Thursday, 23 May 2013 20:54

Engendering the North

The "Challlenges of the Arctic - A Gender Perspective" Arctic Council Ministerial meeting side event on 14th May 2013. The panel consisted of, left to right: Professor Eva Maria Svensson of Gothenburg University, Sweden; Aasa Larsson Blind of the Saami Council; Prof. Kathlyn Lahey of Queen's University, Kingston, Canada; Dr. Joan Nymand Larsen of the Stefansson Arctic Institute, Akureyri, Iceland. Moderating the event from the armchair Pia Sögren The "Challlenges of the Arctic - A Gender Perspective" Arctic Council Ministerial meeting side event on 14th May 2013. The panel consisted of, left to right: Professor Eva Maria Svensson of Gothenburg University, Sweden; Aasa Larsson Blind of the Saami Council; Prof. Kathlyn Lahey of Queen's University, Kingston, Canada; Dr. Joan Nymand Larsen of the Stefansson Arctic Institute, Akureyri, Iceland. Moderating the event from the armchair Pia Sögren This and below photos by IPS

Something rarely seen in conjunction with Arctic Council meetings, a panel discussion on the subject of gender, took place as a side event to the recent Ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden.

The panel discussion “Challenges in the Arctic – A Gender Perspective” was part of an Open Seminar organized by the Arctic Council on Tuesday last week, the day before the Ministerial meeting itself.

The last part, to be more precise. Gender issues, like indigenous and other subaltern issues, typically get scheduled late when people are ready to call it a day and getting mentally set for the evening reception. This was also the case in Kiruna when a motivated audience braved the hour, barely outnumbering the panel.

 Still, the gender panel was one of the more interesting events of the day, not only for what was being said but also for what was being demonstrated by, so to speak, the gendering of event itself: an all-female panel faced an audience consisting mainly of men as if someone wanted to point out that what you want is not to invert existing power relations, but to turn dominance into equality.

Joan

In response to moderator Sjögren’s initial question of whether the Arctic is in fact a male dominated region, Dr. Nymand Larsen argued that economically, to the extent the region strived to lessen its dependence on the South by way of large-scale development projects, the answer had to be yes.

At the same time, other facts had to be taken into consideration, she continued, not least that of net out-migration of women from the Arctic to the southern metropoles, as well as that of high rates of substance abuse, incarceration, suicide, etc., among the male population as an indication of their strained life conditions.

Further nuancing the perspective, Aasa Larsson Blind said cultural factors, too, had to be taken into account. What we aim for, she said, is to have strong and whole communities where indigenous peoples are exercising their rights and young women educate themselves to be able to stay, not to be able to leave.

Profs. Svensson and Lahey both addressed the gender gap within the Arctic Council, stressing that, unlike most other public and intergovernmental organisations, the Arctic Council had no gender equality strategy in place and no means for securing “womens’ voices in womens’ bodies,” as Prof. Lahey expressed it.

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Dr. Nymand Larsen, again, nuanced the perspective by referring to previous gender related activities within the Arctic Council, e.g., under the auspices of the Sustainable Development Working Group and in projects like the ones on Arctic Social Indicators and the Arctic Human Development Reports. She also reminded there will be an Arctic Council Gender and Equality Conference in Iceland next year.

The gender panel event in Kiruna once again demonstrated the difficulties of aligning the axis of cultural and ethnical differences with that of gender differences. And it offered now clear-cut answers or headways.

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Still, the scheduling of the gender event – on the eve of the completion of the first full round of Arctic Council chairmanships, after having grappled with the issue of indigenous peoples and their rights for the first 16 years of the Council's life – could be a sign for the next 16 years.

A sign that efforts to strengthen the Arctic Council, among other things, will come by way of a realization of the fact that putting the subject of gender, at its most general, on the negotiating table is not only about women, and not only about the two sexes, but about all the different kinds of people that make up the Arctic.

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Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat
Fram Centre, Postboks 6606 Langnes, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway