With the aime to engage men in gender equality

What is the link between gender inequality and human trafficking? This theme will be addressed on 23 May in Reykjavik at a conference titled Mobilizing Men and Boys for Gender Equality in the Baltic Sea Region.

The event in Reykjavik is a so-called barbershop conference, which is an Icelandic concept aimed to engage boys and men in the gender equality work. María Mjöll Jónsdóttir, UN director at Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is co-organising the conference. She argues that men’s engagement is essential in order to break away from norms of violence and manifestations such as human trafficking. The conference will begin with a panel discussion at which, among others, Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir, Reykjavík chief of police, and Per Anders Sunesson, Swedish ambassador against trafficking in persons, will talk about their work with boys and men to combat human trafficking.

María Mjöll Jónsdóttir

Tell us about the conference. What else are you going to do?
‘We will have a workshop dealing with gender stereotypes in society and how they affect us, and another workshop will focus on gender-based violence. There will also be an expert panel discussing causes and effects of human trafficking in the region. The participants include representatives from various sectors of society, including law enforcement, international organisations, universities and policy makers.’

Why have you chosen to focus on human trafficking?  
‘The event is hosted by the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Council of the Baltic Sea States, both of which have worked hard against human trafficking for a long time. We know that trafficking in persons is a widespread problem in the region, although we don’t know the exact extent of it. The main victims are women who are exploited for sex, but there are also men who become victims of forced labour. To stop the trafficking, we need to focus on norms and attitudes, among other things. The participants we want to reach include those who work in the school systems and young professionals who can benefit from a gender perspective on issues in their work.’

What can the Nordic and Baltic countries learn from each other?
‘We have a lot to learn from each other, not least in terms of best practice, or how the countries involved have solved various problems. I’m looking forward to a fruitful discussion on how we can take this work further.’

Finally, where did the concept of Barbershop conferences come from?
The idea dates back to our former president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was the world’s first democratically elected female president. When she went to the women’s conference in Beijing, she was struck by the low male attendance. The intention with barbershop conferences is to involve more men in the gender equality work, since they are needed in order to solve the problem. It has attracted a lot of interest internationally.’


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