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New minister: the Nordic region is a central actor in the international arena

The Nordic countries have extensive experience with gender equality work and therefore play a central role internationally, says Sweden’s new gender equality minister Åsa Regnér.
‘If we in the Nordic region don’t push the important issues related to sexual and reproductive health, nobody else will. It’s that simple.’

 Åsa Regnér. Foto: Sören Andersson/Regeringskansliet

Regnér sees the Nordic gender equality cooperation as very important. Not only to enable the countries to learn from each other but also so they can put their foot down internationally and facilitate change. Major international conferences will be held next year, both in relation to the Beijing platform and the UN development goals. One controversial issue on the agenda is women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

‘The world community has turned more conservative in recent years and it is very difficult to move forward in these areas. I believe the Nordic countries have a great deal of responsibility here. The rates of maternal death remain high in many places, and this is because the issue has been neglected, often intentionally,’ says Regnér, who prior to becoming minister served as UN Women country representative in Bolivia.

Regnér has already met with the other Nordic gender equality ministers. She feels that the countries have many interesting experiences regarding the role of men in the gender equality work and would like to see a stronger focus in this area.

‘We should concretise this work more, move on to the next phase and talk about what works and what we want to achieve.’

Wants to learn from Norway

When it comes to learning from other Nordic countries, Regnér mentions Norway’s work with gender quota requirements for company boards. Norway introduced the first law on gender quotas in 2003, requiring all boards of state-owned and public companies to reserve at least 40 per cent of their seats for women. Evaluations have shown that the women who were recruited in response to the new legislation have helped boost the average level of education in Norwegian corporate boards significantly.

‘I think Norway’s experiences in this area are very interesting.’

Regnér is also looking forward to hearing more about Norway’s work to involve men in the prevention of violence against women. The Norwegian research and treatment centre Alternative to Violence is a forerunner in the area.

‘They’re using some interesting methods to help men to see their own behaviour and that the pattern can be broken. The latter is particularly important,’ says Regnér.

Measuring gender equality objectives

So what changes can be expected in Swedish gender equality policy? Regnér wants to review and update the country’s gender equality objectives. Yet exactly how this will be done is too early to say, she says.

Rodd. Illustration: Emma Hanquist
 Illustration: Emma Hanquist

‘But there must be a difference between a feminist government and another government. We have to be able to measure that we indeed make conscious decisions to promote equality between women and men.’

Several inquiries concerning for example domestic violence, gender equality policy and gender equality indicators are underway or have just been completed. Regnér says that the outcome of the inquiries will help inform the government’s updated gender equality policy.

‘I’m looking forward to reading the reports. The Swedish gender equality objectives are almost 10 years old, and the new information will give us a good idea of how we should move forward.’

The gender mainstreaming continues

Gender mainstreaming is the Swedish government’s primary strategy to achieve the country’s gender equality objectives. In simple terms, gender mainstreaming means that a gender equality perspective must be employed in all political decisions. The previous centre-right government gave a lot of attention to gender mainstreaming, for example through the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) and the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research. What will the future look like in this respect?

‘The government statement provides that the gender mainstreaming will continue and be further intensified. I see this as an important tool in the work of a feminist government,’ says Regnér.

She says that the good experiences that have been gathered must be linked to tools and to the ambition to be a feminist government. But she is not ready to share the specifics of this work quite yet.

‘My idea is that this should be a long-term effort that ought to be more measurable than it is today. I’ll share more details about this as soon as I can.’

What will happen with the JIM project (gender mainstreaming in public agencies) after it concludes at the end of this year?
We’ll most likely expand that work. My ambition is clear: I want it to be long term and not ad hoc, and I want it to lead to increased gender equality in a number of areas. It’s going to take a lot of effort, so we must figure out a good format for the work,’ says Regnér.

Updated 2 October 2020