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Male Dominance Remains after Recent Nordic Elections

Although it may seem obvious that political power should be distributed equally between women and men, the Nordic countries are not there yet. Faroe Island’s new cabinet of ministers boasts a perfect gender balance, but the parliament remains dominated by men. The same can be said after the recent general elections in Åland and municipal elections in Norway.

Mia Hanström. Press photo
 Mia Hanström. Press photo

The elections in Åland, held on 18 October, resulted in a parliament consisting of 20 men and 10 women.
‘It’s a bit better than in the past, but it isn’t good,’ says Mia Hanström, head of Feministparaplyet – a feminist umbrella network.
The Liberals won the most votes in Åland and formed a government with the Social Democrats and the Moderate Coalition. Three of the new ministers are women and four are men.
Hanström’s network pushed the issue of female representation in politics throughout the election campaign. Most parties presented fairly gender-balanced electoral lists. The most male-dominated parties were Ålandic Democracy and the Non-aligned Coalition, both of which belong on the right wing.

Hanström points out that many countries have laws mandating gender-equal electoral lists.
‘I believe such laws should be discussed as a possible solution here as well. That would put pressure on the parties that are still struggling with the gender issue,’ she says.
Gender-balanced electoral lists are an important step but will not solve the whole problem, Hanström continues.
‘We need to make more women visible in politics and change the image of politicians being male by default,’ she says.
Around the same time as Åland held its general elections, Norway held its municipal elections. About 38 per cent of Norway’s newly appointed municipal politicians are women.

Better gender balance in the Faroese cabinet

The female representation in the Faroese cabinet increased dramatically after the general elections held 1 September. Four of the eight appointed ministers are women, whereas the previous cabinet consisted of one woman and seven men.
‘This is a big leap forward for gender equality in the Faroe Islands. This is the first time ever that 50 per cent of the cabinet members are women,’ says Erika Hayfield, assistant professor in social sciences at the University of the Faroe Islands.

The Social Democratic Party was the big winner of the election, which means that the political power moved to left on the scale. The new government coalition also includes two other parties: Republic and Progress.
‘The coalition’s gender balance looks very good in the parliament, too, as nine of its 17 representatives are women,’ says Hayfield. ‘Overall, however, the parliament remains heavily male dominated – 22 of the 33 members are men.’

Male dominance in Norwegian municipal councils

Ingrid Guldvik. Press photo
 Ingrid Guldvik. Press photo

Norway’s municipal elections were held 13–14 September. Men are in the majority also at this level. The Norwegian state broadcasting company NRK has looked at the gender distribution among politicians in 100 Norwegian municipalities. Their review shows that the share of women in the municipal councils is on average 38 per cent – the same as after the elections in 2007 and 2011.
‘The development has stalled in the last 15 years,’ says Ingrid Guldvik, professor of political science at Lillehammer University College.
The male dominance in Norwegian municipality councils is particularly noticeable at the higher levels. Over 70 per cent of all heads of municipal governments are men, writes the weekly magazine Kommunal rapport. Ingrid Guldvik believes that the political parties have an important responsibility to break the pattern.
‘If they want change by the next elections, they need to start now. They need to promote and support women in their organisations. Women and men should have the same opportunities to form and influence society, and that’s not the case in Norway today,’ she says.

Non-issue in Norge

According to Guldvik, there is a notion that women and men already have equal political power in the Nordic countries, and this makes people and organisations less interested in the issue.
‘The debate never really heats up in Norway. I think we need more discussion,’ she says.
The same is true for Åland, says Mia Hanström. During the election campaign, Åland’s feminist umbrella network tried to bring attention to the need for both more women and more feminism in politics. They for example asked all feminist politicians to answer a survey that later was published on the organisation’s website. More women in political power positions does not automatically lead to more feminist policymaking, but the lived experience is important, according to Hanström.
‘We need more women in politics in the same way as we need politicians from both urban and rural areas.’

Updated 29 February 2024