Ministers under Attack at Nordic Forum

The Nordic gender equality ministers received both boos and applause during the panel discussion that preceded the heavily criticised closing ceremony at the Nordic Forum in Malmö, Sweden.

The Nordic Gender Equality Ministers at Nordic Forum.

The Nordic Gender Equality Ministers at Nordic Forum.

The Nordic countries are continuously competing for the top spots on the list of the world’s most gender-equal countries, yet they keep struggling with problems that were identified already in the 1970s. This was pointed out at Sunday’s panel discussion, which was held before the closing ceremony and attracted a large crowd. Domestic violence, gender segregation in the labour market and the male-female income differences were some of the topics on the agenda.
‘Men should be as likely as women to work in day care, and there should be as many women as men in the fishing industry,’ said Iceland’s gender equality minister Eyglo Harðardóttir.
She admitted that Iceland – which has the most gender-segregated labour market in the Nordic region – still has a long way to go. Harðardóttir described Denmark as a role model in the area of labour market policy but also took the opportunity to send a less flattering message to her Danish counterpart Manu Sareen.
‘We can learn from your work against gender segregation in the labour market, and we hope that you want to learn more about the Icelandic parental leave system,’ she said.

In contrast to its Nordic neighbours, Denmark does not have a ‘papa month’ or other legislation regulating how parents share their parental leave.
‘We don’t mind parents sharing their parental level, but we want the decision to be up to them,’ said Manu Sareen and was booed by the audience.
‘What’s personal is political,’ proclaimed a voice in the crowd.
Also the Norwegian gender equality minister Solveig Horne met resistance from the audience.
‘You’re turning back the clock,’ somebody said and added that Horne’s party, the Norwegian Progress Party, does not support the law against the purchasing of sexual services.

During the panel discussion, Horne defended her party’s position regarding the sex trade law. She said that there are signs that the legislation may in fact make the situation for women in the sex industry more difficult.
‘The countries that have adopted the law have seen a worsening of the situation,’ she said.
The gender equality ministers were also held accountable for the weaknesses in the work against men’s violence against women. Despite the fact that the problem has been on the political agenda for decades, the number of women who need protection has not gone down and the responsibility for the victims still largely lies with voluntary organisations, somebody said. The Swedish gender equality minister, Maria Arnholm, admitted that the situation is ‘dismal’, while her colleague from Faroe Islands, Johan Dahl, talked about a need for an increased focus on the perpetrators.
‘We must protect the victims, but we must also offer treatment to those who commit the violence,’ he said.

All Nordic gender equality ministers attended the panel discussion except Finland’s Susanna Huovine, whose spot was filled by Ambassador Harry Helenius. Helenius emphasised the importance of pointing to how men are affected by gender inequality. He also talked about the urgency of engaging men in the gender equality work.
‘Both women and men benefit from gender equality and we won’t succeed unless everybody gets onboard,’ he said and was supported by the rest of the panel members.

One of the major challenges in the next few years will be to change the norms around masculinity, said Arnholm. She described norm criticism as an important tool and stressed the need for a focus on children and young people. Both Arnholm and Harðardóttir also talked about the importance of designing gender equality work that is sustainable and geared towards long-term progress.
‘It’s frustrating that it’s taking so long, that we haven’t come farther despite all the work. Gender equality must be treated as an important issue at the highest political level,’ said Arnholm.


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