of how online hate speech can be stopped is a hot topic in the Nordic countries. The rampant threats, hatred and sexist remarks expressed in online forums constitute a serious democratic problem, as it may silence voices in the public space. The issue was highlighted during both the Danish and the Finnish presidencies, and Norway picked up the baton in 2017. One big problem is that the legislations in the Nordic countries have not kept pace with the technological development, rendering them ineffective in this area. In June, Norway hosted a Nordic conference on the topic with an aim to present a legislative review. In parallel to this, information material targeting 10–18-year-old youth in the five Nordic countries has been developed.
‘The freedom of speech stands strong in the Nordic region and it is important that we keep protecting this privilege. We must be able to accept intense debate, but we will never tolerate intimidation and expressions of hate. A lot of people are hesitant to participate in the public debate. This is a serious democratic challenge, so it’s important to fight against hate speech in all age groups,’ says Solveig Horne.
The #MeToo campaign is spreading across the world. How can we end sexual harassment in the workplace?
‘Sexual harassment is illegal and unacceptable. I am glad the issue has received so much attention because of the #MeToo campaign. All public authorities, schools and employers have a responsibility to actively work against sexual harassment in their respective organisations. Later this month, I will meet with the labour market minister to discuss sexual harassment together with the social partners in Norway. We need to push this issue even harder. Maybe we should also consider giving priority to the prevention of sexual harassment in the new programme for the Nordic cooperation.’
Big potential for sharing of knowledge
In 2016, the Finnish presidency put a strong focus on best practices and solutions to break the cycle of violence in intimate relationships. Norway has continued this work by launching a project dealing with the implementation of the Istanbul Convention. The project examines how the Nordic countries are implementing select obligations under the Convention concerning the prevention of gender-related violence and the protection and support given to victims. The results of the project will be presented at a Nordic conference on violence 7–8 March 2018.
‘The aim of the project and the conference is to learn from each other’s work, and to develop and improve the efforts. The Nordic countries use different approaches to prevent and combat violence against women and violence in intimate relationships. This creates a strong potential for sharing of knowledge and experiences,’ Solveig Horne explains.
Next year, a new cooperation programme will be developed. Which issues are important to address?
‘Violence against women is one of our time’s biggest gender equality challenges. In recent months, we have also become aware that a large number of women experience serious sexual harassment, also in the workplace. The elimination of violence against women and men is included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Nordic Council of Ministers is working together to achieve the UN’s goals, and it is important that we also include them in the new cooperation programme.’
What is your most important experience from the Nordic cooperation?
‘The Nordic countries agree that women and men, girls and boys, should have equal opportunities. We use different approaches to reach this goal. We therefore have a lot to gain by looking beyond our national borders and over to our neighbours so we can learn from each other.’