9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS04 Europe and Immigration

2009-09-05 15:30:00 2009-09-05 17:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 15:30 - 17:00 Public Opinion: Mutual Perceptions Among Majorities and Minorities Building I, 1E9

Gender Equality and Women's Rights - Contested Concepts in the Multicultural Nordic Countries

Nordic welfare states have been called "women-friendly" due to the broad range of social benefits and services provided for their citizens. The countries are also seen to be characterized by a specifically strong commitment to gender equality. Recently, however, feminist researchers have pointed out that questions related to multiculturalism and racism have challenged this positive view. During the last decade, the Nordic countries have experienced heated public debates concerned with issues of gender, ethnicity and sexuality, related to issues like "honour-related violence" and "female genital mutilation". "Gender equality" and "women´s rights" have been used to heighten anti-immigration rhetorics, and to create dichotomous divisions between the "gender equal" majorities and "patriarchal" minorities ("us" and "them"). Such trends are not limited to the Nordic countries, but cover most West European countries.

In this paper I use data from a recent study on violence to migrant women in families to elaborate on the themes of gender equality, welfare state nationalism and women´s rights as a multifaceted issue. The data consist of thematic interviews with welfare state professionals, as well as interviews with abused women who migrated to Finland from the Middle East, Africa and Post-Soviet states. The paper analyses how the interviewed professionals and authorities position themselves and their clients in relation to the gender equality discourse and how "race" and ethnicity feature in this. In some cases, for example, positions of superiority were created for Finnish female professionals whose role became to teach and guide migrant women to the "wonderland of gender equality". Furthermore, the paper discusses how the theme of gender equality and women´s rights appear in the narratives of the interviewed migrant women. In these narratives women´s rights are highly valued, but rather than appearing as values adopted in Finland (as many of the professionals present the case to be) women´s rights seem to have been important for many women already in their "home countries" and they engage in several kinds of acts to gain rights.