International Symposium ‘Gender Equality in the Happiest Country’

International Symposium ‘Gender Equality in the Happiest Country’

On April 25, 2017, at Ochanomizu University, the Institute for Gender Studies (IGS) hosted an international symposium entitled ‘Gender Equality in the Happiest Country: Gender Research and Family-Life Balance in Norway’.

This symposium was intended as the first step in long-term collaboration between The Center for Gender Studies (SKF) of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the Institute for Gender Studies (IGS) of Ochanomizu University. The Norwegian Embassy in Tokyo worked to bring two institutions together. Counsellor Knappskog, of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Vice President Melby, NTNU and Vice President Izaki, of Ochanomizu University delivered the opening remarks. They expressed their expectation that a cooperative relationship would develop between the institutions. The programme of the symposium consisted of research presentations by Norwegian scholars and comments by Japanese scholars on these presentations, followed by an open discussion with the participation of the audience.

Vice President Kari Melby, presenting first, spoke about ‘Gender Equality in Norway and NTNU’. A high degree of gender equality, which forms part of the national identity of Norway, may be a desirable goal for Japan. In Norway, however, equality has not yet been achieved and further promotion is needed. For example, at NTNU, women hold 40% of employment positions related to science, but they have only 24% of professorship positions. This tendency for there to be fewer women as one ascends in the hierarchy is also observed in Japan. At NTNU, regulations maintain a 40% minimum of the minority gender group on the executive board. Maintenance of a good gender balance is pursued in all other managerial positions as well.

Within the science departments, different fields show different percentages of women in positions. Departments that have fewer women may institute special scholarship programmes designed to train female researchers. Long-term education and recruitment strategies are being developed to increase the number of women researchers. The annual budget for gender-equality instruments is 475,000 € (\56 million), and NTNU’s funding for improvement for gender balance is acquired from The Research Council of Norway. A decade of experience and achievement has brought about the understanding that the achievement of gender equality requires that the entire organization work for towards that goal, including thoroughly investigating the state of things, examining the issue, educating staff and developing a comprehensive policy.

The next presentation, ‘Paradoxes of (Gender) Equality: the case of Norway’, by Professor Priscilla Ringrose, discussed the history of and current issues in the promotion of gender equality in Norway and research projects being conducted at the SKF. Norway developed ‘state feminism’ in tandem with its establishment of a welfare-state system. The labour participation rate of women soared in 1970s, and the high rate achieved at that time has been maintained. At the present, 83% of mothers with small children work. However, details of gender differences in the choice of one’s profession and public or private selection has led to ‘horizontal occupational segregation’, which has led to certain professions showing gender imbalance. For example, women tend to find work in the public sector and take jobs in education, welfare and the governmental administration. Men, for their part, tend to go into the private sector and work in the manufacturing, construction and transportation industries. This trend is reflected on the selection of subjects to for study in higher education. Women are 83% of graduates in welfare-related degrees but only 20% in computer engineering.

Dual-earner families and the participation of fathers in childcare are common, but a gender gap appears in the length of time spent in housework and childcare. Women spend 4 hours a day on housework, but men only spend 2 hours. Women spend 6 hours a day on childcare but men only spend 4 hours. Furthermore, modern couples who attempt to share the housework evenly are more likely to divorce. This is another paradox in Norwegian gender equality.

The research projects conducted at the SKF are interdisciplinary and have various themes. A study of the clothing worn by women managers discovered that women who were recognized as leaders had a tendency to wear traditionally feminine clothes. Immigrants, which are at the centre of popular attention, are also a subject of the research at the SKF, and Associate Professor Guro Kristensen took the floor to address this topic.

Kristensen began her presentation by talking about the history of her family. She compared her grandmother’s, mother’s and her own lives and how Norwegian women’s lives have changed over the generations. She explained that people born in the 1970s, like herself, simply accept the dual-earner/dual-carer household as a social norm.

The present achievement of work–life balance, however, rests on the existence of migrant domestic workers, but their presence has led to new social issues. For example, most cleaners of homes are from Eastern Europe, and this industry forms a grey market. While it is paid employment, but wages are low, and there is no guarantee of sufficient protection by labour laws. An au supplies live-in childcare work, and this type of migrant work began as a cultural-exchange activity. In recent years, most au pairs are migrant workers from the Philippines, who send their earnings to their families in the home country. This implies that the dual-earner/dual-carer model of gender equality depends on global inequality and a racial hierarchy. Hiring female migrant workers may help to empower them, but it is impossible to ignore the contradiction that the equality of one society rests on taking advantage the inequality of another society. Kristensen also stated that buying paid services is, in other words, buying equality with money, and this is not consistent with the ideology of the welfare society and its purported equality.

The director of the IGS, Professor Masako Ishii-Kuntz, expressed her belief that the gender equalities pursued in Norway and in Japan are the same, albeit a difference remains in the degree of achievement of this goal. In Japan, the word ‘gender’ has not been accepted into popular speech, and is usually avoided. The Japanese government translates the English phrase ‘gender equality’ with the phrase danjo kyodo sankaku, which literally means ‘men and women participating collaboratively’. This practice may form part of the cause of the difference in the popular understanding of gender equality and the approach taken towards it.

The higher rate of divorce among dual-earner/dual-carer couples was   explained by Ishii-Kuntz as, according to her research findings, a matter of course: divorce is the result of daily conflict on everyday matters, such as those arising due to sharing housework. She raised several other questions as well, such as how does the SKF presents the outcomes of its research to society? and what process do Norwegian parents follow in deciding how to prioritize aspects of their work and life?

At the end of her presentation, Ishii-Kuntz reiterated that Norway and Japan are targeting the same gender equality; however, she added, that transplanting Norway’s methods to Japan may not bring the same achievement. She stated her expectation that future collaboration would lead to comparative research, based on knowledge of cultural and historical differences, that would provide extensive opportunities for learning for both parties.

Professor Ryoko Kodama, first, noted that 48.3% of the members of the faculty members at Ochanomizu University are women, and this is far better than the national average, 25%. The patterns of gender difference found in the selection of study subjects in Japan are the same as those found in Norway. Kodama also stated that, as a women’s university with a science department, Ochanomizu University is willing to lead Japanese academia towards achievements in gender equality.

Ringrose’s presentation prompted Kodama to express surprise that the social integration of immigrants from different cultural backgrounds remained incomplete in Norway, despite its highly developed gender equality and its acceptance of diversity in sexuality. Measure intended to realize social diversity should not be limited to the mere ‘rights’ granted by the law but the need to efface cultural discrimination.

Kodama indicated a further similarity between Japan and Norway, noting that Japanese tend to place a high importance on traditional family and motherhood, and similar aspects appeared in Kristensen’s presentation on Norway. She closed her comments by reiterating the previously expressed expectation for ongoing discussion between the SKF and the IGS on the themes raised at this symposium.

The remainder of the discussion consisted of responses from the Norwegian scholars. The symposium was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about conditions of gender equality of Japan and Norway and to make more concrete the potential of the future research collaboration. An academic exchange agreement between the two universities is being hashed out, and a truly cooperative relationship is expected to spring up between the institutions.