While the Nordic Cool 2013 festival has taken over Washington D.C., it’s not just music, dance and movies that are showcased. The American audience has got the possibility to experience also Nordic cuisine, discuss how does design impact our everyday lives and hear how Nordic countries battle the climate change.
On March 11th enthusiastic audience gathered to talk about gender equality and diversity in political representation. This Nordic Cool 2013 side event was organized at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and two Finnish Members of the Parliament, Satu Haapanen and Silvia Modig, joined the discussion.
Satu Haapanen and Silvia Modig presented some solutions that Finland together with other Nordic countries has taken to bring more women into politics. The American experts on the other hand shared experiences from a multicultural society on how to make diversity policies based on non-discrimination on grounds of sex, race, ethnic origin, religion, belief, disability, age and sexual orientation.
Satu Haapanen underlined that the Nordic countries are eager to share information and best practices - gender equality has been in the official agenda of Nordic cooperation already for decades. She also pointed out that women politicians are not carved from the same wood and just like their male colleagues they have many reasons to become politicians. Haapanen said that female quotas have not brought some many new issues into the political debate in Finland but they have brought more women into politics. And female politicians tend to pave the way to other women and younger candidates and therefore they often create a virtuous circle.
Michele L. Swers, Professor from the Georgetown University explained that there are three main reasons for the underrepresentation of female politicians in the United States. First of all people who have been elected into the Congress once tend to stay in power for a long time. Traditionally there are many males at the Hill. Secondly many states elect just one representative and the campaigns are centred mostly on the party the candidate represents, and therefore the competition for female candidates is tougher. Thirdly, and according to Swers most worryingly, the women in the U.S. have lack of political motivation. Now both Democrats and Republicans have noticed this problem and they focus specially on recruiting new female candidates.
Silvia Modig said that the girls who grew up in Finland during Tarja Halonen’s 12-year presidency do not see any glass ceiling, for them everything is possible. According to Modig Finnish politics have slowly gotten more and more diverse and one of her male colleague had been humorously complaining that at the moment it’s difficult to get any media attention if you are a white meat-eating male.
Just like governments can’t ignore women and leave them home, they can’t ignore different minority groups since for example in the United Stated the minorities won’t be minorities at all by 2050. Silvia Modig told that positive discrimination has worked very well in Finland and Truls Wickholm, a Norwegian MP summarized the common Nordic approach by saying that “You never get equality if you treat everybody equal”.
By the end of the discussion both the Nordic politicians and the American experts agreed that they can learn a lot from each other. Based on the Nordic experience, getting more gender balanced and diverse political representatives benefits the whole society.