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Major challenges await Greenland’s new minister for gender equality

Greenland has a new gender equality minister after this spring’s early election, and the gender equality issues have been transferred to a new ministry. Yet gender equality did not dominate the pre-election debate, despite substantial needs in the area.

Greenland’s left-wing government survived the early election in late April. The two largest political parties, social-democratic Siumut and leftist IA (Inuit Atagatigiit), performed weaker than in the previous election but still gained 52.7 per cent of the votes, according to the Utrikesmagasinet online journal. The name of the new gender equality minister is Doris J Jensen (Siumut). She is in charge of the ministry for research and health, to which the gender equality issues have been transferred.

Inge Olsvig Brandt is head of secretariat at Greenland’s gender equality council, which provides consultation and disseminates information in the field of gender equality. She cannot say exactly how the ministerial transfer and the change of the gender equality minister will affect the country’s gender equality policy.

‘At first after the election, we didn’t know what ministry was in charge of gender equality issues. The staff at the gender equality council still have not met with the new minister and therefore don’t know what issues she will focus on,’ she says.

Autonomy and fishing dominated the agenda

The recent Greenlandic early election was a result of a conflict about fishing quotas – an issue that also dominated the previous election campaign. The conflict concerned whether fishing quotas should continue to be concentrated to big trawlers or be distributed with greater consideration of the smaller local vessels in the small coastal communities. A bigger issue that was simmering in the background was the expectation of full autonomy from Denmark. The debate about gender equality was not as intense.

‘However, the parties have talked a bit about equal treatment. In the last 10 years, the people in Greenland have talked about the remains of the colonial past, about the Danish influence on our culture, language and politics. When the politicians in Greenland talk about these things, it is my impression that equal treatment and gender equality issues are not discussed and treated separately,’ says Olsvig Brandt.

Gender roles need to be challenged to achieve change

Paternal leave was one concrete gender equality issue that was addressed during the election campaign. At present, women in Greenland are entitled to 17 weeks of parental leave whereas men get 3 weeks. Couples cannot share the weeks, as in other Nordic countries.

‘All political parties agree that this needs to change. They say that a new law is under way, which is badly needed,’ says Olsvig Brandt.

The widespread gender-related violence in Greenland is another challenge for the politicians. During the election campaign, there was talk about establishing a crisis centre for men, but according to Olsvig Brandt, that was mostly a strategic move to gain votes.

‘That’s how they talk before an election, but I don’t think men’s violence gets nearly the attention it should in politics. There should be much bigger investments in preventive work. The violence against women is a national catastrophe that’s not being taken seriously enough.’

According to Inge Olsvig Brandt, there needs to be more discussion about gender roles, and not least the role of men, in Greenland. Today, Greenland is characterised by a gender-segregated labour market where men make more money than women, at the same time as women take more responsibility for the care of children and other family members. Statistics show that a majority of students in higher education are women. They also show that suicide, violence, crime and homelessness are more common among men. When former gender equality minister Martha Lund Olsen was in office, an initiative to form men’s groups was taken and had positive effects.

‘A male representative from the gender equality council has visited smaller communities along the entire coast and started men’s groups where these types of issues are discussed,’ says Olsvig Brandt.

She continues to say that Greenland’s sheer size and infrastructure pose important challenges for the gender equality work. The country is twice the size of Sweden, Norway and Finland combined, but only about 56 000 people live there, almost exclusively along the coast.

‘What we do in Nuuk is one thing, but what does it look like in the more rural areas? We see it as very important to change the way people think when it comes to gender roles and gender equality.’

Call for new legislation

Greenland does not have an equal treatment or anti-discrimination law, and citizens have nowhere to turn if they want to report discrimination for example based on ethnicity. However, there is a children’s ombudsman and a disability ombudsman, both of whom have some authority in their respective fields. There is also an advisory body for human rights, but neither this body nor the gender equality council can register complaints or pursue reported cases.

‘We really need an equal treatment law and legislation against discrimination. In 2018, we and the other organisations will push hard for this change and begin actively discussing it with policymakers,’ says Olsvig Brandt.

She believes there is a need for broad dissemination of information about equal treatment, everybody’s equal value and gender equality in Greenlandic society.

‘We need to incorporate the concepts in the Greenlandic language and explain clearly what the words mean. That the point is that all people have equal value whether they are from Greenland or Denmark, whether they speak Greenlandic or Danish and whether they are women or men,’ she says.

According to Olsvig Brandt, the relationship between Greenlanders and Danes is a matter of justice and fairness that people feel stronger about than the gender equality issue. When it comes to the latter, people’s level of knowledge is generally much lower.

‘The gender equality work started only 17 years ago in Greenland, which means that we are about 20–30 years behind the Nordic countries. The point of our work is largely to spread awareness – to make people truly understand the meaning of gender equality.’

Updated 20 November 2019