Paternal leave, difference feminism and part-time work discussed in the Faroe Islands

The Nordic countries are using gender equality to build their national identity internationally. But major challenges remain across the entire region. Gender differences in parental leave and part-time work are two examples discussed at a Nordic conference on gender equality in working life held in Torshavn, Faroe Islands.

Johan Dahl, trade and gender equality minister from the Faroe Islands, participated in the conference and noted that the Faroese labour market suffers from many gender equality problems. At present, the islands’ greatest challenge is emigration. Mainly young women are moving away, and the population of only 48 000 inhabitants is ageing.

‘The Faroese gender structures remain traditional. We have large income differences and big problems with female representation in politics and part-time unemployment. The unequal power distribution between the genders may be one reason women are moving away,’ said Dahl.

Nordic women working part time

Bosse Parbring, project coordinator at NIKK, presented Part-Time Work in the Nordic Region, a project exploring part-time work among Nordic women and men.

In most Nordic countries, about one-third of the women work part time. Finland is an exception with 15 per cent. However, the total share of women working outside the home is also lower in this country than elsewhere.

The effect of part-time work on pensions varies significantly across the Nordic region. The effects are smaller in Denmark and Norway than in the other countries. There is hardly any effect at all for those who work part time for only a short period. The reason for this is that the national pension systems have compensation mechanisms for people with low past incomes.

‘But this is only true if you work part time for a short period. Many women work part time for a long time, with major effects on their pensions – in all countries,’ said Parbring.

Men are considered family breadwinners in the Faroe Islands

Bosse Parbring and Erika Hayfield

Bosse Parbring and Erika Hayfield

Erika Hayfield, researcher at the University of the Faroe Islands, has studied part-time work in the Faroe Islands. The Faroese women have the highest rate of part-time workers in the Nordic region – 51 per cent (the corresponding figure for men is 11 per cent). The rate remains high throughout the women’s working life and thus does not peak only at the ages when many women raise children. Moreover, more than one-fifth of the women who work part time would like to work more.

One problem is that more than 3000 Faroese men work away from the islands, for example at sea or on oil rigs. This number corresponds to one-fifth of the male labour force. It is difficult for Faroese employers to compete with the high salaries paid for example in the Norwegian oil industry. This causes problems for women in heterosexual relationships, especially if they have small children.

Hayfield said that in the Faroe Islands, men are still largely viewed as family breadwinners. She expressed great concern that the Faroe Islands is turning into a society where women even more than in the past are put in charge of the unpaid household work – a society based on the housewife model.

‘It’s important that the Faroese debate moves away from the notion that gender differences are biologically rooted, or “natural”. This attitude makes progress in gender equality policy difficult. For example, the proposed expansion of parental leave has met strong resistance due to the widespread view that women are more naturally suited for parenting.’

Nordic parental leave increases with reserved parental leave

Ingólfur V Gíslason from the University of Iceland talked about the gender distribution of parental leave in the Nordic region.

The rate of parental leave increased from 2000 to 2013 in all Nordic countries except Denmark. Also in Denmark, only married or co-habiting fathers are entitled to parental leave. This is the case in Finland as well.

In 2012, only 7.4 per cent of all parental leave in Denmark was paternal leave. Iceland had the highest rate, although it was still below 30 per cent. Iceland also has the highest number of days of parental leave reserved for each parent. One-third of the available days of parental leave are reserved for each parent, and the parents are free to decide how to split the remaining third.

‘There is a negative trend in the Nordic region, though. The Danes have cancelled their plans to introduce reserved parental leave. The new Norwegian government is reducing the number of days reserved for the father, and they are making it easier to transfer days to the mother. And Iceland has postponed a planned expansion of the country’s parental leave policy from 9 to 12 months with a 5-5-2 distribution,’ said Gíslason.

Little parental leave among Faroese men

Katrin Kallsberg

Katrin Kallsberg

Katrin Kallsberg, chair of the Faroese national gender equality committee, said that Faroese men take only 5-6 per cent of the granted parental leave. And almost half of them never go on parental leave at all.

‘At the same time, two-thirds of the men say they would like three months of reserved paternal leave if it were possible in the Faroe Islands.’

Kallsberg stated cultural factors as a reason for the present situation. The national gender equality committee recently presented a study on attitudes among Faroese adolescents. Many conservative opinions were noted among the boys: Almost one-third of them expressed that women should not work at all outside the home, almost half believed that men are better leaders and over one-third said that if a man and a woman are competing for a job, the man should be given preference.

Difference feminism in Denmark

Liv Patursson

Liv Patursson

Lív Patursson, gender scholar at Lund University, talked about a current debate in Denmark. Danish families with children are finding it increasingly difficult to combine family life with a professional career. Common consequences include mental stress, increased divorce rates and negative demographic effects. Patursson wanted to problematise the individualistic attitude to the problem often heard in Denmark, for example from the country’s gender equality minister Manu Sareen, who recently encouraged women who wanted to pursue a career to ‘skip the yoga’.

A comeback of Danish difference feminists (sometimes called ”uterus feminists” in Scandinavian countries”) can also be witnessed. Their solution is also exclusively individualistic – women should stay home more with their children and forget about a career.

Gender equality as a Nordic marketing scheme

Eirinn Larssen

Eirinn Larsen

Eirinn Larsen, researcher and historian at the Centre for Business History, Norwegian School of Management in Oslo, talked about the view of gender equality as being ‘typically Nordic’.

The Gender Gap Index presented each year by the World Economic Forum places the Nordic countries in the top 10.

‘It is important for the marketing of the Nordic countries that other countries see them as gender equal. But the whole thing is more a matter of branding than real substance.’

She said that the view of the Nordic countries as gender equal is problematic, for example because it makes further gender equality work more difficult.
‘We still have many gender equality problems in the Nordic region. I would say that gender equality is not an overly Nordic feature. But the desire to seem gender equal certainly is.’

The conference was arranged 27-28 May by the Icelandic Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers for Gender Equality.

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