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“Very different gender issues on the agenda in Canada”

Researcher Erika Anne Hayfield just returned from Canada and a conference on sustainable development in the northern and Arctic regions. She was inspired by the conference, but fundamental challenges for indigenous peoples moved the focus away from gender and gender equality issues, she says.

Illustration: Emma Hanquist
 Illustration: Emma Hanquist

Nordic and Canadian politicians, researchers, NGO representatives and people from business and industry met last week in Quebec at a conference on sustainable development in the northern and Arctic areas of the two regions.

One of the many topics at the conference, which was arranged by the Nordic Council of Ministers and the government in Quebec, was gender and gender equality. The Nordic representatives included Erika Anne Hayfield, PhD and assistant professor at the University of the Faroe Islands. Hayfield presented her research on young people’s migration from the Faroe Islands. NIKK had a chance to talk to her during the conference.

‘The main argument in my presentation is that we have to work with in- and outbound migration as an integral part of the Faroese culture. My research shows that young people think of it as a natural part of life. It’s about opportunities. It’s about breaking free from the safe environment in a small community.’

‘More women than men move away to get an education. However, the gender aspect becomes even clearer when it comes to returning. Many women cannot find employment in the Faroe Islands. They see the private sector as very male dominated. For example, there are very few women in management positions,’ says Hayfield and explains that the reasons also include a superior Danish welfare system, a Faroese labour market with lots of part-time work and a traditional gender culture.

Are there any other conference contributions that address gender and gender equality? How much room is given to these issues?
‘The conference is covering a lot, and the participants come here with very diverse backgrounds. It seems like Canada and the Nordic countries have very different gender issues on their agendas. Over here I perceive quite different gender equality concerns, concerns that have to do with Canada’s indigenous peoples. I attended a workshop where they for example talked about an educational programme at university level for these groups. The average age in the programme is 38, and most of the students are women. The reason for this is that many women have children at a young age. There’s some prestige involved in this behaviour. So they drop out of school. The young women ask themselves what opportunities they have, and many of them don’t see many other opportunities than having children. This means that the challenges are very different than the ones we face in the Nordic countries.’

Are there any aspects that you can bring home with you and that have made you wiser?

Erika Hayfield. Foto: privat
 Erika Hayfield. Photo: private

‘The Nordic region has come a long way when it comes to gender equality. I wish the Faroe Islands would have come as far as the other Nordic countries. But my perspective changes completely when I compare our situation with places where they can’t even really talk about gender issues because they’re too busy dealing with the fundamental challenges some groups in society are facing, like education and language policy. Their lack of equality is not so much a matter of gender, but more about being treated unequally in relation to the rest of Canada. This obviously doesn’t make it OK that the Faroe Islands has not made more progress in the gender equality area. It only means that we have different things on our agenda than a modern country like Canada.’
What’s your overall impression of the conference?
‘I’ve got so much out of the conference. But I think we can learn something from it. If we wish to cooperate and share knowledge with Canada, maybe we should emphasise a clearer focus so that we really get a debate on gender. We didn’t get that type of debate here, as it ended up only concerning the indigenous peoples. That’s extremely relevant too, of course. But to get a really good debate on gender, you almost have to plan a separate seminar or workshop around that topic. Why put gender and gender equality under the theme “social conditions”, like they did here? Nothing defines our identity more than gender.’

Updated 15 February 2024