Gender Equality---- Dream or Reality?

Several sisters from the Trade Union delegation at UNCSW 56 attended a session on Wednesday, February 29, sponsored by Norway, titled:  “Equality Between Men and Women---The Nordic Way”.  Michelle Bachelet, Director of UN Women, was one of the speakers, as well as representatives from each the 5 Nordic countries:  Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.

Ms. Bachelet had recently visited 3 of the Nordic countries and observed that these countries have made achievements in terms of women’s equality because they have undertaken deliberate public policy initiatives to enhance and support the role of women at home and in the workplace.

The other speakers talked about a number of common themes underlying the work being done to bring about equality between men and women, including:

  • Universal social protection measures, such as education, child care, and parental leave.  It is interesting to note that Norway and Iceland have among the highest birth rates in developed countries, partially due to these types of family supports, and that this is an important economic factor when looking at the aging demographics of many countries and the impact on the labour force. 
  • In terms of parental leave, there are legislative incentives for men to take their share of this leave, as a way of encouraging more male involvement in child raising.   It must be working as the Minister from Finland who was scheduled to speak at the session was not able to attend as he was at home taking parental leave to care for his new baby!
  • Legislative frameworks to provide for affirmative action measures to ensure better representation of women on Boards and Commissions, both in the public and private sectors.  The was some debate about the need to establish “quotas” but it was recognized that the voluntary approach has not worked and that it is necessary for governments to take proactive approaches.
  • Although it wasn’t explicitly stated in these presentations, we recognize that the Nordic countries are highly unionized and that trade unions have played a major role in the struggle to achieve gender equality.  Unions in these countries are recognized as important partners in achieving social and economic justice.  It is discouraging to contrast this with the attitude of the Canadian government in its ant-union, anti-equality agenda.  The Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose, gave a statement to the UN yesterday which completely ignored the major components of women’s equality, including the right to decent work--including pay equity and child care--and the role that public services play in ensuring gender equality.   As we learned in this session with the Nordic countries, where there is a political will to do so, it is possible to create societies where women and men are valued and supported.

    Reporter Maureen Morrison CUPE

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