What is women’s social citizenship made of?

2009- 10-29 How should different attitudes towards similar childcare arrangements in two Nordic countries be interpreted, and what have women’s movements got to do with it? These are questions studied in the research project FEMCIT.

FEMCIT is a European Union funded research project involving 40 researchers across Europe. The project aims to investigate different aspects of gendered citizenship in multicultural Europe and the impact of women’s movements on it. One of the seven thematic areas of FEMCIT is Work Package 2, which concentrates on social citizenship, and is coordinated from NIKK by its director Dr Solveig Bergman.

“FEMCIT Work Package 2 focuses on the impact of women’s movements and other gender-related organisations on childcare and parental leave in Europe”, defines Bergman.

According to Bergman the point of departure for WP2 is the recognition that childcare is one of the key questions in studying social citizenship from a gender perspective. “For many women childcare is vital to their enjoyment of full social citizenship, as well as economic autonomy and wellbeing”, she claims.

Bergman stresses that the impacts of social movements and voluntary organisations on childcare issues are scarcely researched and need to be studied. “Women’s agency”, she states, “should not be underplayed, and as a scholar specialised on research on women’s movements I am especially glad that NIKK is involved in this project.”

“Today childcare and parental leave are not only feminist issues, but also an important part of mainstream European political discourses”, she also remarks.

Solveig Bergman points out that in addition to the goal of extending the possible choices for women and facilitating the role of men as carers there might be other interests behind strengthening the childcare provision. “This relates even to the politics of dealing with demographic challenges in Europe and the need to increase the employment rate in order to compete globally”, she explains.

FEMCIT WP2 approaches the questions of European childcare arrangements by a focus on different welfare state models. It aims to compare childcare policies, policy-making and gender-based activism in the Czech Republic, Spain, Finland and Norway.

Nordic comparison

Researcher Minna Rantalaiho is responsible for the part that focuses on the Nordic welfare state model. Referring to her research on Finnish and Norwegian childcare policies, she argues that there is unambiguous evidence that the childcare arrangements in both Finland and Norway have benefited women’s social citizenship by supporting women’s participation in society.

However, Rantalaiho also points out that there are interesting differences between the two countries. “Examining two Nordic countries provides an opportunity for a more critical understanding of women’s social citizenship in these countries”, she explains.

Minna Rantalaiho stresses that though both Finland and Norway have a similar cash-for-childcare arrangement that supports home care for children, attitudes towards the policies vary in the two countries. In Norway the arrangement is heavily criticised, mostly by feminists and left-wing politicians, and women are increasingly choosing day-care services, while in Finland such criticism has trailed off and home-care and prolonged parental leave are more popular than is the case in Norway.

“Childcare is a contested issue, which makes it a matter of critical research, especially when we are aiming to understand women’s social citizenship”, says Rantalaiho.

Rantalaiho’s research analyses claims on childcare from 1990s onwards. “At present we do not know much about the influence the women’s movement and, for example, the emerging men’s movement have had on today’s childcare policies”, she notes explaining the choice of time span. “Another interesting factor concerns the increase of immigration that in the 1990s also started to become more visible in childcare discourses, especially in Norway”, adds Rantalaiho.

Both Bergman and Rantalaiho emphasise that it is also important to pay attention to the question of who gets to define what are the good solutions in childcare. “A challenge for us researchers as well as for policy makers is to recognise different voices in discussions about childcare, when not all of them are equally loud”, says Rantalaiho.

A focus on ethnic diversity and multiculturalism is integrated into the focus of FEMCIT. “The family patterns of minoritised groups and the relation of these patterns to the normative family model of welfare policies need to be studied and the claims of minority women’s organisations and groups is included in our research”, Solveig Bergman concludes.

Bergman stresses that FEMCIT aims to provide information about gendered citizenship not only for an academic audience but also for policy makers and practitioners. The four-year project publishes preliminary results on a continuous basis, but in January 2011 a conference will also be organised in Oslo for both researchers and practitioners.

“Several publications are on their way and we will publish a report anthology to disseminate the results of FEMCIT”, promises Bergman.

By: Minna Seikkula


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