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Changing equal opportunities in transition?: gender and equal opportunities in Kiruna, Sweden
Luleå University of Technology, Department of Business Administration, Technology and Social Sciences, Human Work Science.
Luleå University of Technology, Department of Business Administration, Technology and Social Sciences, Human Work Science.
2008 (English)In: Dilemmas for Human Services 2008: 12th International Research Conference, University of East London , 2008Conference paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This paper considers the effects on the local labour market, for both women and men, of the relocation of Kiruna, a large town in the north of Sweden. Whilst the area of Kiruna has been dominated by mining activity for many years this has now become the source of both problems and opportunities for those in the labour market, if not the whole community, as they ready themselves for the relocation of their town - presently situated above a number of deep mine shafts - to a safer area. Mining, transport and engineering industries flourish in Kiruna, with the current labour market and the relocation of the town expected to generate growth and a regional expansion. But the labour market for mining has been dominated traditionally by men, with women found predominantly in the public sector. A question that rises is how much will change, and who might be winners and losers, when the town relocates? Equal opportunities in labour markets have long been a part of political and philosophical debates in a number of European countries, not least Sweden where achievements of political gender equality debates have earned it an international reputation as a world leader in gender equality (Regeringskansliet, 2007). Indeed, in Sweden equal opportunities in respect of gender have been promoted as a part of the school curriculum since 1970 (SCB, 2006; Regeringskansliet, 2007). Subsequent to this and other achievements during the 1970's, social democratic politicians and other campaigners have striven to keep equal opportunities at the forefront of social awareness. This remained the case throughout the 1980's and 1990's, and into the new millennium (SCB, 2006). In 2004, for example, strategies for the integration of gender equality in Government Offices in Sweden were implemented, followed by "new" gender equality policies, that also focused on equal opportunities, in 2006 (SCB, 2006). However, in 2007 a "new" liberal approach to gender equality emerged, its significance albeit somewhat unclear. It is this on which the study focuses: changes to gender equity and labour markets in Kiruna. In order to do this we draw on early results from an empirical investigation involving a subset of data comprising 1,732 questionnaires sent to men and women respondents in the Kiruna local authority area. Although limited, the evidence suggests that the current gender discourse in Kiruna, at least amongst those that participated in the empirical research, is that the attitudes of women and men in respect of gender are decidedly similar. The indication from the data is that work is prioritised over the family and home. Yet while securing an income is widely agreed to be a joint responsibility, the evidence also suggests that the expectation that women will contribute jointly is lower. Moreover, whilst a majority of the participants agree that responsibility for taking care of the home and family is mutual, there is nonetheless a desire for men to increase their contribution. Even so, this does not mean that the men are expected to reduce the amount of paid work they do. These somewhat contradictory findings might be expected - people after all may well say one thing and then do another - but the findings do indicate that ideas of gender equity are in the minds of our respondents, even if they appear to co-exist in ways that are perhaps far from complementary, suggesting the need for an exploration that sets their responses in context as they shift between discourses of gender equity and the experience of inequity in their daily lives.This is important because it has been shown that imbalanced gender distribution has and continues to exist in the labour market in Sweden. This is despite apparent opportunities, choices and legal rights, with many men and women in Sweden ‘choosing' gender-segregated occupations and professions, raising questions about the degree of freedom in such choices even in a gender-friendly country that prides itself on equality of opportunity. Yet this appears to have predated the self-interest and competitiveness promoted by the "new" liberal equality-integration policies of the present neo-liberal coalition government concerning the freedom to choose between occupation, profession and parenthood. But what effect is this now having? In what ways have form(s) of gender discrimination persisted and are there new varieties, linked to neo-liberalism (Harvey 2005) at play? The current gender discourse allows women and men to make apparently free choices, with the prioritising of paid work over the home and family by both women and men indicating that parenthood is the least attractive option presently on offer. Indeed, the evidence suggests that denying oneself parental responsibilities - or maybe at least deferring - is becoming the norm. In order to do this parents are mutually dependent on one another and, in most cases, municipal day-care facilities provided through the offices of the local authorities. However, the present government is scrutinising the costs of this provision closely. It is issues such as these that the paper explores through a consideration of approaches to equal opportunity - a concept that is itself liberal in its promotion of equal opportunities to be unequal, in contrast to affirmative action and quotas - in changing contexts in Sweden as they impact on our case study of Kiruna

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
University of East London , 2008.
Research subject
Industrial Work Environment; Gender and Technology
URN: urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-32824Local ID: 76ea9e10-c69f-11dd-941d-000ea68e967bOAI: diva2:1006058
Dilemmas for Human Services : 11/09/2008 - 12/09/2008
Godkänd; 2008; 20081210 (allkin)Available from: 2016-09-30 Created: 2016-09-30Bibliographically approved

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