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The Nordic region: approaching equality step by step

The Nordic region: approaching equality step by step

| Text and graphics: Björn Lindahl

Nordic women have been an inspiration for the fight for gender equality in other countries. Between them they have filled all but two of the positions of political power: no Nordic country has as yet had a female arch bishop or a female commander-in-chief. Meanwhile both the President and Prime Minister in Finland are women.

Mari Kiviniemi recently visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel while the debate on quotas for women in boardrooms was raging. Norway was the first country to introduced quotas in 2008, but women there have also lost more positions of power than in any other country in recent years. Nordic Labour Journal takes a closer look at just how successful the fight for gender equality has been in the Nordic region.

The Nordic countries usually come out top of the world in international surveys of gender equality. Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland have occupied the four top spots in the World Economic Forums Gender Gap Report ever since it was first published five years ago. Only New Zealand and Ireland break the Nordic trend and push Denmark down to seventh place.

Nordic gender equality was also top of the agenda when the UK invited Nordic and Baltic prime ministers to a meeting in London on 19 and 20 January.

Many ways of measuring

There are many ways of measuring gender equality. You could look at whether women are discriminated against in legislation or you could look at salary gaps. You could count the number of women in boardrooms or the percentage of female members of parliament. It is very difficult to include all aspects. Finland's previous Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen hit the headlines in 2007 when he appointed the world's most female dominated government. 60 percent were women - 12 women and eight men.

Yet men kept the key positions even in Vanhanen's government. The Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Foreign Minister and the Minister for Industry were all men.

Where does power lie?

It is in other words not enough with a head count to establish how equally power is distributed between the sexes. Some heads are more important than others because it is they who make the most important decisions. Others are important of symbolic reasons - heads of state, arch bishops and police commissioners. In the Nordic region trade unions and employers' organisations also enjoy a very strong position.

Nordic Labour Journal has looked at which positions of power women have manage to take within the public sector since 1970. We have chosen the minister posts which have proved the most stable and which have carried the most power. We have examined working life organisations and six positions of power of great symbolic value.Nordic portlet 2011

We have granted 40 points to each country, 200 points in all. If Nordic women have reached 100 points it means they have achieved equality with men in our power barometer. 

The post of prime minister gets the most points with five. The leader of the Confederation of Trade Unions gets four points while we have given four points to the employers' organisation which allows two points to the chairperson and two to the managing director.

Still some way to go

The result shows Nordic women still have some way to go. Their top score is 62 points. 

Finland's women have come the furthest with their 15 points, when 20 means full equality with men. The country has both a female president, Tarja Halonen, and a female prime minister, Mari Kiviniemi.

It is hard to get an overview of the development with five countries, 23 positions of power and a 40 year time scale.

Graphics for the past 40 years

We have therefore chosen to present a graphic comparison where we highlight which year saw a female leader in a particular position. We have been generous and accepted one months of service to qualify for a full 'female' year.

Iceland diagram 2011

We have taken inspiration from the countries' flags, so the Icelandic graphics is marked with red for years which have seen women in positions of power and white marks the number of points that position has. For a larger version of this graphic go to the story on Iceland and click on the graphic. You can access data for the other countries by clicking on the headlines on the right or at the bottom of this page.

Minister of Social Affairs, yes - but not arch bishop

The graphics show how slow the development has really been and how few women have filled positions of power in working life and other positions of great symbolic significance like central bank governors, police commissioners and supreme court presidents. 

Once a position of power has been filled by a woman, it is easer filled again by another woman. 111 of the female points achieved over the past 41 years come from the female dominance of the position as minister of social affairs. Second comes the position as minister of justice with 87 points and minister of education comes third with 61 points.

Far from the full story

Nordic Labour Journal's power barometer should not be taken for more than what it is - an attempt to illustrate the results of the fight for gender equality. There are weaknesses to the system, like the fact that a large number of Denmark's points stem from the fact that Queen Margrethe has been on the throne since 1972. Yet all the three monarchies have changed to introduce gender equality for succession - so here too we're talking about political decisions. 

Iceland is in a special situation because the country has no defence forces. So we have looked at who has been head of the coast guard and given an extra point to the minister of industry and energy to compensate for the country's lack of a minister for employment. 

How we calculated

50 percent female government minister representation might look like gender equality has been accomplished. But it also depends on which positions are being held by women. 

We have distributed 200 points - 40 for each Nordic country. 100 female points equals full gender equality.

We have looked at 13 government minister posts. Each gives one point except prime minister (5), finance minister (3) and foreign minister (2).

We have also included leaders for the largest trade unions and employers' organisations:

Leaders of confederations of trade unions (4), leaders of service industries unions (2), leaders of trade unions for academics (2), leaders of employers' organisations (2) and managing directors at employers' organisations (2).

And finally six important symbolic positions:

Heads of state, who get three points, while the others get one each. We have not included leaders of major companies because they are not considered to be employed as a result of a democratic process.



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