Nordic Network Strengthening Gender Equality in Municipalities

When municipalities in the Nordic countries get together and share experiences about how they work with gender equality, it is to the benefit of the citizens they serve. Municipal representatives have formed a Nordic network that meets regularly. The network receives support from the Nordic Funding Scheme for Gender Equality, which Nordic Information on Gender (NIKK) is administering.

NIKK spade symbolA Nordic workshop on gender mainstreaming at the local level was arranged 6-7 November in Helsinki. The aim of the workshop, which was the second of its kind, was to strengthen a Nordic network and share experiences at municipal level between the Nordic countries.

According to Sinikka Mikola, gender equality expert at the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, the network is aiming for long-term development that will continue also after the completion of shorter projects.

‘One important purpose of the workshops is to share knowledge about gender equality and gender equality policy across the Nordic borders. We talk a lot about sustainable arguments and compare experiences,’ says Mikola.

There are both similarities and differences among the Nordic countries, according to Mikola.

‘For example, in Sweden they talk more explicitly about gender equality whereas here in Finland there is a primary focus on economic aspects and budgets, in particular in bad economic times. A common Finnish counterargument is that we already have gender equality or that gender equality is a women’s issue.’

Nima Mäki, researcher and administrator for the network, says that it is important to present gender equality as a democracy issue.

‘In the end, gender equality is a matter of human rights and therefore a matter of quality for the people living in the municipalities. You can’t really talk about quality in municipal services unless all citizens are treated and given access to resources equally.’

One of the network’s workshops showed how the mayor of Kristiansand, Norway, wanted to test what it is like to have a disability and roamed the city in a wheelchair for a whole day.

‘This was filmed and when the result was shown to the people who live there, both they and the mayor came to realise how the city is designed for a certain group of people. When you make a gender equality problem visible, you usually also make a gender equality perspective visible,’ says Mikola.

Urban planning is a central aspect of municipal gender equality work. During one of the workshops, Mäki talked about the connection between gender equality and city planning. Sensible city planning results in a city where for example women can feel safe. Today most cities are planned in a way that gives rise to areas where women feel unsafe.

‘Many women feel unsafe in the city environment. They avoid parks and dark areas and often have strategies for where and how they can move around in it. Maybe they carry keys in their hands to use as a weapon. Men don’t feel unsafe like that. It’s important that everybody in a democracy feels safe,’ says Mäki. ‘So it’s important that those who design the cities have this awareness, all the way from the urban planning committee to the planning architect.’

Throughout the workshop there was a focus on learning processes rather than concrete goals. Mäki discussed the importance of defining and formulating the problems municipalities come across in order to find effective solutions for them.

Mäki mentioned that he has looked at how other countries in the world have worked to increase the share of men in preschool education. In Australia it was stated that male preschool teachers lead to boys performing better. This leads to the question of what it is about the presence of men that makes the boys’ results go up, and why female preschool teachers don’t have the same effect.

‘Our conclusion is that men have to be part of the gender equality work. Gender equality is not just a women’s issue. But it is important to discuss and be clear about what the men are supposed to contribute so that stereotypes about what’s masculine and feminine are not reinforced,’ says Mäki.

Another issue discussed at the workshop was whether social workers treat women and men the same.

‘It’s all about staying clear of norms based on gender stereotypes.’

A gender equality perspective must be integrated in all processes, according to Mäki.

 

Resources and enthusiasts

Ann-Charlott Callerstig from Örebro University talked about her research and implementation of gender equality work in the public sector. She chose to focus on some practical results and commonly observed problems within the municipalities.

‘One challenge is that gender equality work doesn’t have enough resources and that it is advanced by “enthusiasts”. Another common problem is that many organisations have gender equality programmes and policies that are never actually implemented. There are also policies that lack implementable solutions. Many municipalities have identified aims but not the exact guidelines for how to achieve them,’ says Callerstig.

According to Callerstig, municipalities often  initiate projects without having enough economic resources to implement them properly.

‘The projects just kind of fizzle out, ending in nothing, and then a few years later new projects are started. I’m interested in how gender equality projects can be integrated with a long-term perspective as in the regular daily municipal work.

Nima Mäki och Sinikka Mikola. Foto: Jeanette Öhman

Nima Mäki and Sinikka Mikola. Photo: Jeanette Öhman

One important purpose of the projects is to give the municipal workers the tools they need to implement a gender equality perspective. Callerstig pointed out that all gender equality projects should include relevant training for those assigned to work with it.

‘At the same time we must remember that training has not always led to concrete interventions. Just think about driving a car: Although we know it’s bad for the environment, we keep choosing to do it.’

Callerstig said it is all about changing our behaviour and therefore also our values and thoughts.

‘Another example is the introduction of gender quotas for board members in Norway. At first people were against it, but once it had been implemented much of the resistance faded. Today the quotas are pretty much taken for granted,’ says Callerstig.

 

Reach out in the community

About 30 politicians and municipal officials attended last year’s workshop. This year the number increased to 40. Sinikka Mikola and Nima Mäki agree that it is very important to support the Nordic cooperation and the gender equality network.

‘It does take some work to get the participants together and because of the poor financial situation of many municipalities I was concerned about the Finnish participation this year. Something as seemingly minor as travel expenses led to many municipal representatives not being able to come,’ says Mikola.

Mäki and Mikola believe that a strong political willingness is a necessity in the municipal gender equality work. Next year’s network meeting will be held in Oslo 1-22 May 2015.

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This is an article about one of the projects granted funding through the Nordic Gender Equality Fund.


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