People on a ship enjoy the view of the Arctic Ocean
People on a ship enjoy the view of the Arctic Ocean
© Jessica Cook / Arctic Council Secretariat

Gender in the Arctic

There is not one definition of gender equality in the Arctic, and not all genders experience a changing Arctic equally.

Gender equality is a fundamental human right and component of sustainable development. As the Arctic undergoes rapid ecological, social and economic changes, the importance of gender and diversity issues has become increasingly evident.

What does gender mean in the Arctic?

There is no one definition or understanding of gender and gender equality in the Arctic. According to the Pan-Arctic Report on Gender Equality in the Arctic, the Arctic is inhabited by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples who may ascribe to definitions of gender ranging from ultrabinary—with exaggerated ideas of masculinity and femininity—to highly fluid non-binary understandings. Arctic Indigenous Peoples have varying views on gender, based on both their traditional cultures and the dominant Western cultures with which they interact. In some ways, modern conceptions such as gender fluidity are closer to how many Indigenous cultures viewed gender before binary concepts were introduced in Indigenous communities, as is stated in the Gender Equality in the Arctic Report.

The Norwegian Chairship and Gender Equality

Norway has put gender on its Arctic Council Chairship agenda under its People in the North priority. Norway's Arctic Council Chairship program states, "Norway will seek to ensure the continuation of the Arctic Council’s long-term work on gender, diversity and inclusion during its chairship."

Morten Høglund, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, and Solveig Rossebø, Senior Arctic Official for Norway, discuss gender stereotypes, why gender equality is important to the Arctic Council and how Norway plans to address gender equality during their Chairship.

The Arctic Council and gender equality

The rapid changes in the Arctic affect people living in the region in different ways depending on a variety of factors, including gender. The Arctic Council is in a key position to initiate research and encourage action to improve knowledge about gender equality in the Arctic.

In 2013, the Sustainable Development Working Group of the Arctic Council launched the Gender Equality in the Arctic (GEA) project. Now in its fourth iteration, GEA has three key objectives.

Increase awareness

Raise visibility and understanding of the importance of gender issues in the Arctic.

Improve access to information

Provide information that facilititates sustainable policymaking in the future.

Inspire action

Identify priorities and concrete strategies to increase diversity and gender balance in policymaking and decisionmaking processes.

Sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic are central to the work of the Arctic Council. Accounting for gender equality and gender-related perspectives is central to effective realization of this mandate, to addressing climate change and to ensuring sustainable development for all.

Mainstreaming gender in the Arctic

According to the Pan-Arctic Report on Gender Equality in the Arctic, gender mainstreaming calls for evaluating the implications of actions, policies, or program on women and men across all levels of society to ensure equal benefits and prevent inequality. Further, it calls for gender-specific interventions, for men or for women, as necessary temporary measures to correct past and existing discrimination.

All chapters in the report identified gender-based analysis and gender mainstreaming as necessary strategies for promoting and ensuring gender equality, including in social and economic development. The report also highlights that gender mainstreaming is a tool that should be used in Arctic governance. The report recommends that the Arctic Council systematically engage with and mainstream gender-based analysis across its work and encourage Arctic States to set an example at national and regional levels.

An example of mainstreaming gender can be found in the official title of Norway's leadership - the Norwegian Chairship of the Arctic Council. Chairship is a gender-neutral term, and it underlines gender equality – and inclusion more broadly – as an important feature of making Arctic communities attractive and comfortable places to live in, for everyone.

"The use of the term Chairship may be symbolic, but language is important and the term removes a small barrier for women currently or aspiring to be in a leadership role," said Morten Høglund, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials. "It may be a small gesture, but it’s a way to pave the way for something new and to transform."