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Many Cooks in the Gender Equality Kitchen

Gender equality has traditionally been considered a left-wing issue. But things have changed, and today the concept is addressed across the political scale all the way out to the far right. What happens when new groups want to be part of defining gender equality? This is what the researchers, politicians and practitioners in a new Nordic network are looking closer at.

NIKK spade symbol

Challenges and opportunities within Nordic gender equality policy and in the practical gender equality work will be discussed at four seminars. Ulf Mellström, professor of gender studies at Karlstad University, is coordinating the network. He has witnessed the emergence of increasingly complex gender equality policy in the Nordic region.

In what way has it become more complex?
‘Gender equality used to be defined within a framework of state feminism and had close ties with the welfare state. What we see today is some type of market feminism, with new focus areas. In short, it can be described as a breakthrough for the more right-wing feminism. Today gender equality is embraced by more people and groups than in the past. Even far-right political parties are using gender equality in their defence of the nationalist project.’

Ulf Mellström. Pressbild
 Ulf Mellström. Press photo

What are the consequences of this?
‘That’s hard to say. It depends on your political perspective. Some people think it’s good that the analysis reaches new areas. Others say that the concept of gender equality loses its meaning when more and more groups, such as the far-right Sweden Democrats, want to be part of defining what it is. From now on I think we can expect an increasing presence of the nationalist movement in the gender equality debate. This change is already noticeable in other parts of the world. Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan for example believes that it is the responsibility of each patriotic woman to give birth to 3-4 kids. These types of ideas for gender policy are gaining ground and may grow stronger also in the Nordic countries.’

What other challenges can be noted in relation to Nordic gender equality policy?
‘Nordic gender equality policy has traditionally been tailored to a white, heteronormative, middle class. Many political reforms have targeted the nuclear family. For example, parental allowance reforms, the marriage legislation and the income taxation system have all been designed with hetero families in mind. Not everybody has been included in the development of gender equality policy, so there are indeed some big challenges. We need to broaden the perspectives and recognise that there may be needs out there that are not given enough attention today.’

What effects are you hoping your project will have?
‘We want our results to be policy relevant. It should be possible to use them immediately in policy work. The project will include four seminars and we will also publish one or two books. In a best-case scenario, our work will result in an application for a major EU project so we can involve researchers from other European countries as well.’


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

Updated 2 October 2020