Day 2 of the Spring Plenaries 2018 ended with the update on the AER Equal Opportunities group activities and the inspiring sharing of examples of why equal opportunities matters for our network and for a more inclusive society.
Kenneth Johannesson (Värmland, SE), stepping in for Andrew Gibson (Hampshire, UK), Vice-President for Equal Opportunities, started by giving an overview of the composition of the AER Equal Opportunities group. Members of the group belong to the three Committees, one woman and one man for each one. It is important to stress that there is still one vacancy for a female on the Committee 2. The idea is to assure that equal opportunities is mainstreamed inside the work of each Committee. This is implemented tailoring a specific topic for each Committee:
- Committee 1, focus on to what extent there is still a gender pay inequality
- Committee 2, focus on factors determining equality of health across regions
- Committee 3, focus on tackling obesity often as a consequence of poor wellbeing
WHAT EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES IS ABOUT
It was useful to remind the audience what is meant by equal opportunities. The AER group agreed on the following common definition:
women and men have the same power to shape the society and their lives. This calls for the same possibilities, rights and obligations in all areas of life.
That being said, it is also important to make concrete examples of the impact of equal opportunities in our society. Everyone knows the #MeToo campaign by Alyssa Milano, hashtag that became a global campaign to question sexual harrasement and open up a space for women to share their stories.
That’s not all. Kenneth Johannesson explained also that equal opportunities can be seen from both a quality and quantity point of view. The gender salary gap and the women presence in the public debate are examples of quantitative figures while quantitive data deals more with opportunities for personal development and responsibilities.
EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES MATTERS FOR POLITICS
Why does the concept and practice of equal opportunities matter? For several reasons. The #MeToo campaign is an ongoing and great example bringing forward the message that a more equal vision of women and men decreases the rate of violence toward women, and represent an intrinsic human right.
What about politics? The Swedish Social Democrat Party made a short survey to get a better picture of gender participation in Sweden politics. Even if the new national government has an equal gender spread of ministers, the presence of women in the parliament is set at 43%, and is lower in city councils, where women represent less than a third of elected officials.
Kenneth Johannesson said that in the County Council of his region, Varmland (SE), there are around 40% of women but that there are only 2 women among the 18 leading politicians!
EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR OUR SOCIETIES
Society is not just politics. To have a broader picture, looking closer at the health care system gives again a picture in black and white. A survey from the SALAR, Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (2014) highlights first that in medicine the “norm” is man for health care system as research. That is regardless the higher risk of side effects and inappropriate combination of doses that women face. For a number of different diseases, from dialysis to alzheimer, the survey reveals medical unjustified differences in examination and treatments for women and men.
Violence against women is unfortunately a common issue. Kenneth Johannesson shared the experience of Varmland County (SE), where a handbook was prepared to increase the cooperation between the local police, the prosecutor, the correctional, the county, the municipality, the social insurance, the county government to address the problem.
Violence starts from a difference of power in a relationship. Statistics shows a difference regarding gender and violence: women are more exposed a domestic and psychologic violence while for men is more a question of violence in public spaces.
WHAT REGIONS CAN DO BETTER
Regional authorities can do a lot to change the situation. Support actions as prevention and protection, better cooperation among the different bodies as Varmland County (SE) handbook or simply giving more visibility to the problem are in full capacity of regional bodies.
Because the problem is still important, Kenneth Johannesson stressed some of the points to be improved from a regional perspective. Start having a better understanding of the causes: it is more relational or power structure? The prevention of use of ANDT, alcohol or drugs or tobacco is linked to violence and it should taken into account while adopting policies. And work on the abuser, to motivate for change for example with phone line for anger management, in some cases for the perpetrator in order to change behaviour.
Results of an effective equal opportunities policy could come with remarkable savings in the regional budget with potential re-allocation of resources for effective societal development or even tax reduction.