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The multi-faceted fight against sexual harassment

| By Björn Lindahl, editor-in-chief

This October it is two years since the American actor Alyssa Milano sent out the first tweet with the hashtag #metoo. That set off a reaction that spread from Twitter to the streets and into the corridors of power. Suddenly sexualised violence and harassment was being discussed in a new way. But what has really changed in these three years?

Iceland and the Nordic Council of Ministers hosted a conference in Reykjavik in order to find answers to that question. It resulted in three days packed with exciting and riveting speeches between 17 and 19 September. The Nordic Ministers for Equality also met, and decided even more research is needed.

The issues raised by #metoo are as many-faceted as the facade of Harpa, Iceland’s opera house where the conference was held. Should men accused of harassing and in certain cases raping women still be afforded anonymity? What about the men who want to apologise? Should there be someplace for them to do that?

Where do you begin when you want to limit the scale of this “world-wide pandemic of gender-based violence”, as Angela Davis put it? Do you have to change the suppressing structures from the bottom up?

In this edition of the Nordic Labour Journal leaders for both the Nordic and Baltic trade union confederations encourage their respective governments to quickly ratify the new ILO convention on violence and harassment in the world of work, which was adopted by the ILO’s international labour conference in June this year.

There is now a race between the Nordic countries to be the first to do so. But what if you aim even higher? The Nordics could ratify the convention together. “That really would be leading by example,” Marie Clarke Walker from the Canadian Labour Congress told me during one of the breaks. She was herself deputy chair for the employees’ delegation at the ILO conference when the convention was adopted. Sweden’s Minister for Employment Eva Nordmark can become one of the drivers for such an initiative. Read her portrait in this issue.

But men also need to engage in the fight against the toxic masculinity which is hurting both society as a whole and the men themselves. In Finland you find Miehet, an association inspired by feminism.

"In todays Finland, a man must be strong and a norm-breaker in order to be a good father,” says Tom Kettunen, who sits on the association’s board.

Iceland is already doing some of the work which is being called on – changing the structures in society. The Icelandic government wants to introduce new ways of measuring happiness. It is not enough to just look at GDP growth as the most important goal.

But what is happiness really? The Icelandic happiness researcher Dóra Guðrún Guðmundsdóttir is studying the notion, and has arrived at a thought-provoking result: the lack of money might bring unhappiness, but having a lot of money only represents 1 % of the happiness currently experienced by Icelanders.

Previous research shows people get stressed by rapid changes – positive or negative. Greenland is experiencing such change right now, where good fishing and long tourism seasons lead to a great need for labour.  

 “Greenland’s economy is at risk of overheating, and we must make the right priorities in order to avoid an economic collapse,” says Minister of Mineral Resources and Labour Erik Jensen, in Marie Preisler’s report.

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