Oslo, Norway was the venue for an interesting conference on gender equality policy from a European perspective (June 20-21, 2017) . The conference was organized by the Center for Gender Equality, the Universities of Agder, Aalborg, and Lindköping, and was funded by the NIKK.
The Nordic region has for a long time attached welfare to its gender equality policy, such as paternal leave, kindergarten development, and measures in the workplace. The European Union (EU) has increasingly focused on the rights of individuals in conjunction with the gender equality concept, incorporating factors such as ethnicity, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
The EU has a great influence on the North, and the conference largely addressed some of the challenges resulting from this. Nordic countries have been exporters of gender equality policies since the 1990s, but recently, Nordic countries have tended to adapt to international law regimes instead. Has the EU’s focus on the individual resulted in the marginalization of Nordic welfare policy, or can the Nordic model and the EU model be united? The conference included many skilled lecturers who explored this question in depth, covering both the consequences and the positive sides of the issue.
For further information and useful resources on gender equality, please visit the NIKK — Nordic Information on Gender website.
Knut Dørum elaborated on European gender equality policy. Jan Erik Grindheim pointed out that one has a substantive versus functional (EU) approach. According to him, Nordic countries have two ways to go, either ”Europeanization” or integration. He believes that there is a potential for using the best of both models, and that each one has a lot to learn from the other.
Petter Sørlien, European Coordinator for the Ministry of Children and Equality, elaborated on this further and addressed the interaction between Nordic and European gender equality policies, which both present opportunities and challenges.
Kirsten Ketscher also touched on this topic, by placing particular emphasis on women-friendly argumentation and interpretation styles in the European Court of Justice. In her view, this has helped to improve women’s rights in the Nordic region.
Laila Nordstrand Berg spoke about the Nordic context of bureaucratic decision-making in the European administrative system.
Åsa-Karin Engstrand deepened the role of ethics in gender equality strategies in academia. She further elaborated on Nordic and European perspectives. Kristine P. Miland, M.Sc. student at UiA, addressed how gender distribution is affected by research funding.
On day two, we learned more about Swedish gender equality from Roger Klinth and Berit Brandth, who highlighted the importance of the paternity quota as an instrument in gender equality policy. Fathers apparently become more concerned with gender equality, the more contact they have with their daughters.
Jan Erik Grindheim lectured on a particularly difficult and sensitive topic, religion versus gender equality. Religious gender models not only divide close relationships, but also Europe. The problem surrounding how can we maximize both freedom of religion and gender equality, by finding a balance between both, is critical. It is possible to have a free church, equal pay, and freedom of choice regarding abortion at the same time. Grindheim is sure that there must be a change in the course of religion if the big project in Europe is to move forward. His message is that despite the fact that these topics (religion and gender equality) have been taboo in the EU, the discussion must be undertaken.
Hrefna Fridriksdóttir lectured on how we treat minorities (LGBT) and what this has to do with gender equality. The problems for like-minded families becomes invisible. We learned about the cause and effect of Nordic harmonization, and how important it is for politicians to be willing to meet such questions and to make an action plan.
Mina Wikshåland Skouen and Dag-Robin Simonsen, Senior Adviser for the Ministry of Children and Equality, addressed the struggle to maintain family values and children’s best interests in today’s Eastern Europe. What are the similarities and differences in the development of legislation and policy in Europe and the Nordic region? Eastern Europe is relatively far behind in development and has significant challenges in this regar.