Friday, July 31, 2009


By Yvonne Bekeny in Finland
Gender equality in the Scandinavian countries is a given and manifest reality in almost all aspects of socio-political and economic life in that part of Europe. Family policies are gender sensitive oriented and parenthood policies are instituted such that gender relations are significant at least on the symbolic level. The extent to which this happens in actual sharing of tasks between mothers and fathers is still a question to be researched? Child rights including the rights to provision and care by both parents have been instituted. Scandinavian policies have undergone changes over the years to ensure fathers opportunities to take care of their families (Eydal, B. 2008). Although the mother is ‘the primary parent…the father can be a visiting care assistant’ (Lammi-Taskula in Ellingsater & Leira, 2006). Transferring part of parental leave is negotiated by the parents with no explicit suggestion to change the status-quo of gender relations. The mother’s primacy in childcare remains unchanged. Norway, Sweden and Iceland, have a more clear-cut orientation in promoting father care and roles sharing between women and men in infant care. Lammi-Taskula states that ‘Finland and Denmark on the other hand have vague positions in striving for gender equality in promoting father care’ (Lammi-Taskula in Ellingsater & Leira, 2006). Fathers take only a small portion of the whole parental leave period in all Scandinavian countries. Nonetheless, these gender balanced duties seem to be conditioned by socio-economic factors in the countries rather than by policy claims. There is a variation within the countries themselves and within the nature of employees; white-collar, blue-collar, minority, well-educated parents all have different views about sharing of duties equally over childcare. Lammi-Taskula maintains that “for large numbers of Nordic parents, unverified assumptions…about economic consequences of equal sharing of parental leave as well as cultural conceptions of gender and parenthood, especially motherhood, hamper negotiations both in the family and in the work place. Unreflected, unequal gender relations are naturalised and remain unchallenged” (Lammi-Taskalu in Ellingsater 2006).
These observations raise questions of the nature and limits to gender equality that the Scandinavian countries can declare. This idea is even more illustrated in the Norwegian context where parental leave arrangements are usually classified as policies enhancing gender equality. However, parental leave can be ambiguous with regard to gender equality objective, both regarding policy rationale and policy impact (Ellingsater in Ellingsater & Leira 2006). National variations of parental leave arrangements actually reflect different purposes, and generally are geared towards encouraging women to stay at home and promoting gender equality by supporting mother’s employment rather than shared responsibility in childcare. This idea is further substantiated by Boje (2006) who posits that even if mothers in all Scandinavian countries have taken up employment in large numbers, the traditionally gendered pattern of responsibility for child care remains in the large majority of families. In his article, he observes that although Denmark and Sweden seem to have the most equal division of caring responsibilities, even ‘the strong political commitment to equality has not fundamentally changed the gendered division of childcare. ‘Progressive and women friendly policies concerning work and family might modify the prevailing gender order but more profound changes can only be accomplished through comprehensive changes in norms and values concerning gender roles ( Boje in Ellingsater & Leira, 2006). Hence, looking at the above analysis it can be said that the question of gender roles in childcare in the Scandinavia is almost still a myth and in as much as the state would want to achieve gender equality in almost all spheres of life, the issue of gender equality in childcare is still a challenge to these states. Eydal (2008) remarks that if this myth could become a reality pretty soon, the new generation of children born in the family where both parents take care of children, will be the ones to break the vicious cycle of gender inequality.


By Yvonne Bekeny in Finland
Breastfeeding in general and exclusive breastfeeding in particular has been a natural practice in Finland for several years. The importance of breastfeeding is emphasized by health care staff, and families benefit a lot from this practice because of the welfare services provided by the state in addition to the gender sensitive approaches to child care. A look at two generations of parents in Finland reveals that like in most western countries, breastfeeding was not an issue or “fashioned as being sexy” some 25 years ago. I interviewed parents of two different generations in Finland to learn about how breastfeeding evolved and how fathers supported the mothers who breastfed.
Liisa is 53 years old and breastfed her two grown up children.

“Breastfeeding was not common and was not strongly supported by the health personnel 25 years ago. I breastfed my children because I felt that it was natural and I did that exclusively for six months before introducing liquids and soft food. I had so much milk that I extracted and donated to the hospital because milk banks in Finland generated income for women who gave some of their breastmilk to the hospitals to assist working mothers or others who had problems breastfeeding their babies. Hospitals made it easier by having health personnel go around from home to home to collect the milk for their first food banks. During the periods I breastfed our babies, my husband was totally supportive and helped me with house chores and carrying the baby sometimes so I can rest. He learnt how to change the diapers at night and assist me too with this task. Indeed, it was just a total agreement between my partner and me to have the children breastfed and to do it well”.
Sirpa is 53 years old and nurtured her two grown up children now aged 33 and 25.
Sirpa said, in her case, breastfeeding was very much a mothers business and her personal decision because it was not emphasized in their days like today. In her words, “To me, it was a burden because I did not get any support from my husband.” It was a religious and legalistic burden on women because the state and the church did not provide any kind of support to women in those days. The state and religious organisation considered that it was the right of the child, that a mother should breastfeed her baby. Many did not see how men could be associated to the task of breastfeed.
Annette is 23 years old and a first-time mother. Her baby is two years old already
“I did exclusive breastfeeding for four months before introducing water and supplementary food. However, I continued mixed feeding until our son was 11 months old. My husband was extremely supportive. He did the house chores and this permitted me to have enough time to breastfeed. My partner took the baby and padded him after breastfeeding and this help as father attachment to the baby. He gave me a lot of psychological support and I think most of my friends get that kind of support from their partners too”.
Matti is a 24 year-old first-time father and husband of is Annette
Matti during the conversation with Yvonne gave the reason why he supported Annette. “I supported Annette because I thought that our baby will benefit a lot from breastfeeding. I would give her pillows during the process for her to seat comfortably. I helped to make the place comfortable for her so that both mother and baby were in comfortable positions during the process. I used to get food for her because I knew that she needed to eat well to be able to breastfeed well too. I generally took care of her and made life easy for her. I tried to give her all the psychological support because it was tough for both of us. I did the house chores so she could have much time to rest”. This kept us closer in the interest of our baby boy.
Jessica is 25 year- old mother of two children aged 7 and 6 years already.

Jessica got her babies when “Breastfeeding was already quite common. “My husband was very helpful and did the house tasks, changing the babies’ diapers at night. Unfortunately, I had some allergies, so I could not practise exclusive breastfeeding completely. For this reason, my husband and I decided to introduce other foods quite early enough for the baby not to loss weight and my partner helped in preparing food for the babies too”.
Tiina is 31 years old has 3 children who are aged 7, 6 and 3.
The first two babies of Tiina were born with a difference of just one year. In Tiina’s words, “I got very good support from my husband although he didn’t stay up at night to help change the diapers. I used to have much milk and donated some to the hospital. My partner helped me in doing the extraction and because of his total support, we were able to breastfeed all three children exclusively for 1 year each before continuing with mixed feeding. Our first baby was breastfed for 14 months, the second for 20 months and the third for 29 months and this was thanks to the support I got from their father”.
The above interviews were conducted on Sunday, 3rd of May, 2009

Men's Initiative

By Yvonne BEKENY, MA, Development & Cooperation
When we talk of about the Scandinavian countries, we are referring to Denmark, Sweden and Norway, but in this infant and young child feeding investigation, Finland and Iceland have been included on the list because they also share similar features. In Ellingsater & Leira (2006) used as a reference, they have been as such. These are the countries in the Northern part of Europe which share close historical and cultural connections. They are welfare states which assume total responsibility for the welfare of their citizens.
The Scandinavian countries are reputable in their work and family policies that promote gender equality and through these policies, provide more services and benefits for households and therefore lessening the burdens of families. Welfare and care services facilitate the employment of women in these countries according to Leira in Ellingsater & Leira (2006). Leira further states that fathers as well as mothers are presumed to be capable of balancing employment and the care of children. Although very slight differences exist among the Scandinavian countries, they all provide mothers and fathers with ‘the choice of either publicly prolonged familised care or defamilised care services. Parenthood targets working and domesticated mothers Leira emphasized in Ellingsater & Leira (2006).
Parental Leave
Parental leave in the Scandinavia is quite a long period covered by the state for both father and mother. The duration of leave for the mother ranges from six months to ten months and even up to eighteen months in Sweden (Eydal, B. 2008). Paternity leave is a shorter period and it is three weeks in Finland and Iceland, and two weeks in other Scandinavian countries. On the other hand it was surprising to not that paternity leave has been abolished in Denmark. Nevertheless, the father can share the parental leave with the mother according to their mutual agreement. The leave period arrangement under such an agreement varies from country to country (Lammi-Taskula in Ellingsater & Leira 2006).
In principle, only one parent at a time remains at home on parental leave to take care of the child, while the other goes to work or study. However it is normal for the other parent to take regular annual leave and stay at home with the other during the same period. Paternity benefits in the scandinavian countries depend on the length of time the father has been in full employment. Lammi-Taskula in Ellingsater & Leira, mentions that ‘in Finland, a father living together with the mother of the child is entitled to parental leave and benefit regardless of the mother’s position in the labour market. In Sweden, even if the father does not leave with the mother, he is also entitled to parental benefit if their child lives in Sweden and the parents have shared custody. These forms of leave are part of the Social Insurance scheme; therefore earnings related compensation is paid during the leave period.
•Ellingsater, L. A. & Leira, A. (2006) (Eds) POLITICIZING PARENTHOOD IN THE SCANDINAVIA, Gender Relations in Welfare states. The policy press, UK.
•Eydal, Gudny Bjork (Associate Professor, University of Iceland, Reykjavic, Iceland) (2008)
•Lecture Delivered in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Jyvaskyla on the 19th March 2009.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gender & Food Security

WABA-FIAN Joint Gender Workshop Ends In New Delhi, India
By James Achanyi-Fontem
Cameroon Link
Africa was represented at the 5th WABA-FIAN Joint Gender Workshop held in Delhi, India from the 6th to 9th July 2009 by Cameroon, Uganda and Zimbabwe. James Achanyi-Fontem from Cameroon, Grace Mukasa from Uganda and Monica Muti from Zimbabwe, who are already involved in the promotion of infant and young child feeding in their respective countries were sponsored by IBFAN Africa and WABA.
Speaking during the international workshop, the principal trainer, Renu Khana, invited the participants’ to be diligent because the workshop did not going to get into the intricacies of gender and theory due to the short duration for the transfer of knowledge. To compensate the lapses, the resource persons put all the different tools for gender promotion at the disposal of the participants. Renu Khana added that 30% of the course was dedicated to getting participants know themselves because it is vital for planting the seeds of gender.
The participants exploited the application of gender in all aspects of their work and what gender meant for the breastfeeding movement as initiated and promoted by WABA. Working with men was introduced as a special aspect with relevance to gender and breastfeeding promotion to facilitate the expansion of WABA Men’s Initiative in all regions.
Renu Khanna, Paul Sinnappan and Flavio Valente led the participants to focus on gender in the larger context that takes into consideration the situation of the environment, cultures, political and socio-economic reflections within the communities. To achieve this, gender analysis was treated in line with the right to food and gender mainstreaming. Participants were guided on how to apply the ideas during counseling and exchanges as they conceived action plans for their different target groups and regions doable from 2010.
Two strategic plans of action were conceived that cover activities in the areas of gender and breastfeeding, gender and the rights to food. To better understand the issue of gender, Renu Khanna talked about what it is and what it is not. This was better understood when the attitudes of the male and the female were surveyed in groups and discussed in plenary putting in consideration gender natural and structural build ups.
The training was delivered by two experts in gender promotion strategies from India and Malaysia, Renu Khanna and Paul Sinnappan with the coordination of leader-icons from two international networks, Sarah Amin, Co-Director of WABA and Flavio Valente, Secretary General of FIAN.
The joint WABA-FIAN training workshop enabled the 30 breastfeeding and food rights advocates from the networks to raise awareness and sensitivity on gender issues back in their respective regions and countries. Participants were invited to include gender on their work agendas by duplicating sensitization talks and conducting exchange sessions focused on gender challenges to breastfeeding and food rights issues.
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, WABA and the Food First Information and Action Network, FIAN, were assured during the evaluation session that the concept of gender and gender mainstreaming, tools and skills of gender analysis of the course are understood. The development of gender analysis of breastfeeding and rights to adequate food after the training in the respective regions and countries now should now become a reality.
Participants returned with resource materials for the application of gender concepts and the development of gender sensitive strategies and work plans. Within the context of the training, participants learnt about how to differentiate between sex and gender, recall dimensions of gender as a system, enumerate and list gender aspects of breastfeeding and rights to adequate food. The men and women were able to list men’s role and responsibilities in appropriate infant feeding and promotion of rights to adequate food before separating from New Delhi, India last July 10.
The workshop agenda covered issues related to gender and sex, gender as a system, gender aspects of breastfeeding and rights to adequate food, gender analysis frameworks, economic and political contexts of women, men’s involvement, role and responsibilities, gender mainstreaming and gender indicators. The participatory training methodologies included exercises, games, group discussions and presentations, role plays, experience sharing by participants and others.