The leadership of the Nordic gender equality cooperation changes annually. In 2016, it was Finland’s turn to hold the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The focus of the Presidency has been on gender equality in the media and the work against violence. Gender equality in health and welfare and the area of men and gender equality have also received special attention. Annamari Asikainen and Heidi Haggrén at the gender equality unit of the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health have coordinated the efforts.
‘It has been a very interesting year, with a lot of work. The planning began already in 2014, and this year we have definitely had plenty of balls in the air,’ says Annamari Asikainen.
Last year, the Danish Presidency started to work against online sexism and hate speech. This was followed up in February at the UN women’s commission meeting in New York when an expert panel discussed solutions to the problem in front of an audience. The panel included Emma Holten from Denmark, who became a feminist activist after falling victim to revenge pornography, and Finnish politician Nasima Razmyar, who has been subject to organised hate campaigns due to her engagement in refugee issues.
Annamari Asikainen and Heidi Haggrén feel that this event was particularly successful.
‘An experienced CSW participant said it was the best joint Nordic event ever at the UN women’s conference,’ says Annamari Asikainen.
The work will be followed up during Norway’s Presidency with for example an assessment of the legal regulation of online threats and hate speech in the Nordic countries, which is carried out by NIKK at the request of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
Gender equality in the media
On the theme of gender equality in the media, the Finnish Presidency also arranged a side event on gender equality and freedom of the press during UNESCO World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki in May. The goal was to address the issue of the skewed gender representation in the news media as a threat to democracy and freedom of the press. The list of participants in Helsinki also included representatives from the Nordic Gender Equality Fund project Gender Equality in Nordic Media. They presented the latest Nordic results from the Global Media Monitoring Project, which revealed that the share of women present in Nordic news media has decreased from 2010. The study shows that the Nordic countries have been surpassed by for example USA, Romania, Peru and Pakistan.
‘Even if Nordic press enjoys a lot of freedom in an international perspective, the report points to significant weaknesses in terms of gender equality. It was a good idea to include the gender equality issue in this UNESCO context,’ says Heidi Haggrén. She appreciates the discussion on the roles of men and women in the media content and how they are linked to democracy.
The Finnish Presidency has addressed the issue of gender-related violence from several perspectives. It has arranged three large conferences with a focus on perpetrators, genital mutilation and human trafficking. The conference titled Confronting Gendered Violence: Focus on Perpetrators, arranged in collaboration with a project funded by the Nordic Gender Equality Fund, dealt with how the perpetrators’ violence can be stopped. It targeted researchers and practitioners in the Nordic countries. The conference included a presentation of results from the Presidency project Enough, Now! Nordic Models to End Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence.
‘The conference turned out great, maybe because it targeted a specific group. One important insight we gained is that it is important to define a clear target group early in the planning process. It’s difficult to reach out to everybody with a conference. For example, you can’t target both practitioners and policymakers at the same time,’ says Annamari Asikainen.
She also stresses the importance of collaborating with other actors. The conference Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting – a Matter of Human Rights and Gender Equality was arranged together with the Finnish League for Human Rights, and the conference The Nordic Countries – a Common Market for Human Trafficking was hosted in cooperation with the Finnish Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, among others.
‘It has worked well, because they have access to other networks than we do at the Ministry. They are able to reach other organisations and groups of people,’ says Heidi Haggrén.
Challenges and lessons learned
Besides the main themes of media and anti-violence work, Finland’s Presidency has also addressed the gender equality perspective in health policy and the theme of men and gender equality.
What has been the biggest challenge this year?
‘The short time period! One year is not a long time and it’s quite demanding to work on so many things simultaneously. Also, we should develop better structures for collaboration in the Nordic cooperation, for example between different sectors. Today those types of structures are more established at the EU level,’ says Annamari Asikainen.
In 2017, Norway will take over the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. They will continue to focus on themes such as violence and hate speech.
What advice do you want to give Norway?
‘It has been valuable to make room for voices from all Nordic countries at the events and in the overall work. It’s not always easy to do, but that’s how you generate Nordic value. Collection of comparable information and creation of discussion forums can help facilitate effective gender equality policy in the different countries,’ says Heidi Haggrén.