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How Do EU Decisions Affect Nordic Gender Equality?

The Nordic countries have long been pioneers and important exporters in the field of gender equality policy, yet they are increasingly affected by decisions made by the EU and other international organs. How does this influence the development in the region? This is investigated in a project titled Nordic Gender Equality Policy in a Europeanisation Perspective.

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According to Åsta Lovise Einstabland, chief executive and project manager at the Centre for Gender and Equality, University of Agder, this issue is becoming highly relevant. A more right-leaning political landscape in combination with a financial crisis is impacting the development in the Nordic countries.
‘It has become easier to make cuts in the Nordic welfare model, which is closely linked to the development of gender equality. In Norway, preschool services are getting more expensive and harder to get. This has consequences for the gender equality in the country’s family policy. There is a similar trend across the Nordic region,’ she says.
The Nordic countries have been more prone than other European countries to promote gender equality though legislation, Einstabland continues.
‘The EU is more individualistically oriented. But there is a big difference between focusing the work at the individual and the system level. Is it the individual or the system that should determine whether a certain behaviour is acceptable or not, that should ensure that people are able to enjoy the rights they are entitled to?’

In what ways have the Nordic countries been forced to adapt to international decisions?
‘The Nordic countries have long been forerunners but are now under increasing pressure to adapt to European and other international directives,’ says Knut Dørum, history professor at the same university and project manager together with Einstabland.
‘It’s hard to say what the consequences of this –whether the gender equality will become streamlined or even stall – will be for the Nordic countries. Everything that comes from the EU is not bad, though. For example, Norway has introduced stricter legislation for sexual harassment as a result of EU directives. What concerns us is the lack of follow-up and focus on the welfare model. Stricter laws is a good signal but how many rapists are convicted? It takes a lot of hard work to create gender equality-advancing structures. We are afraid the EU will be all talk and no action,’ he continues.
What can the Nordic countries learn from each other in this area?
‘We share a similar history, legislation and welfare model although Denmark has differed a bit policy-wise. The Nordic ministers meet regularly. There is a consensus about the key importance of gender equality and about prioritising the practical work. This is important,’ Einstabland responds.
Dørum adds that the EU is comparatively bureaucratic.
‘There’s a risk that gender equality becomes an “everybody’s responsibility, nobody’s responsibility” issue.’
What’s your goal with the project?

Åsta Lovise Einstabland. Photograph by University of Agder
 Åsta Lovise Einstabland. Photograph by University of Agder

‘Our goal is to explore the tension between Nordic and European/international gender equality policy. What do we gain and what do we lose from belonging to an international community? And we want to reach out with our results. The Arendal Week [a Norwegian annual forum where national delegates in politics, society and industry meet each other and the public to debate and develop policies for the present and future] will be held 15–20 August this year, and we will be there on the 16th to meet the top politicians. We hope to be able to arrange a Nordic conference in June 2017 and to release a book towards the end of next year or in early 2018,’ says Einstabland.
Dørum says that they have been able to engage some of the very best in the field.
‘We believe in the project. It has a good potential for development and it would be wise to eventually also include non-Nordic universities.’


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

Updated 2 October 2020