‘The public space’ and ‘welfare and innovation’ are two central themes for the Nordic gender equality cooperation. Denmark is heading the Nordic Council of Ministers during 2015 and will lead the work this year. The Danish Presidency has already planned a number of activities. For the theme welfare and innovation, one key objective is to reduce the strong gender patterns in adolescents’ educational and occupational choices. The plan is to find and share positive examples of how to encourage more young women to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and math.
‘Most Nordic boys and girls are still making educational choices along traditional gender lines. It is very unfortunate, both for the individuals themselves and for society at large, that their potential is not fully utilised,’ says Manu Sareen, Denmark’s minister for gender equality and social affairs.
Good examples in new handbook
Nordic higher education institutions are already trying to make more girls interested in the natural sciences. For example, Denmark has been successful with Girls’ Day in Science, an education fair targeting teenage girls who are about to decide which track to pursue at the upper secondary level. The fair enables the girls to meet representatives from different companies and learn about their work. They are also offered internships.
‘Our experience is that the girls’ attitudes often change when they discover what the companies really do. They become more prone to breaking away from traditional, gender-based expectations,’ says Sareen.
He emphasises that more educational institutions and actors need to address this problem. Denmark wants to carry out a larger research project where good examples are identified and documented. The plan is to ultimately publish a handbook in all Nordic languages.
Women are leaving the countryside
Another issue that falls under the welfare theme is the urbanisation trend, where a high proportion of young Nordic women leave rural areas to study at a university in a larger city. By contrast, men are less likely to move to the cities and if they do, they are more likely to return home after they get their degree. At the same time, however, the traditionally male-oriented job opportunities are becoming increasingly scarce in rural areas, leaving many men destined for unemployment.
‘This can lead to depopulation of some communities. Birth rates go down, homes deteriorate and the local life just kind of fades away. As there’s a clear connection between population flows and gender equality issues, we want to focus on this and discuss how the problems can be solved,’ says Sareen.
The Danish Presidency has appointed a research project to assess the challenges. Since the problem is substantial in the Faroe Islands and Greenland, a seminar for various actors will be held in Greenland in the summer. The results from the seminar, together with useful advice and positive experiences, will be documented and disbursed across the Nordic region.
Sexist remarks– a democracy problem
‘Gender equality in the public space’ is another key theme in the Nordic cooperation. 2015 marks the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in Denmark and Iceland. In Finland, women were allowed to vote already in 1906. This means that the Nordic countries have a long tradition of female representation in politics. However, the representation in the public space remains unequal. One example of this, according to Sareen, is the way women are discussed and treated in media and social networks.
‘We can see a growing trend where women who participate in the public debate increasingly have to endure sexist remarks, trash talk and direct threats. It’s totally unacceptable. Women and men should be able to participate in the public debate on equal terms. If they can’t, we have a serious democracy problem.’
‘Gender equality in the public space’ is a broad theme that covers both representation, sexism in everyday life, anti-feminism and gender equality in media. The exact focus issues will be decided at the meeting of the Nordic Council of Ministers in May. The selected issues will then be addressed through expert seminars, which may result in the formulation of potential solutions.
‘There’s so much that can be done. I’m looking forward to talking to my Nordic colleagues about how we can improve gender equality in the public sphere,’ says Sareen.