Many women in the Barents region enjoy a level of gender equality unmatched anywhere else in the world, but those behind a new project called Her High North still believe women’s issues in the region need more attention.
Her High North is a response to the Norwegian government’s High North Strategy, a 73-page document that outlines priorities for development in the North. The document makes no mention of women in the region, something Her High North project leader Wenche Pedersen says is a problem.
-We want to have the women’s voices … We want to make women more visible, Pedersen said.
Her High North will launch a website in the next two weeks to display text and video profiles of women in the Northern regions of Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden.
The website will tell stories of exceptional and ordinary women in the area, profiling their daily lives. The aim is to highlight women’s contributions to development in the region and spark discussion about women’s role in the Northern development.
Currently, women’s voices are missing in most dialogue about the region, Pedersen says.
Most media attention focuses solely on what men are doing in the North. Pedersen believes this is a problem, but knows some people might question why women in this area deserve special attention.
The World Economic Forum’s 2010 Global Gender Gap Index ranked Norway, Finland and Sweden among the top four countries for gender equality. (Iceland took first place, followed by the three Nordic countries.)The countries also scored among the top ten places to be a mother, according to international aid organization Save the Children’s 2011 Mother’s Index. Still, there is room for improvement Pedersen said.
-The gender issues will always be there, she said.
-This is not a fight that’s won forever.
Neglecting the perspective of women in the North, a place the government’s strategy calls a “priority area,” is a mistake, according to Pedersen.
- We have a lot of conferences in the North and there are a lot of men at these conferences. We also want the women to be there, Pedersen said.
She recently attended a conference on the fishing industry in Bodø where 10 of the 12 speakers were men.
Oil and gas in the Barents Sea have drawn international interest in the region, but it is men’s voices that dominate discussion about the industry.
-When I go to an oil and gas conference where 80 per cent of the people are men, I have to think, Pedersen said.
Eventually, her thoughts turned to the project that would become Her High North. Originally, it was going to be a book of profiles of women from the North. It evolved into a full-fledged communications project that includes the book, as well as a website and social media channels.
Profiling women in Russia
About 20 profiles have already been created, included some about Russian women, who do not have the same equality as their Nordic counterparts.
-In Scandinavia we have come further than they have in Russia, Pedersen said, and so Her High North is placing priority on making changes in that country.
Last week, Pedersen traveled to Murmansk with Ingjerd Tjelle, a writer who will create the Her High North profiles. In Murmansk, Tjelle interviewed Tatiana Ivanovskaja, a woman from Kola city who has adopted 12 children whose own parents were alcoholics.
-She has so much love for the children, Tjelle said, and she tells a story about an important problem in that country.
Profiling this mother’s story is an example of exactly what Her High North aims to do: shed light on the way women contribute to the their communities.
-We want to make women visible in many areas. In business, … culture, politics and research, Pedersen said.
Fresh focus on Finnmark
Reaching out to women in Finland and Sweden is next on the agenda for Her High North.
Her High North is also participating in the third annual ‘Frodig Fokus På Finnmark’ conference to be held in Kirkenes in September. The name of the conference roughly translates to ‘Fresh focus on Finnmark: global strategies - local values.’ The conference is hosted by the mayor of Sør-Varanger, Linda Randal, and will focus on ideas and perspectives of women living in Northern Norway.
Pedersen hopes their project will extend the message of the conference beyond its scheduled two days.
-We hope to get attention to our website and maybe some discussion on social media, Pedersen said.
-We are hoping to have focus all year.
It is that kind of continuous attention that Her High North will need to achieve its goals, perhaps especially in the Nordic countries where the status of women is relatively good compared to the rest of the world and it is easy to focus on problems that might seem more pressing.
But Pederson is adamant that even in Norway, Sweden and Finland, women still have a ways to go before achieving equal status.
Her High North is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Finnmark Fylskekommune.