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The Nordic region not good enough on gender equality and mental health

| By Berit Kvam

There has been no overall change in the distribution of powerful positions in the Nordic region, according to the NLJ’s gender equality barometer for 2017. Yet there is an increase in the number of women in top positions within trade unions, employers’ organisations and labour government ministries.

Gender equality takes centre stage as we approach 8 March. At the Nordic Labour Journal the hour of reckoning is here as we count the number of women and men in positions of power. 

Finland lags behind, but with the end of fraternity saunas and drinking parties, the road to diversity opens up. Power and how it is distributed is important. Power defines focus. When it is restricted to a narrow group, like the male saunas of Finland, the outlook becomes limited. The male sauna is gone and the all powerful male bastions of the Finnish trade union movement is history, our report shows. 

The Council of Nordic Trade Unions (NFS) is also expanding its power base. The 16 member organisations are now represented by eight women and eight men, but this is not equally divided between the countries. 

Why are things moving so slowly? It is interesting to look at experiences from Värmland. 

Using humour and the campaign ”Schyst”, the county administration has got tools to work with and has made gender equality a theme. 

“The aim is to make people understand that gender thinking is always there; in the way we communicate, place ourselves in a room, in how we relate to power and to each other. The result has been a long term change in attitudes.”

Power is about being visible and listened to. People with mental problems are being excluded both from power and from the labour market.

This issue of the Nordic Labour Journal focuses on youths’ health and exclusion from education and working life. One in five children and young people struggle psychologically and the problems have increased in later years across the Nordic countries. 

This formed the backdrop for debates at the Nordic summit in Oslo on 27 February, and at the conference on youths, health, education and work on 28 February. The focus was on cooperation across disciplines and sectors. Norway launched a three year Nordic research project to gather and spread experiences and knowledge between the countries. It is not enough to have knowledge and good plans if the execution is not good enough. That point was driven home by the OECD’s Christopher Prinz during the summit:

“The Nordic countries are trailblazers in many ways. Mental issues are not taboo like in many other countries, and can be discussed more openly. You excel at shaping political programmes to address the problems, but you are much less successful in implementing them,” Prinz said.

Women’s participation in the labour market has put the Nordic countries top in international rankings. If children and youths are not better looked after, that advantage will not last for long.

According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, psychological ill health is a main cause of absence from upper secondary education, and an obstacle to higher education and labour market participation. It is also the main cause of disability among young people.  

The spotlight is on. The Nordic region will work together to find measures that work. It then remains to make Prinz’s words redundant. There must be no problems with the execution.

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