Is the Nordic countries a paradise for women? And what about the men?

By Carita Peltonen
European Intercultural Festival 2014
Minsk 10.09.2014
Download the  presentation (in pdf format).

Slide 2

In the 1950’s the American actress Marilyn Monroe said:"Diamonds are a girl’s best friend". Today the Nordic women say that the Nordic welfare state is the women’s best friend. In the Nordic countries women are allowed to go to school, have an education, get a job, have children, can marry. Women can also get divorced, because if the children’s father, i.e. her former husband or partner do not pay for the children the state pay to the women and then it will be meted out from the father’s salary.

Slide 3
The culture and history that the Nordic countries, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, share have made it possible to co-operate closely and constructively. Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) was established in 1971 as the regional co-operation organization between the Nordic governments. The Nordic gender equality co-operation started in 1974. The first time the Nordic countries performed jointly as a group on gender equality was at the first UN Conference for Women arranged in Mexico in 1975. In 1980 the Council of Ministers for Gender Equality was established. In the Nordic countries, the gender equality policies developed by the Nordic governments are shaped, in close co-operation with non-governmental organizations and networks.

The Nordic countries have thus in 40 years cooperated on gender equality policy within the framework of Nordic Council of Ministers. Nordic Council of Ministers is also one of the organizers of the European Intercultural Festival 2014. During these 40 years, much of the focus in the Nordic gender equality co-operation, has been on the roles and responsibilities women and men have in our societies today. Co-operation has been done on working life and how to combine family life and working life, both from the women´s but also from the men´s perspectives. The focus has been on power, it means women and men and decision-making in politics and in industry and business, i.e. both in the public and private sector, education, media, violence against women and combating human trafficking in the Northern part of Europe.

Slide 4
The Nordic co-operation on gender equality is based on a common democratic tradition and history. The co-operation is of mutual benefit to the Nordic countries. It is important that the relatively small Nordic welfare societies (in total 20 million people) exchange experiences, discuss best practices, benefit from each other´s expertise. Nordic Council of Ministers and arranges conferences and seminars to create arenas where gender equality issues are discussed in order to achieve a greater understanding for gender equality and equal status for women and men. As all policy areas, also gender equality policy is affected by the general social development, by employers, by the civil society and by the public opinion. Today gender equality can rise or go down in a single country, but looking at all the five countries as a group then, the differences are evened. It is easy to see that the trend since 1970ies has been moving against a more gender equal society. Sometimes it can have been a big jump forward, sometimes some steps backwards, but the progress overall has been forward against a more equal society for women and men.

Slide 5
The European Gender Institute is placed in Vilnius and it publishes the Gender Equality Index. The Index consists of six core domains: work, money, knowledge, time, power, health and two satellite domains (intersecting inequalities and violence). The satellite domains are conceptually related to the Index but cannot be included in the core index because they measure an illustrative phenomenon. Specifically, the domain of violence measures gender-based violence against women, and the domain of Intersecting Inequalities focus on specific population groups such as lone parents, careers or people with disabilities.

Slide 6
The Gender Gap Index is published by World Economic Forum. The Gender Gap Index was in 2013 topped by Iceland. This index benchmarks national gender gaps of 136 countries on economic, political, education- and health-based criteria.



Slide 7
In 2013 Iceland has the narrowest gender gap in the world, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden.





Slide 8
Parliamentary politics in the Nordic region is a gender equality success story. In all Nordic countries women´s share in the Nordic parliaments are between 38-44 %.




Slide 9
Presidents: Iceland was the first Nordic country were a woman as the first in the world was elected president of the country. It was already in 1980 when Vigdis Finbogadottir was elected President of Iceland. Twenty years later in Finland in 2000 Tarja Halonen was elected President of the Republic of Finland. It took almost 100 years for a woman to get the highest political position in Finland.

Slide 10
Prime minister: Norway was the first Nordic country to have a woman as Prime Minister when Gro Harlem Bruntland gathered her first government in 1981. She served three terms as Norwegian Prime Minister. The last period was from 1990 to 1996. Today she is 75 years old and is now a Special Envoy on Climate Change for the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Sweden is the only Nordic country where a woman never has been Prime minister and being a head of a government.

Slide 11
In Finland Elisabeth Rehn was in 1990 appointed Minister of Defence and she was the first women in the world to have that position. The other Nordic countries later on also appointed women as Ministers of Defence. She was at the same time also the Minister for Gender Equality.



Slide 12
In Sweden last year Bishop Antje Jackelén was elected Archbishop, the first women to be the head of the the Evangelian-Lutheran Church, biggest church in Sweden.




Slide 13
The Nordic Council of Ministers for Gender Equality was established in 1980. From the left: Minister Eygló Harðardóttir, Iceland, Minister Manu Sareen, Denmark, Minister Solveig Horne, Norway, Secretary General Dagfinn Høybråten, Nordic Council of Ministers, Minister Maria Arnholm, Sweden and Minister Paavo Arhinmäki, Finland.


Slide 14
In 2010 was the first time when men as Ministers for Gender Equality in the Nordic countries were in majority in the Nordic Council of Ministers for Gender Equality. Usually Gender Equality policies are put into the ministerial portfolio of a woman. From the left: Minister , Audun Björlo Lysbakken, Norway, Minister Stefan Wallin, Finland and Minister Gudbjartur Hannesson, Iceland.

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It is also a historic moment in a Nordic country in this case Denmark when the Danish government was formed by three parties, which all were led by women.





Slide 16
Norway follows Denmark in 2013 when Erna Sohlberg became Prime Minister and gathered her government in cooperation with Siv Jensen.  





Slide 17
Today Norway and Iceland has a legislation stating that women must be at least 40 % of the members of the boards of limited or joint-stock companies. The legislation was proposed by the Minister of Industry and Trade of Norway Mr. Ansgar Gabrielson in 2002. He wished that all the talents in Norway to be represented in the Boards of the Limited Companies, and the proposal was that latest in 2008 the law should be in force. Already in 2006 the state owned companies should have at least 40 % women in their boards.

Slide 18
The newspaper Aftonbladet in Sweden went in 2002 to Reykjavik to investigate the results of the new Icelandic parental leave legislation and they found out that 25 % of the firemen in Reykjavik fire brigade wished to use their legal right to paternity leave. It is the same percentage as in women dominated working places as hospitals and schools.

Iceland is the Nordic country to have the best parental leave legislation. The parental leave law was adopted by the Icelandic Parliament in 2000. A family gets maximum 9 months parental leave with three months for the mother, three months for the father and three months the family can decide how they take it. The three months that are earmarked for both the mother and the father cannot be transferred from the mother to the father or from the father to the mother. If the father does not take his share of the parental leave then the family just get in total 6 months parental leave. The law also guaranteed both the mother and the father a compensation of 80 % of their salary, which after the economic crisis in 2008 was reduces to 70 %. The first year when the law came into force 95 % of the Icelandic fathers used their possibility to take paternity leave and stayed at home to take care of their newborn child. When the Icelandic fathers were asked why they used wished to stay at home with the children, they said:
"I do not need to negotiate with my wife and my employer, because the law gives me the possibility to stay at home and take care of my children."
During the first year of the law in 2001 the fire force in Reykjavik as well as the police found out that 25 % of their staff was “pregnant” and wished to be on parental leave. The fire force and the police had no money to employ replacements for the fathers using their right to take paternity leave and they had to apply for more money from the government. The fire force also got help from their neighboring country Norway to hire substitutes for the firemen.
The result has been that Iceland today has the highest nativity rate in all Europe. The Icelandic women give birth to 2.1 children. Research shows that the fertility rate is growing a little, while the trend in other European countries are decreasing it is only 1.3 in Italy. The Italian low numbers are described by the lack of child care centers and a child supportive family policy. All Nordic research shows that when the father is sharing the caring of small children by taking part in both the housekeeping as cooking, cleaning and washing and child care after the first child is born, then the women are ready to give birth to the second and third child. 

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Newspaper Politiken 3.6.2013 analysis editor Poul Aarøe Pedersen column on the discussion of the Danish government not to take decision on three months earmarked paternity leave for fathers. Professor Nina Smith from Aarhus University in Denmark has said:”Earmarked paternity leave is the big key to gender equality.”



Slide 20
Today no country in the world has reach gender equality between women and men in the society. In the Nordic countries women has gained a lot of political power. For example when Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen´s second Cabinet in Finland was appointed at April 19th 2007 the majority of Ministers were women. It was the first cabinet in the Nordic countries but also in Europe with more women than men as ministers. The economic situation for women overall in the Nordic countries is worse than for the men. Still today women in the Nordic countries earn less than men. In average the women’s salaries in the Nordic countries are 15-20 % less than the salaries of the Nordic men.

Slide 21
This picture speaks for itself. It shows how children learn from their parents.





 Slide 22
Gender mainstreaming is a tool for change. The UN Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing 1995 took the decision that start to integrate gender in all political decision-making processes and all activities of the societies. Gender mainstreaming has been developed to integrate a gender perspective into the processes and activities in the public authorities’ work, including the budget processes to assure equality and develop the organisation in order to include both women and men. This means that when all talents and experiences of both women and men are used in an organisation then the result will be a more gender equal organisation. When a organisation mainstream gender it secures that both men and women get equal service, that the activities, resources and influence are shared equally. When a organisation mainstream gender it secures that both men and women get equal service, that the activities, resources and influence are shared equally. The result in the end will be same rights – equal treatement for women and men, and this will promote gender equality at large.

Slide 23
3R method - how to do it? The following questions must be asked:
Does the activity/decision/project/activity concern people? What are the consequences for men/women and boys/girls? Are the consequences same, different or unequal? If the answer is Yes: Fix it!

This is a very basic introduction:
Make a survey of the the field and do not just rely on one source of information. Be open minded and avoid over-generalizing statements such as "women feel..." or "women need...", "men are usually…" or "all men behave…" is creating stereotypes by implying that all women as well as all men have a single set of values or goals. Do not categorize issues in extreme terms, as wrong or right, equal or unequal, exploiter and exploited. Reality is more complex, so look at the “grey area” that must be taken into account.

The method 3R - Representation, Resources, Reality is developed in Sweden by Gertrud Åström.
Representation: Maps the distribution of women and men at every level of an organization, both in the activities and decision-making processes, i.e. collecting statistics of the gender distribution (women and men, girls and boys) on all levels and in all parts of the organization, from the decision-makers to the target groups and users.
Resources: How are the resources distributed between women and men? The resources mean everything in all daily activities, such as time, money spent, competence and use of space, all mapped in details. Reality: it shows why and how the representation and recourses are distributed in the organization. At this stage we must make analyzes why the resources are distributed among women and men as they are, and what are the reasons behind the gender distribution in the organization. Can these consequences be different for men and women? How and why? The questions that are asked will give answers on who gets what and on which premises. At this stage the inequalities are revealed, and it is showed if it is based on stereotypes or norms in our societies. To be successful at this stage both knowledge on equality and gender is needed in combination with the knowledge about the operations and activities within the area and organization that is analyzed. To carry out gender analyses is no easy task, because the operations and activities we analyze and problematize are usually considered as natural and normal.

Slide 24
In the Nordic countries the goal for the gender equality policy is almost the same, but the countries has chosen to develop different tools to implement their aims. One example of this is the parental leave in Iceland. The most used argument in the Nordic countries through decades has been, that men are not interested to stay at home and take care of their children. Icelandic men has shown that when there is a legislation that gives fathers the right to take paternity leave and the compensation paid during the paternity leave is high enough compared to their salary then the men also use it. Another example from the Nordic countries is women in politics. In the Nordic parliaments the number of women´s is between 38-44 %, which is a result of the work of the women´s organizations in the political parties and the women´s movement in the Nordic countries. The legislation in Norway about at least 40 % women in the boards of limited companies is also an example of that if there is political will changes can be made to get a more gender balanced society. The question is why is it so hard to change attitudes and give women and men the same possibilities and responsibilities to share all areas of life as decision-making in both the private and public sphere, sharing the caring for children and old people and the resources more equal between women and men. 

Carita Peltonen is an international expert in gender equality policy and a scientist, for more than 20 years she’d been consulting the national governments and local authorities of Russia and Baltic countries on gender equality. She was a Senior Adviser on gender equality at Nordic Council of Ministers Secretariat in Copenhagen, Denmark; worked as a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Organic Chemistry at Abo Akademi University (Turku, Finland). Her articles on organic chemistry and gender equality are published in scientific and weekly magazines. Today Carita Peltonen is a Director of CaPe Consulting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Organisers: Office for a Democratic Belarus, Office for European Expertise and Communication, Fond of Ideas.
Partners: Association of European Busineses (AEB), Liberal Club, Youth Educational Centre Fialta, 3d Sector (Hrodna), European Cafe, European Liberal Arts College in Belarus, Swedish Institute, Centre for Swedish Studies, BIPO "New Faces", non-profit organisation PACT.

Information partners:,,,
Supporters: the Nordic Council of Minsiters, USAID, SIDA.

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