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‘Nordic co-operation key to gender equality’

The Nordic co-operation is a strong factor behind the Nordic progress in gender equality, says Eygló Harðardóttir, Nordic co-operation minister and Icelandic minister of gender equality. Harðardóttir is participating in Jämstä’s ‘gender equality party’ during the Almedalen Week and will host Iceland’s jubilee conference Sammen om ligestilling i 40 year in late August.

Eygló Harðardóttir. Pressbild
Eygló Harðardóttir. Press photo

‘No other part of the world can show the same progress in gender equality as the Nordic region. We place in the top 10 in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings. And Iceland has in fact topped the list ever since they started making it. We have a lot to be proud of and it’s important that we also participate actively outside the Nordic boundaries. We do this through our UN representatives and our contributions to various UN organisations, such as UN Women.’

The Nordic Council of Ministers decided already in 1974 that each Nordic government should appoint a person to interact with the other Nordic governments on gender equality issues. This was the beginning of extensive Nordic gender equality co-operation over the years, which Harðardóttir is convinced has contributed to improvements across the entire region.

‘We have worked together for 40 years. We share knowledge, make plans together, exchange experiences and learn from each other’s good examples. The Nordic success in the area also means we’re good at social welfare and democracy development. Without the participation of women in society, we would never be where we are today,’ she says.

One of the things she is most proud of when it comes to the Icelandic gender equality work is the country’s parental leave policy. Icelandic parents are entitled to 9 months of paid parental leave – 3 months for each parent and 3 months that the parents can split any way they want.

‘I’m not sure that long periods of parental leave are in the children’s best interest. We want to extend it to 12 months in Iceland, and I believe that will be enough. Instead I think we should focus on providing sufficient childcare services after the parents go back to work,’ she says.

However, Harðardóttir feels that there is still room for improvement in Nordic gender equality. She lists equal pay for equal work, gender-segregation in the labour market, possibilities to combine employment and family life, and gender-based violence as some areas that need particular attention.

‘In 2015, Iceland will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of women’s right to vote. Some of the things we talk about today were already on the agenda back in those days. Equal pay is one example. We can still improve in many areas. No country in the world has achieved gender equality, including the Nordic countries. And we can still learn a lot from other countries, such as the US when it comes to women in management positions.’

She also believes that men need to get more engaged in the gender equality work.

‘They have to see that it concerns them too and that it’s about improving their quality of life – for example when it comes to health and their lower levels of education. At the same time I think the Nordic countries should stress how a more equal distribution of parental leave and caring responsibilities can lead to gender equality and better competition in the labour market.’

Could it be that the international view of the Nordic region as already gender equal is in fact hindering further improvements? 

‘We’re going to address future challenges, including this question, at the jubilee conference. We have come a long way – but is it long enough? For me personally it isn’t long enough until we have achieved full gender equality.’

Maybe it’s a never-ending task, says Harðardóttir.

‘There’s always a risk for setbacks. It happens all the time in the struggle for human rights. Women’s right to decide over their own bodies is currently being challenged in several parts of the world, as people’s reproductive rights have come under increasing pressure. This is of great concern.’

Now she is looking forward to finding out where the Nordic gender equality co-operation is headed during the Icelandic jubilee conference Sammen om ligestilling i 40 år, which will be held 26 August in Reykjavik. In the meantime, she will participate in jämstä’s gender equality party in Almedalen on 2 July under the heading This is Gender Equality, the True Story.

Updated 30 August 2020