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Difficult to identify Nordic investments in gender equality research

Gender equality is often mentioned as a strength and an important export of the Nordic countries. Yet neither the Research Council of Norway nor Norwegian and Finnish researchers think that enough funding is granted for research in the field.
‘There’s an interest, but the money granted for research projects is too limited in relation to the total research budgets,’ says Marjut Jyrkinen, Research Director at the University of Helsinki.

It is difficult to figure out exactly how much money is invested in gender equality research. A review of the research councils in Sweden, Finland and Norway reveals that a uniform system that allows for comparison across countries and sectors is currently lacking. Funding is typically not coded in a way that makes it possible to easily distinguish between gender equality and gender, diversity and equality more generally.
‘In order to come up with reliable statistics, we would have to analyse every single project in detail, which would be a massive undertaking,’ says Sini Uuttu, expert at Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation.
An attempt to trace research funding distributed by the Swedish research agency Fortes proves impossible for the same reason.
‘To identify projects that support gender equality research, you have to look for more than just gender equality. Labour market, drug and healthcare research are other research fields that can involve gender equality research,’ says Lars Wärngård, director of planning.

Research not always included

Foto: Fortes
 Lars Wärngård. Foto; Fortes.

All research councils report that gender equality may be included in many of the projects they support. According to Sophia Ivarsson, programme director at Vinnova in Sweden, exact data is lacking because Vinnova rarely funds just research projects but instead collaboration projects where the public, private and non-profit sectors work together.
‘All projects granted funding in the programme titled Diversity Lab – Norm-Critical Innovation touches upon one or several of the protected grounds for discrimination. Gender is one of them. In the last two years, we have also allocated about SEK 20 million per year to projects with a focus on gender or gender equality but that have not necessarily involved research.’
The Swedish Research Council does not have any special grant programmes for gender equality. But this does not mean that gender equality researchers cannot be granted funding.
‘Since we ask the researchers to classify their own research, there may be projects dealing with welfare issues that also cover gender equality but that are categorised as sociology. Besides gender research, which often involves a great deal of gender equality research, there is probably also gender equality research that is not gender research, and vice versa,’ says Lucas Pettersson, head of the unit for follow-up.

Less than one per cent of the total funding

To get an idea of the amount of money granted in relation to the total allocated research funding, we need to look at a larger area and use the research councils’ subject classification systems.
The following example is for the Swedish Research Council, Formas and Vinnova: Last year, Formas granted almost SEK 9 million (a little less than 1 per cent) to projects related to either gender or gender equality. The Swedish Research Council gave SEK 18 million (0.32 per cent) to gender and gender equality as well as gender studies during the same period. Vinnova’s programme Gender and Diversity for Innovation received SEK 15 million (0.6 per cent). SEK 15 million of a yearly budget of SEK 2.5 billion should not be considered a drop in the ocean, Ivarsson points out.
‘My impression is that the research councils, at least in Sweden, are working intensely with gender equality. As a side note, there is a bit of an imbalance when it comes to male-dominated areas, but definitely not all of them. We have given out a great deal of funding for gender equality measures for example in the forestry industry.’

Researcher: Gender equality alone is not enough

Last autumn, the research consortium WeAll – Social and Economic Sustainability of Future Working Life received EUR 3 million from the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland (5 per cent of the total funding set aside for strategic research in 2015). The project is part of the Equality in Society programme. The objective is to investigate for example the role of social categories such as age, ethnicity and gender in working life. In the last five years, the Academy of Finland has distributed almost EUR 6 million to eleven projects in the area of women’s and gender research, in which WeAll belongs.
‘There is an interest in gender equality. Yet the grants are small in relation to the total funding available,’ says Marjut Jyrkinen, Research Director at the University of Helsinki and project leader together with professor Anna-Maija Lämsä from the University of Jyväskylä.
‘The way I see it, it would not have been possible to only focus on gender equality. The gender equality we’re talking about needs to be broader and consider intersectionality. At the same time, we should focus on gender, which is one of the biggest sources of discrimination in all societies. It seems easier to talk about diversity, but then we risk missing that gender in itself is an important factor.’
Hannele Kurki, senior science adviser at the Academy of Finland, confirms that gender equality as a separate area is not prioritised.
‘We fund all types of top research according to the bottom-up principle. The reduction in public funding leads to increased competition for what’s left. On the other hand, the gender researchers have so far received high scores.’

Different situation in Norway

Lise Christensen
 Lise Christensen. Foto: Norges forskningsråd

In Norway, almost all ministries administer and grant research funding in their respective areas, which sets the premises for the research council’s programmes and calls for proposals.
Mari Teigen, director of CORE – Centre for Research on Gender Equality, agrees that not enough funding is allocated to gender equality research.
‘But it would be more correct to compare how the funding is distributed within for example the humanities and social sciences than across the disciplines.’
Lise Christensen, special adviser at the Research Council of Norway who offers expert knowledge and lobbies for various research topics, would like to see more research on gender equality.
‘There’s an emphasis on gender. In the past we have focused on research on gender and on equal treatment as praxis. But there’s also a need for development of knowledge on equal treatment in order to advance the work of change.’

EU initiative lends legitimacy

Lotta Strandberg, senior adviser at NordForsk, supports an expanded focus.
‘Gender equality always occurs in a context. Instead of more money channelled to gender equality research, I’d like to see the gender perspective be integrated into all research.’
According to Strandberg, it is difficult to compare the granted amounts due to the significant variation in allocation models and assignments carried out by the research councils.
‘One thing we can ponder over is what type of research is being conducted, what gender equality means in these programmes. The funding needs to be transparent and the priorities clear.’
Sophia Ivarsson has noticed a change in attitude in the last five years. In 2013, the Swedish government asked Vinnova to distribute SEK 33 million to needs-driven research for gender equality. She believes we will see more of that type of initiative.
‘The fact that the European Commission is putting its finger on gender equality makes it more legitimate for the national research councils to do the same.’
Fortes’ new action plan stresses that all research projects that are granted funding must involve a gender equality perspective.
‘Starting this year, all applicants in our biggest annual call for proposals have to explain how, if at all, their research relates to gender and diversity of which gender equality is part,’ says Wärngård.

Updated 18 April 2020