On 1 January, Sweden took over the helm of the Nordic gender equality cooperation. According to Åsa Régner, the issue of men’s violence will receive thorough attention. For example, Sweden will organise a major international conference on men, masculinity and gender equality that will focus on preventive work. The event will target organisations, experts and policymakers.
‘In particular, we want to address the issue of how to involve boys and men, both in the anti-violence efforts and in the broader gender equality work.’
The presidency of the Nordic gender equality cooperation is rotated annually. All presidencies are based on a 5-year programme specifying which general themes are to be focused on, and then it is up to each country holding the presidency to create its own agenda based on the given theme. The active participation of men and boys in the gender equality work is one of the themes in the current 5-year plan. Violence is another recurring prioritised area. In 2016, the Finnish presidency focused on solutions to break the cycle of violence in intimate relationships. Norway took these efforts further in 2017 with a project dealing with the implementation of the Istanbul Convention.
‘This is a key Nordic issue that we will also address at the women’s conference in New York. The Nordic countries are active in this area and have a lot of experience to share.’
According to Åsa Regnér, the Nordic countries can enrich each other in this field. Men’s violence is a hot topic not least because of the MeToo campaign.
‘In Sweden, we have presented a new sex crime law that is based on the principles of voluntary participation and consent. I know that the other countries work in a similar way, I discuss this a lot with the other gender equality ministers. The MeToo campaign hasn’t looked quite the same in the different countries. It may also be interesting to discuss the reasons for this,’ she says.
Policy interventions to help foreign-born women enter the labour market
In the spring of 2018, the Swedish presidency will also arrange a conference on labour market participation, with a particular focus on foreign-born women. The underlying reason for the initiative is that women, and in particular women with immigrant background, have lower employment rates than men.
‘The aim of the conference is to discuss the obstacles to achieving the goal of gender equal participation in the labour market. What is being done in this area in the different countries, what the thoughts are about this issue and what tools have been effective,’ says Åsa Régner.
She mentions that Sweden has worked a lot with customised adult education and with the approach and attitudes of various public authorities. According to Åsa Regnér, all people must face the same demands and expectations, regardless of ethnic background, when it comes to work and participation in the labour force.
‘It shouldn’t be assumed that a woman from Syria who came here two years ago wants to be at home with her child. She should be considered an adult who wants to work and make a living just like everybody else in Sweden.’
According to Åsa Regnér, those who work in social and employment services should keep this in mind and ensure that women and men are treated as resources and not as ‘housewives’ and ‘breadwinners’.
Another issue that Åsa Régner thinks is important to highlight is how to advance the gender mainstreaming work. All the Nordic countries use gender mainstreaming as a strategy to achieve the nationally declared gender equality goals. In short, gender mainstreaming is a way to plan the work in an organisation so that no decision is ever made without prior consideration of the (im)balance in power between women and men.
‘In Sweden, we’re establishing a new gender equality agency because we think this work has produced results,’ says Åsa Régner.
This is an issue that the Swedish presidency wants to put on the table of the gender equality ministers.
‘We want to start a discussion. Do we believe this is the best way to push the gender equality work forward? Where do we go from here?’
What challenges do you see in the Nordic gender equality cooperation?
‘I don’t see a challenge between the countries, but in our need for self-reflection. The Nordic countries are rightly seen as good examples in terms of gender equality development, and they keep topping various gender equality rankings. However, it is important to look at ourselves from the outside, to realise that a lot of work remains, for example by the light of the MeToo campaign.
It’s about attitudes to women, the value of women and men in the labour market, and how to work against sexual harassment,’ says Åsa Régner.