Gender equality is going backwards. Can norm-criticality be of assistance?

Yesterday was the International Women’s day. And because of the %&/$ pandemic gender equality is going backwards globally. Violence against women is increasing, women are losing their jobs, women are becoming poorer, they die more often from pregnancy and childbirth, and fewer girls are attending school. (More sources: UN Women, ILO, UNESCO) When I see all the horrifying statistics I am completely distraught. And angry. This is ridiculous. We aren’t getting anywhere. If we are to create a climate just world we need an equal world. They go hand in hand. Our generation needs to fucking get it together. It’s not up to the younger generation. We need to do better. I practice feminism everyday. With my children, with my husband, with friends and colleagues. In my research. When people get comfortable and assume that we have already reached a good level of equality in Sweden that’s when we need to feminism even more. We need to acknowledge the inequality taking place right now; in our homes, at our workplaces, in healthcare, in urban planning, in the industry, in the academia. You name it. (Swedish news on backlash in Swedish gender equality: Sverige halkar efter inom jämställdhet: ”Vi lever på gamla meriter”, Svenska bolag halkar efter – snart sämst i Norden på jämställdhet, Bottenplacering fick oss att satsa på jämställdhet). I always felt quite dubious towards this day. One the one hand I think it’s important to acknowledge women and gender equality and on the other hand I think it’s absurd to dedicate one specific day for it. Yes, I know people’s attention span is short, it’s good to target and highlight equality in news media and public policy on certain occasions in time rather than spread it out over the year. I see a valid point communication wise. And of course from an activist point. To gather, get your voice heard, share your knowledge and be a part of a community who challenges status quo and is asking for a more equal society.

In my current research I am studying how norm-critical innovation can be an important means for triggering transformative change. Normative values and belief systems are embedded in the infrastructures we rely upon everyday. Agriculture, manufacturing, services. In Sweden main manufacturing activities are wood processing, paper, electronic equipment, industrial food processing and pharmaceutical products. Systems and activities I definitely don’t want to be without. Within these systems people reside, and in them you find the ideas and visions of how processing should be conducted and become successful. Ideas and visions that are then transformed into practices and products. Norm-critical approaches to wood processing can provide new knowledge on the norms surrounding wood processing and whether interventions are needed in order to develop for instance a more equal recruitment framework, a work environment that acknowledges different workers, or a product line that can reach new target groups. Norm-criticality is a normative, value-based framework built on the aim of reducing inequalities and increasing equality and equity. A norm-critical analysis doesn’t focus on gender per se but rather places all norms and values on the table in order to see which behaviours and practices uphold discrimination and bias. Gender can be one of these norms but not always. Most often there are several intersecting social markers, such as gender, class and ethnicity, that are affected by the structural discrimination. Norm-criticality is not without its faults but it shows promising results in how it can move from a theoretical stance of acknowledging one’s privileges and discriminatory behaviour towards an intervention that can change organizational structures on a mid-level. I just realized I want to relate norm-criticality with structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism but that’s a task for another day.

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