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Gender equality and welfare politics in Scandinavia

Gender equality and welfare politics in Scandinavia: The limits of political ambition?

Kari Melby
Anna-Birte Ravn
Christina Carlsson Wetterberg
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    Gender equality and welfare politics in Scandinavia
    Book Description:

    Gender equality is often seen as a hallmark of the Nordic countries. This book explores this notion by examining the meanings of gender that underpin policies in the Scandinavian welfare states, historically and today. The book focuses on three Scandinavian countries - Denmark, Norway and Sweden - and explores the policy reforms that have occurred relating to family and care. Beginning with the radical marriage reform carried through in all the three countries in the early decades of the 20th century, the book progresses to explore contemporary challenges to the traditional model of equality, including equal rights for fathers, multiculturalism and a critical young generation. The book focuses on differences as well as similarities between the countries and discusses the relevance of talking about a Nordic model. Stressing the importance of viewing the concept of equality in its historical context, the book critically investigates and discusses the Scandinavian 'success story' portrayed in normative political theory and presents an historical analysis of the development of gendered citizenship rights. It will be a valuable collection for researchers, lecturers and graduate students who work with historical and contemporary studies on welfare state and gender models from different disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspectives.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-341-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. List of tables
    (pp. v-v)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vi-vi)
    Kari Melby, Anna-Birte Ravn and Christina Carlsson Wetterberg
  5. Notes on contributors
    (pp. vii-xii)
  6. A Nordic model of gender equality? Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)
    Kari Melby, Anna-Birte Ravn and Christina Carlsson Wetterberg

    The overall objective of this book is to analyse the meanings of gender that underpin policies for the achievement of gender equality in the Scandinavian welfare states, ie Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The book focuses on similarities as well as differences between the countries and discusses the relevance of talking abouta Nordic model. Different meanings of gender equality and the relationship between discourse and practice are analysed. The book is interdisciplinary and includes historical perspectives and comparative analyses. Its primary focus is on reforms and legislation related to the family, so crucial to the understanding of the welfare state....

  7. Part One: Meanings of gender equality in Scandinavian welfare policy

    • ONE Woman-friendly policy paradoxes? Childcare policies and gender equality visions in Scandinavia
      (pp. 27-42)
      Anette Borchorst

      Since the late 1980s, feminist scholarship has reconceptualised the equality–difference dilemma, which has plagued feminist activists and policy makers for many decades. They have been confronted with the claim that they should choose either difference or equality as the route to achieving gender equality, because the two should be regarded as logically incompatible. The dilemma has been closely interconnected with the gendered division of breadwinning and unpaid care work and the public–private split, which has been attached to it.

      The rethinking of the dilemma has generated a broad consensus that it is neither universal nor static, and that...

    • TWO The claim of economic citizenship: the concept of equality in a historical context
      (pp. 43-62)
      Christina Carlsson Wetterberg and Kari Melby

      In the beginning of the 20th century, marriage legislation was reformed in all the Nordic countries. Male privileges were abolished and equality was declared. Some changes in the old marriage laws had been accomplished already at the end of the 19th century, especially in Denmark and Norway, where the wives had attained their majority. Married women in all the countries had also been given the right to dispose of their own private property and income, but husbands maintained complete disposal of the common estate, as well as custody of the children. All this was changed during the reform process that...

    • THREE Married women’s right to pay taxes: debates on gender, economic citizenship and tax law reform in Denmark, 1945–83
      (pp. 63-84)
      Anna-Birte Ravn

      Edel Saunte specialised in family law and functioned as barrister in the Danish High Courts. She was chair of the Danish Women’s Society 1936–41, and she was a member of the Social Democratic Party. When she wrote her 1951 article in the social democratic women’s magazine,Frie Kvinder, cited above, two official commission reports, appearing in 1948 and 1950, had unanimously recommended the preservation of the gendered tax system. But in spite of Saunte’s pointing out the irrationalities and injustices of the system, she did not argue for its total abolition. She advocated individualisation of taxes in regard to...

    • FOUR Family policy between science and politics
      (pp. 85-100)
      Åsa Lundqvist

      Should the state regulate family affairs? If so, how and under what circumstances? These questions have dominated family policy debates over many decades and in most states. In Sweden, many ideas on how ‘the family’ should be organised have been presented by intellectuals, politicians and experts over time, and reforms of family regulations have emerged since the early 1930s.

      This chapter studies the development of Swedish family politics between the 1930s and the early 1970s. My point of departure is that the emergence of Swedish family politics is mainly based on interplay between (i) research on family and gender relations,...

    • FIVE Academic discourse, social policy and the construction of new families
      (pp. 101-116)
      Christine Roman

      From the late 1960s, Swedish family and gender equality politics has strongly emphasised individualised marriage ties, autonomy and economic independence. The explicit political objective has been to construct institutional means for creating a society ‘where every adult individual takes responsibility for herself or himself, without being dependent on other family members’ (SOU 1972:41, p 58). Family law has been reformed accordingly, and social rights and entitlements have increasingly become tied to the individual. This institutionalised individualism (cf Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p 23) has promoted processes of individualisation and defamilialisation (cf Orloff, 1993; Lister, 2003). The aim of the presentation...

  8. Part Two: Current challenges:: competing discourses on gender equality

    • SIX The ‘new father’: gender equality as discursive resource for family policies
      (pp. 119-134)
      Trine Annfelt

      The Norwegian Law on Children and Parents (hereafter the Children’s Law) was passed in 1981. It replaced a body of laws from 1956 and introduced new ways of thinking about the family. Among other things, the law changed the parents’ rights to their children, revoking the mother’s automatic right to the custody of young children after divorce. About 2000 the parents’ rights to their children were again discussed in the political decision-making bodies. Again the discussion sprang from a concern about parents’ rights. Did the Children’s Law still incorrectly prioritise mothers’ rights over fathers’?

      This chapter focuses on the discursive...

    • SEVEN From powerful to powerless fathers: gender equality in Danish family policies on parenthood
      (pp. 135-148)
      Charlotte Andersen and Anna-Birte Ravn

      From the late 1960s to the mid-1990s Danish family policies on parenthood underwent radical change. The change can be described in terms of equality – as equalising children born out of wedlock with children born in marriage or as equalising unmarried fathers with married fathers and with unmarried mothers. This is not the whole story, however. Beneath this process of equalisation a profoundly new perception of fatherhood and of the position of fathers vis-à-vis mothers evolved: in the 1960s political debates on parenthood constructed unmarried mothers as weak and unmarried fathers as powerful, but in the 1990s this construction was...

    • EIGHT Dilemmas of citizenship: tensions between gender equality and cultural diversity in the Danish welfare state
      (pp. 149-166)
      Birte Siim

      Feminist scholarship has asked important questions about multiculturalism and gender equality and about the relation between women’s rights and respect for cultural diversity. The objective of this chapter is to discuss the challenges from migration and multiculturalism in the context of the Nordic welfare states by looking at the tensions between gender equality and respect for diversity. The focus is on the gendered conflicts and tensions between gender and ethnicity in the Danish approach to citizenship.

      The problem of multiculturalism and gender equality has only recently been addressed in the Nordic countries (Mørck, 2002; Siim, 2003; Andreassen, 2005). one inspiration...

    • NINE Women friendly? Understanding gendered racism in Sweden
      (pp. 167-182)
      Diana Mulinari

      This chapter offers a re-reading of the Swedish welfare state based on everyday experiences of women from the Latin American diaspora (Sawyer, 2000; Alinia, 2004) living in Sweden. Central to the chapter is to explore the specific experience of a group of migrant women at the crossroads between their transnational communities and the public policies of the Swedish welfare state.

      Hegemonic trends in Swedish gender studies primarily focus on the conditions of women conceptualised as belonging to the nation. An under-theorisation of gendered racism(s) is common in these studies (Mulinari, 2001). The expansion and academic institutionalisation of queer and post-colonial...

    • TEN Young women’s attitudes towards feminism and gender equality
      (pp. 183-198)
      Ann-Dorte Christensen

      For young Scandinavian women, certain central elements in the Scandinavian welfare states have been part of their upbringing – for example, equal opportunity policy and the role of public provision in day-care institutions – and they therefore expect equal citizenship rights for men and women. Gender and equality have been hotly debated topics throughout the lifetime of young Scandinavian women.

      Although the young generation did not live through the female political mobilisation that followed the second wave of feminism from the 1960s through the 1980s, feminism has had an effect on young women’s gender-identity formation. Most of their mothers belong...

    • ELEVEN A Scandinavian feminist public sphere: discourses on feminism and gender equality
      (pp. 199-214)
      Christina Fiig

      A common thread in this volume is the recurring challenge to and questioning of the official Scandinavian gender-equality discourses, as expressed at state level. Other threads I discuss in this chapter are a generational perspective between two generations of feminists and whether feminism has maintained some type of ‘intergenerational currency’ (Budgeon, 2001).

      One such challenge is a debate initiated in the late 1990s by young, predominantly white middle-class feminists who are, generally speaking, the ‘daughters’ of the feminists in the women’s movement of the 1970s across the three countries. The ‘daughters’ have been brought up and socialised to believe that...

  9. POSTSCRIPT Gender, citizenship and social justice in the Nordic welfare states: a view from the outside
    (pp. 215-222)
    Ruth Lister

    This postscript offers an outsider’s assessment of the political ambition represented by the Nordic welfare-state model from a gender perspective. More than any other welfare-state model, the Nordic or social-democratic model is not just a label applied by welfare-regime analysts but is worn with pride by Scandinavian governments and citizens. As this volume demonstrates, gender equality is treated as a hallmark of this model (even if there are differences between the Nordic countries). The original class-based ‘passion for equality’ was gradually extended explicitly to embrace gender so that, according to Arnlaug Leira, gender equality is now ‘integral to Scandinavian citizenship’...

  10. POSTSCRIPT Future research on gender equality in the Scandinavian countries
    (pp. 223-230)
    Keith Pringle

    This postscript does not provide a systematic summary of the book. Nor does it seek to provide a detailed commentary on each of its chapters. Instead, based on the themes which I interpret as emerging from across the various contributions, I attempt to suggest some main directions for future research on gender equality in the Scandinavian countries.

    The Scandinavian countries are often seen in the ‘outside’ world (that is, the world from which I come originally) as the most successful social ‘experiment’ so far in the creation and implementation of gender-equality policies. The contributions to this volume make a very...

  11. Appendix Tables 1-10
    (pp. 231-238)
  12. Index
    (pp. 239-244)