Nordic gender equalities between rhetoric and practice – studies of changes in public and private understandings of modern gender equality politics
The Nordic countries are not as similar in their gender equality politics as is often supposed. They organize gender equality work in different ways, and the debates about gender equality are different. The practical definitions of ”gender equality” differ, which means that it is relevant to talk about several kinds of gender equalities in the Nordic context. This project has studied the backgrounds of these phenomena in their national contexts and from a Nordic comparative perspective.
The main aim of the project has been to investigate dominant understandings of gender equality and gender in the Nordic countries, and how these understandings move and change between different societal levels. Three different sub-projects have studied gender understandings in equality politics on the national level, in regional politics, and in the narratives of women and men about their daily lives. The main interest has been directed to how different existing gender equality discourses are used in speech and writing, and what the consequences are. Comparisons have been made between the Nordic countries.
A general result is that the understandings of gender and gender equality are strikingly contradictory and unclear within all fields that the sub-projects have studied. This contributes to hiding power dimensions connected to gender, both in policies and in narratives about individual practices in daily life.
Project 1, ”The discourse producers on the national level”: Political party ideology and institutional circumstances play important roles in determining how political parties construe gender equality, and what subject positions that will become available for women in the countries studied. The right wing parties' stressing of individualism leave less space for women's subjectivity and agency than the left wing parties' emphasis on structural injustices. Simultaneously the whole political spectrum evidences a number of discursive mechanisms that serve to downplay the importance of gender equality issues. In spite of the many similarities found between the forms of the gender equality discourses in the countries, the differences between them were decisive. They also differed clearly in terms of how widespread gender equality rhetoric was within the general political disourse.
Projekt 2, ”National gender equality rhetoric becomes regional gender equality practices”. Today, ”mainstreaming” constitutes the general strategy for gender equality politics in Sweden and Norway, with Finland moving in the same direction. However, introductory general expressions about integration of gender and gender equality into central Norwegian and Swedish documents about regional politics have very few important consequences when actual political strategies and measures are to be designed (apart from rules about including both women and men in governing boards, etc.). In Norway, gender issues are activated only in relation to questions to do with the public sector, which often has a secondary role to play in regional policies today, when growth is highest on the agenda. In Finnish regional politics, issues of gender and gender equality are mostly absent.
Project 3, ”Politics and gender in Nordic families with children”. On the questions of daily gender equality and housework sharing that this project has studied, the variations between couples within each country are generally larger than the differences between the countries. In all three countries (Denmark, Finland and Sweden) there were large differences in housework sharing, and in the reasons given for one's sharing pattern. The most distinct differences in understandings of gender and gender equality were seen between the couples who shared housework most equally and those who shared the least, regardless of country. Many couples who shared housework equally regularly discussed their sharing, and were aware of power issues. They were the only ones who counted ”gender equality” as a valid argument for changes in sharing. Several of the women in these couples used explicitly feminist arguments for change. This did not happen in the couples who shared the least.