In today’s global political climate, research on inequality and diversity is of increasing importance. Nordic countries have a particular duty and a unique opportunity to lead the way.
How do we describe the international current political climate for equality? Basic human rights are being challenged, even in countries that previously were in the forefront of defending the rights of oppressed peoples. The massive refugee crisis has witnessed many countries turning their backs on those in need, and discriminatory legislation against women, religious groups, and non-heteronormative people, still exists in many regions of the world. In social media, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynist attitudes and behaviors appear to be increasing.
On the other hand, we have seen great strides towards equality in the last 50 years and many people who were previously without a voice are being heard. Transgender rights are increasingly recognized, and same sex marriage has been enshrined in law in over twenty nations. Progress in gender equality and rights for minority groups has been achieved in many regions of the world. Popular films, books, and television series represent more and more diverse and minority people.
Thus we are moving backward and forward at the same time. No one country has “achieved equality”. We must remember that equality is not an end state but a process that we must keep fighting for, through activism, research and dissemination. It seems that recently the process of equality and inclusion in several countries is starting to slide backwards – so now is the time to counter with role models for forward momentum.
Why should the Nordic countries lead?
The Nordic countries have a unique opportunity and duty to maintain, improve and lead in areas of equality. Currently these countries are world leaders in equality, and general human development. Examples of equality in practice and policy range from Norwegian laws on quotas for women on boards, to Icelandic equal representation in parliament, to excellent parental leave in all the Nordic countries. The Nordic welfare model supports these advancements. The model has its roots in equality, strong government responsibility, high employment, and a tradition of social dialogue, which reflects the cultural values and provides the firm foundation for equality legislation.
Still, this picture is also complicated. Although Nordic countries have achieved many successes there are still areas of deep concern. Some examples are the high level of occupational segregation, challenges with integration of immigrants, and a high prevalence of domestic violence.
We should expect the Nordic countries, as leaders in equality, to share the complete picture: what is working and what needs to be improved. Good research and research dissemination from the Nordic countries is essential for the equality agenda.
Why is research important?
With the advent of global communication and social media, access for an unprecedented number of people to share their comments and opinions is available. There exists a wonderful opportunity for democracy; however the flip side is that this outpouring of opinion can lead to polarization and general disregard for science, research, knowledge, and facts. In a world that makes room for “alternative” facts, we have a duty to present the data and the models to guide us towards a better one.
We need to be a part of the production of knowledge, which requires systematic and critical thinking. In the global dialogue, we have to stand up for the questions, and the discussions based on research and scientific principles, and counter the people and institutions spreading half-truths and falsehoods. We must remember that we can never have the complete picture and that the picture is constantly changing. Reality is many-sided and as researchers, we need to make sure that we keep an open mind, encourage curiosity, and learn from mistakes. This is not about winning debates but adding to knowledge. That means no simple stories and sharing the Nordic experience through solid research.
Role models are not perfect but they are visible, vocal, and they share. The Nordic countries are currently in the forefront on many equality issues and practices. Researchers in these countries need to keep monitoring the progress, dispelling myths and stereotypes with facts, rejecting simple sweeping explanations, and building knowledge instead of walls of prejudice. The current global political climate needs to hear the Nordic voice of, and for equality.
Laura E. Mercer Traavik is a gender researcher based in BI Norwegian Business School. Traavik visited WeAll-Project in late 2016.
https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-gender-gap-report-2016 and http://hdr.undp.org/en