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Perspectives of Equality: Work, Women, and Family in the Nordic Countries and EU. (Reviews/Comptes Rendus).

Laura Kalliomaa-Puha, ed., Perspectives of Equality: Work, Women, and Family in the Nordic Countries and EU (Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2000)

THIS IS A COLLECTION of conference papers focused on women, work, and equality in the Nordic countries and in the evolving European Union (EU). The quality of the chapters is very uneven. There is little evidence of an editorial hand beyond an introductory essay by Kevat Nousiainen, which provides a summary overview of women's changing position within the Nordic area and outlines some of the issues taken up in subsequent chapters. Although the title leads one to expect a discussion of women's equality in the Nordic countries -- Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden -- there is no systematic discussion of women's place in all five countries nor is any effort made to compare policies and performance in particular areas. The chapters that follow focus on particular countries and particular issues. Thus Elisabeth Vigerust's two chapters discuss employment legislation and the care allowance in Norway. Susanne Fransson focuses on pay equity in Sweden. There are several chapters on Finland -- Anja Nummijarvi 's on pay equity, Hannele Kajastie's on limited-term employment and two (by Johanna Korpinen and Minna Salmi) on the Finnish care allowance scheme. One section deals with women and the EU. The section includes chapters by Ruth Nielsen on sex discrimination, Jo Shaw on equality, citizenship, and the EU, Catherine Barnard and Tamara Hervey on affirmative action, and Essi Rentola on social security. There is no serious attempt to explore the question of the impact of EU directives and regulations on the Nordic countries, nor is the impact of a stronger Nordic presence on equality policy within the EU explored.

In these respects, the book compares unfavourably with another recent collection published in cooperation with the Nordic Council of Ministers, Equal Democracies? Gender and Politics in the Nordic Countries (1999). It would be a mistake, however, simply to dismiss this collection, which contains material of interest to scholars concerned with gender equality politics in the EU as well as to those interested in efforts at the national level to move beyond the male breadwinner model.

In terms of the EU, Nielsen's essay begins with an enticing thesis: that while Europe's policy-oriented institutions adopted a "mainstreaming" approach in the 1990s, the European Court (EC) has not. Unfortunately, the rest of the chapter reads like a draft version. Shaw's chapter puts the EC into a dynamic "contested" context. Hers is clearly the strongest contribution: a theoretically innovative and lucid chapter on "The Problem of Membership in European Union Citizenship." Read in conjunction with this, the chapters by Rentola, and Barnard and Hervey can be seen as providing more detailed case studies.

The Nordic countries are of broader interest in that it is there, albeit unevenly, that governments and labour market parties have gone the furthest in exploring alternatives to the male breadwinner model. Only one chapter -- Vigerust's on Norwegian employment policy -- explores efforts to institutionalize the solution Nancy Fraser (Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the "Postsocialist" Condition, 1997, chapter 2) feels would do the most to maximize gender equality: universalizing the caregiver model. Rather, the dominant trend has been toward the "universal breadwinner" model. These essays suggest that even here, the institutionalization is far from complete. The two chapters on pay equity highlight the persistence of a gender wage gap. Of particular interest however is Kajastie's contribution. Not only does she show that women are most affected by the growth of limited term employment, but the information she has secured on attitudes to women workers in Finland puts paid to any notion that employ ers there have absorbed the lessons of gender equality on the labour market.

Norway and Finland have also experimented with the "care giver parity" model to the extent that they have introduced "care allowances" that support parents (mainly mothers) who stay home until the child has reached the age of three. The "choice" to stay home in Norway has to be seen against the backdrop of a lower labour force participation rate -- and lower levels of child care provision than in countries like Sweden and Denmark. The impact in Finland, where the male breadwinner model never really took hold and a strong public child care system had been established, is of particular interest. The Korpinen and Salmi chapters are thus really useful for the data they provide on the (gendered) use of the care allowance scheme introduced in the 1980s. As Korpinen shows, the expansion of the care allowance has clearly coincided with a fall in women's labour market participation.

It should, however, be noted that during the period of deepest unemployment in the 1990s, a significant number of men also opted for the care allowance -- until unemployment insurance (UI) legislation was changed to require the deduction of the allowance from UI benefits. Does this suggest, as Korpinen hopes, that a care allowance system explicitly designed to promote gender equality might work? Such a vision is likely to remain but a dream until the "political will" exists to substantially mitigate the push and pull of increasingly globalized market forces. This is where the EU may come in. To the extent that the struggles to develop an ever more encompassing notion of citizenship, discussed by Shaw, succeed, real progress toward equality can be made.
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Author:Mahon, Rianne
Publication:Labour/Le Travail
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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