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Migration in Grönland – a gendered story

Greenland’s female population is shrinking. Many women leave to study and never return.
This trend is not unique to the world’s largest island but can be found in rural and sparsely populated areas across the Nordic region.
What are the solutions? This was the main question discussed at a recent seminar on gender, education and population flows arranged in Greenland’s capital Nuuk.

Helene Pristed Nielsen and Stine Thidemann Faber have written the Nordic mapping of challenges and best practices in relation to gender, education and population flows in Nordic peripheral areas together with Kathrine Bjerg Bennike.
 Helene Pristed Nielsen and Stine Thidemann Faber have written the Nordic mapping of challenges and best practices in relation to gender, education and population flows in Nordic peripheral areas together with Kathrine Bjerg Bennike.

The Nordic countries display similar migration patterns. Young women are more likely to leave their rural home communities to pursue post-secondary education elsewhere. Men are more likely to stay, and if they do leave they are more likely to return. Consequently, many sparsely populated areas are experiencing an imbalance between male and female inhabitants. In addition, the availability of traditionally male occupations is decreasing in these regions, causing widespread unemployment.
‘Men from sparsely populated areas are often portrayed as people stuck in old ways and unable to keep up with the times. And just like women’s migration away from these areas has been described as a problem, so too has men’s tendency notto move,’ says Stine Thideman Faber, gender researcher at EDGE – Centre for Equality, Diversity and Gender at Aalborg University.

She is one of about 50 participants from the entire Nordic region who met in Nuuk to discuss the rural migration issues from a gender equality perspective. Denmark, this year’s leader of the Nordic Council of Ministers, had taken the initiative to the event.

Different expectations on women and men

A cross-Nordic research report produced by the researchers at EDGE was presented prior to the seminar. Thideman Faber has reviewed all available Nordic studies on the topic.
‘There is a clear link between migration and gender. Women and men face different expectations when it comes to education and migration patterns,’ she says.

According to the report, young men tend to have stronger ties to their home communities and often enjoy local leisure activities such as hunting and fishing. In contrast, women feel they have better opportunities in more densely populated areas and also tend to value the greater access to social and cultural events found in cities. In addition, many women feel that the gender roles are more modern in cities than in smaller communities.

Migration flows to the mainland

Martha Lund Olsen. Press photo
 Martha Lund Olsen. Press photo

The seminar wasn’t held in Greenland by accident. Greenland has a population of 56 000 and in contrast to all other Nordic countries, this figure is expected to decrease over the next couple of decades. In fact, the island’s female population has been decreasing since the 1960s.
‘This used to be due to Danish men meeting Greenlandic women and bringing them back to Denmark,’ says Martha Lund Olsen, Greenland’s gender equality minister.

At present, two different migration flows can be noted. Many women are moving from the small coastal communities to larger ones, such as Nuuk. Also, both young men and women are leaving Greenland to study somewhere else, in many cases Denmark. The men are more likely than the women to eventually return to the island.

Lack of jobs and housing

Lund Olsen says that women are hesitant to return for several reasons, including a shortage of housing and skilled employment.
‘We’re trying to create new employment opportunities on the island by attracting mining and oil companies. This would make it easier for well-educated women to find jobs.’

She also says that foreign investors and new employment opportunities would make important contributions to the public finances, which are currently in poor shape. The new money could be used to build homes.
‘Housing is a major problem for people who want to move to Greenland. Many Greenlanders are waiting for a rental contract and there is a stubborn housing deficit,’ says Lund Olsen.

Few studies with a gender perspective

The seminar participants included representatives from universities, NGOs and political institutions. The discussions and workshops will hopefully result in a handbook with concrete advice for actors in all Nordic countries. More studies are needed, according to researcher Thideman Faber.
‘When reviewing the available studies, we had a hard time finding anything with a gender perspective, despite the fact that these issues are so clearly linked to gender. I would like to see more cross-Nordic research in this area,’ she says.

Updated 15 February 2024