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Strong focus on Me Too movement during Sweden’s Presidency year

The Me Too movement had just erupted when Sweden took over the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers one year ago. And its impact has been visible in Nordic cooperation during the year. Sexual harassment has been on the agenda and gender equality has had extra priority.
“It’s important now not to lose this momentum,” says Sweden’s Minister for Gender Equality Lena Hallengren.

After the Me Too call to action, the Swedish Presidency decided that gender equality issues and sexual harassment in particular would have extra focus in 2018.  This resulted in the Nordic countries’ gender equality ministers, and even the ministers for culture and justice for example, having put issues related to the Me Too movement on their agendas.

“I think it’s great that we have been able to embrace the Me Too movement in our Nordic cooperation and profile these issues as strongly as we have done,” says Karin Bengtson, who has coordinated these efforts in gender equality during the Swedish Presidency.

She explains that efforts in the Nordic countries to counteract and prevent sexual harassment have led to a number of concrete initiatives. For example, a Me Too manual for the Nordic countries’ justice systems is due to be published and the Nordic ministers for culture have initiated training aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the cultural sector. In November, NIKK also held a Me Too seminar in Stockholm on behalf of the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers with participants from the Nordic and the Baltic countries. These countries have also raised these issues at the national level, and tightened the legislation in this area. For example, Sweden and Iceland have introduced consent laws and Denmark has tightened its legislation aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the digital world.

Masculinity questions a priority area

Aside from the Me Too movement, over the past year the Nordic countries’ efforts in relation to gender equality have had special focuses on gender mainstreaming, men’s violence against women, and men’s participation in gender equality efforts. During the spring, Sweden hosted the International Conference on Men and Equal Opportunities (ICMEO), and in connection with this conference the Nordic Council of Ministers held several meetings and seminars on Nordic themes. One of these focused on the roles of men and boys in combating prostitution and the sex trade. Another was about strategies for the prevention of gender-based violence.

The new focus this year for gender mainstreaming of the organisation of the Nordic Council of Ministers has been on the Presidency itself. Everyone who works with Nordic cooperation issues at the Government Offices of Sweden have been offered gender equality training.

“We wanted to make absolutely sure that everyone participating in the Swedish Presidency was knowledgeable about and able to work with these issues,” says Karin Bengtson.

Wants to see more focus on working life

Sweden’s Minister for Gender Equality Lena Hallengren is pleased that gender equality issues have received so much attention in Nordic cooperation over the course of the past year.

“The focus we have had on gender equality in general in the Nordic Council of Ministers as a whole is what I am most proud of,” she says.

At the end of the year, Sweden will hand over the Presidency to Iceland, and Lena Hallengren has highlighted gender equality in working life as a particularly important issue to continue working with.

“The Me Too movement pinpointed problems that exist generally in the labour market and we have much more work to do. Iceland is a forerunner in the area, in particular when it comes to equal pay. I think they can take the matter further and develop efforts in the Nordic countries to make the workplace safer and a place where more people will dare to speak out,” she says.

Like other important questions for the future, she highlights the challenges arising from the Nordic countries having an ageing population and from the conditions in female-dominated occupations in the public sector.

“Without decent conditions in these occupations, we will find it difficult to offer the standard of welfare that we are used to in the Nordic region. We must ensure that these occupational groups can live on their salaries and pensions,” she says.

New Nordic programme for gender equality

It’s not just the Presidency that will change at the turn of the year. The Nordic cooperation’s gender equality programme will also be replaced by a new programme for the period 2019-2022, which will set the terms of reference for the Nordic cooperation on gender equality during that time.

The new programme will focus on health and men and gender equality as two new sub-goals.

“We have worked with both of these areas previously but our aim is to put even more focus on them by making them sub-goals. In the case of health, we can see for example that men are over-represented in the suicide statistics and that women suffer more frequently from mental health problems than men. So these are important areas for gender equality,” says Karin Bengtson.

The new Nordic cooperation programme stresses that gender equality efforts must assume that men and women are not homogeneous groups. The programme also makes it clear that perspectives other than gender are important in promoting gender equality and these include background, functional capacity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

“It’s important to jointly stand up for gender equality efforts” 

Lena Hallengren believes that the Nordic countries have a lot to gain from cooperating and learning from each other in the area of gender equality.

“Our countries are very similar even though we don’t always do things the same way. We are also quite small, so we get a lot out of exchanging experience and building networks,” she says.

She also thinks that in the future, it will be especially important for the Nordic countries to jointly stand up for gender equality as a positive global force.

“Internationally, in Europe and in the rest of the world, we are seeing gender equality issues being perceived as provocative. So I think that it will become even more important that we stick together and jointly stand up for gender equality efforts,” she says.

Updated 21 October 2019