Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Gender Equality: What the Scandinavians can teach us

When looking at best practices of gender equality, research points to the Scandinavian countries.

Women living in there enjoy the full support of their governments. Childcare and education are covered, as well as parental leave at work. Parents who take time off to have children or support wives who have them are financially compensated as well. There are as many women working in this region as men and politicians make gender equality a priority.

How a region can successfully maintain such a balance by supporting both genders has been a point of discussion for some time now. The main contributing factor has been narrowed down to a historical tolerance for gender equality. Women have been honored throughout the region's development as much as men. They have served in wars, politics, and the labor force. But when you really think about it, it appears they also value cooperation.

Many western countries encourage partisanship. There are divisions in the political, religious and social realms. We believe this quality leads to healthy debates about the most contentious issues. We shrug it off as the democratic way, the right to think and believe freely. It is a time-honored privilege of course. But does it really have to cause so much divisions in society?

The Scandinavians have long been criticized for their socialist ways. Their governments fund many of the benefits they enjoy. This leads many to believe they don't enjoy the same democratic principles other progressive nations do. It's quite the contrary. But what they have learned is that a collective voice can rise above the divisions.

In the US, we suffer from an identity crisis. We are so passionate about holding tight to our ideas, we become paralyzed by them. We have this need to be understood and accepted, so we focus intently on getting others to listen to our views. Not necessarily a bad thing, except when it makes us tune out different viewpoints. We take this passion to the pulpit, the mosque, and the temple. We carry it on the campaign trail and to the Capitol chambers. We're even willing to get the media to accept our ideas, and if they're not interested we'll make them listen anyway. Because we have an opinion and we have a right to be heard, especially when it includes women's rights.

No doubt that any point is open to a debate here, but mention women and you create a firestorm. Abortions, domestic abuse, rape, the gender wage gap. Each of these topics has caused a war of words within the past year alone. As a democratic country, I'm not sure why any of them are still creating such a ruckus, especially in politics. Whether or not we agree with anyone's viewpoints, what we should focus on is cooperating to create an equal society. It's worked for the Scandinavians and it could work for us.

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