The Nordic region is at the forefront in gender equality in the world, but major challenges for gender equality remain. This is particularly evident in the MeToo movement, which has borne witness to sexual harassment, violence and abuse in various parts of the community.
“It is of course a source of pride that our region is a frontrunner in international comparisons. Nonetheless it is important to note that none of the Nordic countries is an equality heaven,” says Rósa Guðrún Erlingsdóttir, gender equality expert and Senior Adviser at the Ministry of Welfare in Iceland.
The new cooperation programme highlights four priority areas in particular for gender equality efforts: “future of work and economic growth”, “welfare, health and quality of life”, “power and influence” and “gender equality work with focus on men and masculinities”.
The area of “welfare, health and quality of life” emphasises that men and women should having equal access to good health, medical care and social care. There are clear health inequalities linked to gender in the Nordic region and on the whole, women feel that their health is worse than men’s. In addition, young women are over-represented in mental health statistics, while suicide is more common among men.
In the area “future of work and economic growth”, the programme stresses that men and women should have equal opportunities in the workplace and that gendered career and education choices should be countered. The gender perspective in preschools and schools is also a focus, and is seen as key in giving all children and young people the same development opportunities.
Iceland holds the presidency in 2019
The four-year programme identifies the overall direction of Nordic cooperation in the area of gender equality, but it is up to the countries holding the presidency to decide what activities to conduct. Iceland will hold the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2019 and is thus the first Nordic country to work on the basis of the new programme.
Rósa Guðrún Erlingsdóttir is pleased that the new cooperation programme highlights the importance of involving men in efforts to promote gender equality.
“I believe that we need to address men and boys as a part of the solution and demonstrate that gender equality means better quality of life for all. Negative masculinities can be brought to the surface by engaging men and boys in discussions on gender equality issues,” she says.
That gender equality concerns men too has been emphasised more and more in Nordic gender equality efforts. But gender equality efforts targeting men and boys have often been short-lived and project-based. By making “gender equality work with focus on men and masculinities” a priority area, the Nordic Council of Ministers aims to highlight the need for long-term action.
However, it is important that getting men involved in gender equality is done thoughtfully according to Rósa Guðrún Erlingsdóttir.
“Women have been leading the movement for gender equality for decades, and it is essential that men are involved in ways that support women’s existing efforts and leadership,” she says.
During 2019, based on the Cooperation programme, the Icelandic Presidency will hold a Nordic Me Too conference in Reykjavik. During the year, Iceland will also have a particular focus on gender equality in the western Nordic countries and the Arctic, with a conference on men and gender equality in Torshavn for example. The conference will be held in collaboration with Almannamálaráðið, the Ministry of Social Affairs in the Faroe Islands.