Last week, Sweden’s new Gender Equality Agency invited equality ministers from around the world to Stockholm for a conference. But the ministers were not gathered to talk, as usual, about women. They were there to talk about men.
The new agency’s director Lena Ag is leading a staff of 50. Their task will be to review the effectiveness of the country’s current gender policies — through rigorous, data-driven analysis — and to bring together a multitude of disparate initiatives into a coherent gender equality strategy.
The point is not to implement new projects or write new policy, but to enable other government departments to be more scientific and evidence-based in their programming. “We are supposed to be the hub for knowledge and data on gender equality for policymakers,” Ag said.
“It’s almost banal to say, but gender equality is not only about women and women’s conditions in life”
Alongside Sweden’s national gender policy objectives — women’s economic equality, health, safety and power — the first priority issue the agency will provide more data and analysis on is how to involve more men in the struggle for gender equality.
“It’s almost banal to say, but gender equality is not only about women and women’s conditions in life,” Ag said.
This means testing new interventions like classes about consent and relationships for boys in schools, programs to get more men into professions like childcare, or parenting training to encourage men to be more active fathers. The need for the scientific evaluation the gender agency will provide is particularly pressing around interventions like these, many of which are fairly new and lack evidence.
“We need to talk about men’s privilege, men’s power and how it is being used”
But the agency’s plans for an early focus on men are also controversial. Some women’s rights organisations, like the Coalition of Feminists for Social Change, worry that women leaders, activists and victims are increasingly being sidelined. The gender equality movement has been, up to now, one of the few spaces in which women have been undeniably at the centre.
“It’s an obvious dilemma,” Ag admitted, “I come from the women’s rights movement and without that — globally and here nationally — we would never have achieved what we have today,” she said.
But, she argued, there’s a limit to how far the gender equality movement can go if it does not involve those at the top of the hierarchy.
“Now we need to take another step forward. And to do that, we need to bring in men. The #Metoo movement has put this sharply into the public eye. We need to talk about men’s privilege, men’s power and how it is being used,” Ag said.
(Picture credit: Flickr/chuddlesworth)