Tag Archives: gender

Cyrus Rohani & Behrooz Sabet (eds.), Winds of Change: The Challenge of Modernity in the Middle East and North Africa. (London: Saqi Books, 2019)

From a Western point of view, one of the key challenges facing us is, how the Islamic MENA region can find peace, modernize and contribute positively to human life on Earth. The Arab spring brought hope for positive changes:

“The Arab spring has awakened the world to the legitimate aspirations of Muslims worldwide to democracy – inspired by western values yet infused by Islamic ideals,” writes Dr. Christopher Buck, an independent scholar and attorney from the USA, in one of his essays in Winds of Change (p. 87). Unfortunately, such legitimate aspirations have not yet been met, and the MENA region is as war-torn as ever.

Wind of Change contains 15 essays written by 11 intellectuals with the perspective that Islam’s spiritual ethic and sense of justice has something valuable to offer to the world, as it did during the “Islamic worlds flourishing sociocultural era” (750-1250) (p.8). This period is referred to as the Golden Age.

The editors, management consultant, MBA, Cyrus Rohani and Dr. Behrooz Sabet believe that changes are under way in the Middle East. Rohani writes that dictatorships relegate people “to the level of animals” which “defies the purpose of their creation” (p. 45). At the same time “our planet is suffering owing to our betrayal of the trust bestowed on us as a gift from our Creator” (p. 48). He envisions the “establishment of a planetary civilization based on organic unity of mankind” (p. 49).

Six narratives deal with timely issues such as environmental challenges, press freedom, gender inequality, interfaith dialogue, education and the Arab spring, while the others apply more historical / philosophical perspectives. The latter strive for a common ground on which the Middle East and the West can meet and work together in solving global problems. Generally, the essays are written with a deep appreciation for Islam, a critical view on traditional Middle Eastern leaders, and a taken-for-granted view on the West. The book suggests that there is a need for spirituality, materialism and science to be integrated to create a global society with human dignity, happiness and appreciation of differences.

An interesting example of the search for common ground is Dr. Ian Kluge’s discussion of reason in Islamic and Western philosophy. Kluge, who on websites are presented as Canadian Baha’i scholar, writes:

The re-appropriation of rationalism is the major goal of numerous Muslim thinkers wishing to revive the fortunes of the Islamic world in face of modern challenges. However, they want to find the basis for such changes in Islam itself without having to depend on ideas imported from, among other things, the European Enlightenment.” (p. 155)

Islam has the concept of ijtihad that, according to one Islamic tradition, implies “free debate on matters to everyone” (p. 145). Kluge quotes the Qur’an for saying: “Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason” (p. 146), and he compares the spirit of this text to Immanuel Kant’s answer to the question about enlightenment (p. 150).

Throughout history, Muslims have disagreed on who should be allowed to practice independent spiritual reasoning and search for truth. Some believe that “ijtihad may only be practiced by mujtahids,” while others do not agree with this limitation (p. 151). In Islam there is for example a long tradition for reasoning stemming from the Muʿtazali theology of the eight century, modernized by Jamal-al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) and Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905). Originally the philosophers drew on different sources of inspiration, including Greek philosophy such as Aristotle’s logic of deductive reasoning. However, in the 12th century, the limitations of philosophy were exposed in the book The incoherence of Philosophers (p. 161), and the value of ordinary people’s reasoning was questioned by people in power.

Kluge argues that acceptance of individual reasoning and discussions can revitalize Muslim societies. As for international cooperation, he suggests that the “considerable common ground between Kantian understanding of ‘enlightenment’ and what we find primarily in the Qur’an, and secondly, what is offered by Mu’tazalism” (p. 163) can create a shared understanding that will benefit both the MENA region and the West. However, when Muslims use reasoning, they do not necessarily consider Western scientific methods superior, because they do not share the materialistic worldview. When scientists study the material world, their results say obviously little about important spiritual issues.

Buck is the author of three analyses related to norms, ethics and law. One is about good governance, one about the possible development of a shared moral compass for Sunnis and Shi’is, and the third about testing the value of Sharia laws. In each case, the methodology is the same. Buck interprets key Islamic texts and discusses Islamic practices. For example, he interprets basic principles for good governance from a letter written by the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Caliph Ali, who is respected by both Sunnis and Shi’is. This respect is important because his idea is to create a set of shared Islamic guidelines for good governance. He interprets the spirit of each paragraph in the letter and relate it to present-day situations.

In the two other essays the key text is the Qur’an. In one of these essays, he asks: “does Islamic law mirror Islamic ethics”? (p. 169). A Pew Research Center survey cited in his article found that most Muslims in many countries approve of executing apostates. Buck writes: “There is a clear contradiction between the sharia law of apostacy and Islamic claims to ‘freedom of religion” and to a “well-known Qur’anic verse: ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion” (p. 176). Buck then discusses this difference and Islamic scholars’ writings about it.

Many of the essays in this volume can best be considered sincere and informed opinion pieces. Not all of them follow a strict academic form. But they bring fresh ideas and perspectives to important debates.

Underemployment of Immigrant Women in Iceland – A case study

The number of immigrants living in Iceland has been steadily on the rise for the last decade; between 2007 and 2017, the percentage of immigrants living in Iceland has increased from 7.6 % to 11.9% (Statistics Iceland, 2017a, 2017b). Akureyri, the largest town in the North of Iceland with considerable industry and service, has seen its immigrant population double in the last decade, and is now home to 931 immigrants for a total of 18 488 inhabitants (Statistics Iceland, 2017a, 2017c). New research from the University of Akureyri[1]shows that immigrant women are the most vulnerable people in the labour market in Iceland. Many occupy positions that do not fit with their level of education; despite having received higher education than men. For example, in the survey conducted 30% of immigrant women in Akureyri answered that they are in employment that does not suit their background, compared to the same answer by only 8% of Icelandic women. This difference has a direct impact on the income: just 11% of immigrant women answered that they earn 300 000 ISK or more per month, compared to 37% for Icelandic women and 22% for immigrant men.

We begin the discussion by reviewing the literature on migration, labour market and gender, with an emphasis on the Icelandic context. Then, we introduce the context for this study and describe the participants and the methodology, before we explore the immigrant women’s thoughts on their employment situation.

Migration, gender and the labour market in Icelandic and international research


From 2000 onwards, increased job opportunities in construction and the opening of the labour market to citizens of the new member-states of the European Union were the main reasons behind the increase of immigrants working in Iceland. However, migrants coming to work in Iceland were not seen as active participants in the long-term economic prosperity of the country but rather as a temporary labour force. Support for the integration of immigrants by the government was scarce, the issue was mostly left to private initiatives and a policy was constructed only in 2007 (Skaptadóttir & Loftsdóttir, 2016).

At the peak of the Icelandic economic boom in 2008, the Directorate of Labour reported that 9% of the Icelandic workforce was composed of immigrants (Skaptadóttir, 2014). Data from 2010 shows that the immigrant unemployment rate was 14.5%, which was twice as high as the rate for Icelandic citizens, as immigrants were often employed in the boom-bust sectors (ibid.). The chance of obtaining a new job after the crisis decreased for immigrants, as their previous work experience abroad was not always recognized. Before the crisis, the lack of knowledge of the local language was not seen as a big issue for securing a job in Iceland, but afterwards it proved to be an important problem. Funding for language courses became scarce (ibid.).

A survey among immigrants showed that three-quarters of the respondents thought it would be difficult to get a job in Iceland: 71% named the lack of fluency in Icelandic as a reason, 62% assumed that employers were not eager to hire foreign workers, and 41% indicated that they felt they were not well connected within Icelandic society (Wojtynska et al., 2011). There were a growing number of immigrants seeking aid after the crisis; a study showed that a third of those who received help from charities were foreign citizens, and the most were unemployed immigrants from Poland. However, most of them had lower income but more education than the Icelanders receiving aid (Dofradóttir & Jónsdóttir, 2010). It is suggested that accomplishments and achievements are the predicators of immigrants’ personal self-esteem (Nesdale & Mak, 2003).

Immigrants are mostly invisible in regional development policy and application (Júlíusdóttir, 2010). Even though migrant workers are a growing group in all regions of Iceland, they are presented as a simple labour force, not as a source for economic prosperity (ibid.). They are absent from the discussion on entrepreneurship, despite research showing that 26% of immigrants are interested in starting their own businesses and 51% having graduated from a university (Jónsdóttir et al., 2009).

There is hardly any research on the relationship between immigration, gender equality and the labour market in Iceland, however it is a topic that has been looked at extensively at the international level. In the literature on migration and gender, female employment displays the most negative associations in host countries (Fortin, 2005) and the gender gap between men and women, as well as between natives and immigrants, is widely recognized (Brekke & Mastekaasa, 2008). Immigrant women experience “double earnings penalty” (Hayfron, 2010) from their status as immigrants and as women, and a Norwegian study suggests that gender has more effect than ethnicity on inequality and disadvantage within the labour market (ibid.).

Regardless of Iceland’s stereotypical portrait as a gender equality nation, the persistence of a gender-segregated labour market remains (Júlíusdóttir et al., 2013). Women have less access to the labour market, are under-represented in most companies, do not often hold management positions and earn less than their male counterparts (Jafnréttistofa, 2012); the opportunities for immigrant women in the labour market are even worse (Júlíusdóttir et al., 2013).

So far social scientists have not combined the issues of gender equality and immigration in Iceland as one, when they need to be tackled together to address the issue of equality. It is argued that the discourse on equality in Iceland “has primarily emphasized gender and class, and needs to be reformulated pertaining to the multiple inequalities linked with recent immigration” (Skaptadóttir, 2015).

The consequences are that often immigrants are not incorporated in the (gender) equality discourse. In the Nordic countries there is a division between the “we—the Nordic” and the “gender-unequal immigrants” (Þorvaldsdóttir, 2011). Even though the Nordic countries are represented as being in a leading position regarding matters of equality, negative stereotypes of both immigrant men and women hold a strong position (ibid.). In the last two decades, there has been a shift in research from gender equality to equality for all (Þorvaldsdóttir, 2010), but social scientists and policy-makers are still hesitant in exploring this concept, as they fear that it will push the gender equality issue behind the scenes (ibid.).

Methodology and participants

This study uses a narrative methodology (Coffey, A. & Atkinson, 1996). The authors realized interviews with immigrant women and thereafter analysed them by using discourse analysis. Data were gathered through semi-structured in-depth interviews in which eight immigrant women recollected their employment experiences in Iceland. The participants were recruited on a voluntary basis as long as they suited our criteria, which were to live in Akureyri, to consider oneself an immigrant woman, to have formal education and to be in employment that did not reflect your education. Alþjóðastofa Akureyrar helped with the recruitment of participants from various countries of origin and occupations. Women came from various backgrounds, their age varied from 25 years old to 56 years old and seven of them were married or in a relationship. Half of the participants were highly educated: four of the women held a M.A degree. The interviews mostly took place in their home, although a few participants preferred to be interviewed in a café. The interviews were conducted in English, and one interview was conducted in Latvian; the interviews were recorded and accurately transcribed, and the interview in Latvian was translated into English. The interviews lasted on average an hour. Participants were asked about their background, their education, their migration stories, and their experiences of employment in Iceland. All the interviews were conducted by the authors; the names used in this article have been anonymised to preserve confidentiality.

The challenge of recognizing foreign education in Iceland

One of the key problems immigrant women face is the difficulties relating to the recognition of foreign education. Most of the participants reported using the support available from Alþjóðastofa Akureyrar, the Intercultural Centre of Akureyri, where they received guidance and help regarding the recognition of their education. Several received help from the staff at Símey, a lifelong learning centre and umbrella organisation promoting adult education in the Akureyri region. Neither of these two organisations is directly responsible for the recognition of education. Four participants considered taking courses at the University of Akureyri in order to either gain new knowledge or to take extra courses to get their past education recognised or supplemented. One participant with a nursing degree joined the nursing program at the University of Akureyri, but could not complete it, owing to the fact that her proficiency in Icelandic was limited.

I was talking to someone at Símey to recognize my qualification and I stopped somewhere in the middle… because of the time… […] this paper stuff… I just left it behind for the moment. […] I am not sure how it is working here, with my job and my qualification. (Interview 7)

The geographical location of Akureyri can also be an impairment for practical matters related to the recognition of education, as all the important institutions are in the capital. It is particularly problematic for immigrants who do not possess very good Icelandic or English language skills. Several of the participants commented on the long and fastidious process of getting their education recognised, arguing that the Icelandic administration was being slow and over particular, always requesting new documents or being selective regarding the words employed in the translations. One of them has been in the process to get her nurse diploma recognised for six years and has even employed a lawyer to help her, but still hasn’t succeeded. Another woman, also with a nursing diploma, seems to be unaware of all the procedures needed in order to become a practising nurse in Iceland, as there is no systematic guidance provided to skilled immigrants to help them secure a position matching their qualifications in the labour market.


We sent it [the diploma] to Reykjavik, [The employee from Alþjóðastofa Akureyrar] called but they said: “It is not enough, you need many more documents with you.” (Interview 6)


Here is my diploma, it’s looking like that. And the first time [I tried to have it recognized in Iceland] they told me, because in [my native language] they wrote here I was declared a nurse in assistant social and pedagogy, and they say: “No, you are not a nurse, you are a social worker.” And I said: “No, it’s how they translated, because I am a nurse!” […] The problem is, on my papers, there isn’t [mention of] this law, and it has to be exactly like this. It doesn’t matter what I can bring, it doesn’t matter, they want this. […] I must have this law on the paper. (Interview 2)

In general, individuals who have studied abroad have the possibility to have their education recognized in Iceland. If the purpose of recognition is to prepare for further studies or to compare qualification levels, an application can be sent to the relevant education institution or to the Naric/Enic network[2] in Iceland. If the purpose of recognition is to acquire rights to work within a regulated profession in Iceland, the applicant must apply to the appropriate competent authority in this country (Recognition of Professional Qualifications, n.d.). Different Icelandic government ministries administer the recognition of credentials that refer to their various jurisdictions; for example, certification of teaching degrees, for teachers of pre-school, compulsory, and upper secondary classes are handled by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture, and regulations for nurses are enforced by the Ministry of Health in Iceland through the Icelandic Nurses’ Association.

In order to have foreign education recognized in Iceland, three main policies are in force:

  • Act on the Recognition of Professional Qualifications no. 26/2010
  • Regulation on the recognition of professional qualifications for working in Iceland no. 879/2010
  • Regulation on the recognition of qualifications for working in regulated trades in Iceland no. 585/2011 (ibid.)

In general, for foreign education to be recognised in Iceland, an application must be submitted together with a copy of the diploma from the home country along with a translation in Icelandic, English or a Nordic language. The applicant must provide official confirmation and information about his experience working in the profession he intends to practice (Assessment and recognition of vocational qualifications, n.d.).

There are various institutions and organizations in Iceland that create and use assessment tools in order to validate education and experience, especially in technical jobs. In 2001, the Education and Training Service Centre (ETSC, in Icelandic Fræðslumiðstöð atvinnulífsins) was set up for this purpose. The Centre funds education and training courses, offers counselling, and validates diplomas; it developed methods for validation of non-formal and informal learning. The role of the ETSC is to ensure quality and guarantee that the approved methodology is implemented in various work sectors, as well as to manage the implementation of the validation process in new sectors (The Education and Training Service Centre, n.d.). This organization has been a forerunner in initiating and implementing work assessment programs for technical jobs (Renner, 2010).

Nurses have often been needed on the Icelandic work force so provisions regarding recognition and certification are in place (ibid.); there are various regulations that one has to comply with before receiving certification. Two participants in the research, one from the EEA (European Economic Area) and one from outside the EEA, were nurses who had not yet gained recognition for their education. In order to work as a nurse in Iceland one is required to have an Icelandic nursing license. The main requirements for getting a nursing license in Iceland are:

  1. To provide certified proof of your citizenship in an EEA country/ a certified copy of your permanent address. A certified copy of your passport is sufficient.
  2. To provide a certified copy of your diploma or nursing degree showing that you are registered as a nurse in your home country.
  3. To provide a certified copy of your nursing license. This certificate must not be older than three months to ensure its up-to-date validity. (Icelandic nursing licence, n.d.)

To recognise nursing diplomas, requirements differ between member and non-member states of the EEA. Nurses that are citizens of a state member of the EEA are requested to submit a letter of good standing, which includes a statement that their training for basic qualifications comply with the training standards laid down by EEA; they are also requested to provide proof that they have a valid nursing licence in their home country. Nurses that are citizens of a state that is not part of the EEA must submit a certified copy with full details of the programme and content of the nursing studies. The Directorate of Health also asks the prospective holders of Icelandic nursing license to be able to speak Icelandic (ibid.).

Supporting immigrant women with their carrier goals


The interviews reveal that due to current work and family situations, not all of the participants are very flexible. If their current life situation allowed more flexibility, especially concerning economic aspects, they would have more possibilities to increase their skills, knowledge, and experience. One of the participants had applied to university to obtain education in a different field that would provide her with a new career, but was then offered paid employment; her financial circumstances constrained her from pursuing new education in favour of the offered work position. Another example shows that one of the participants had an opportunity to have an internship related to her education, but she could not take it because having a paid position was essential for her, although there was a strong gap between her education and the aforementioned position.

She told me that if I wanted to I could stay [at this government institution for an internship], because it is, for example, the type of job I could do. […] But then I got a job, so I don’t have time anymore. (Interview 1)

With the support from the current employer, there is a greater probability for immigrant women to get their education recognised at a fast pace. One of the participant’s boss contacted the adequate institutions to have her credentials recognised, so she could benefit from having a wage equivalent to her education. Another participant implied that she could be promoted to work as a nurse, for which she has education from her home country, instead of working as a carer. Both her career and financial situation would improve if she could be in a position more suitable to her education. Her employer seemed interested in changing her position, however, she wasn’t provided with any help. Another participant noted that she had an idea of what she would like to do and it would suit her education but this employment wouldn’t provide her with enough income to support herself and her family due to unavailability of full-time positions during winter season. Two participants mentioned that they wouldn’t like to have employment that would involve work outside the “regular” workday hours as that would interfere with having quality time with their children.


Because I made this one here [because I volunteered], they accepted me. It was very difficult to go inside this care system. (Interview 2)

The capital area, which is home to large number of immigrants, is the place where most institutions and support organisations are located. Nevertheless, there are some institutions available for support of immigrants in Akureyri. Five of the participants mentioned the University of Akureyri in connection with education related opportunities. Only one of them had tried to pursue further education there, however without success. Many had taken language classes or planned to enrol in future courses in Símey. Moreover, some had received help there regarding the recognition of their credentials. The Intercultural Centre of Akureyri was named as an important institution to receive support relating to education recognition, future career planning, social support and activities (organising cultural events etc.). The Directorate of labour was also noted, but with the least significance; some of the participants didn’t believe they could obtain valuable support there.

I went to the Vinnumálastofnun [job centre] and I told that I was looking for a job. They did nothing. […] So I asked: “Do you have some plan how to help us [immigrants who are looking for jobs according to their education]?” He said: “No. […] We have some plans but nothing in general in Akureyri.” (Interview 8)

Some of the women noted the importance of social networks in connection to employment opportunities. As the length of time spent in Iceland varied between them, it influenced the size and nature of the networks. Sometimes it was clear that the participants have networks of different quantity and quality available, even when length of stay was similar.

There is probably some jobs available, but I just don’t know about them. (Interview 1, in Iceland for 7 years)


I think friends can help you most to find a job. (Interview 8)

Creating networks in the new country of residence is crucial for integration as it may help provide basic requirements for the life in the new environment (Ryan et al., 2008). However, some networks may put migrants into specific ethnic sections, thus resulting in migrants remaining within bonds of trusted family and friends from the country of origin (ibid.).The ability to speak the local language and to communicate with people from a wide spectrum is important not only in improving employment opportunities but also in gaining a fuller understanding of the new society (ibid.). It is suggested that despite the length of time since the migration, it is apparent that the dynamics of networks can vary (ibid.).

 “I wasn’t feeling that my Icelandic is that good”: the language problem

Upon their arrival in Iceland, all of the participants used English for communication. Several participants also noted that they had had to improve their English knowledge when they arrived or are still trying to improve. However, for many of them, English is still widely used as a means of communication in everyday life. This may be the result of better language skills in English rather than in Icelandic, and most of the participants seemed more confident to speak in English, rather than Icelandic.

The participants feel that being accepted into the Icelandic community is no easy task, but it is uncertain whether the barriers are set up by the native population or by the immigrants themselves. In immigration contexts, language is extremely important both as a medium for everyday communication and to secure a position in the new labour market (Esser, 2006). Language and accent are symbols of “belonging and foreignness” (ibid.). One of the participants believed that it takes five to six years to adjust to a new society and become part of the group; she had been in Iceland for seven years, however, when asked about whether she felt accepted, she answered ambiguously:

The others [co-workers] are complaining that we don’t speak the language good, we don’t know exactly the culture and how they are doing, and what…           [I’ve been here] seven years. I know the culture… […] If they are thinking “she is a foreigner, she doesn’t speak good Icelandic”, it’s the energy they are transmitting me… (Interview 2)

Four participants explicitly expressed the issue of not having high proficiency in Icelandic. Two of them declared that there is a lack of opportunities to practise the language. However, at least five of eight women had taken part in at least one Icelandic language course and showed interest in participation in more courses. Moreover, four of the participants enthusiastically expressed willingness to improve their skills and knowledge of Icelandic.

I will take a course and at home I need to learn one, two words. [..] I’m learning. I like it. (Interview 6)


Three women mentioned the need or the wish to speak Icelandic “perfectly”. They made an unreasonable comparison between the native speakers and the non-native speakers of Icelandic. Maladaptive perfectionism characterizes people who experience exaggerated concerns about making errors, doubt their actions, and feel anxious; adjustment is negatively influenced by this psychological trait and emotional difficulties are also created (Rice et al., 1998). Maladaptive perfectionism can also be associated with low self-esteem (ibid.).

There are enough Icelanders to work there who speak perfect Icelandic. (Interview 6)

Language learners generally feel that anxiety is a major obstacle to be overcome in learning to speak another language; language learning itself is an unsettling psychological experience as it threatens a person’s self-concept and worldview (Horwitz et al., 1986). If the women experience low self-esteem, are they in a position to evaluate their language skills adequately? Negative self-image could make them underestimate their competence.

There is clear evidence that immigrant women lack confidence in utilizing their current level language skills. One participant mentioned a past event where her lack of knowledge caused a small incident at work, while another woman admitted that her co-workers expressed dissatisfaction with her language skills, although she also had other types of disagreement with them. However, they were not the women who communicated most negatively about their language competency. As there were only two concrete examples of problems caused by lack of language skills, low self-esteem seems as big of a problem as the actual lack of proficiency in Icelandic. Many of the women interviewed showed fear of rejection caused by low self-esteem rather than real examples of rejection.

I don’t think I could do it [a job I saw advertised] because I don’t have so good Icelandic to talk with Icelanders if there is some problem or something…I was stressed about it and he [my partner] is angry with me because he thinks I have enough knowledge of Icelandic to do that, but I am still… I didn’t feel comfortable. […] I think they will prefer some Icelander, I honestly think they will prefer someone who is Icelandic. (Interview 1)

Fluency in the local language facilitates integration to a new environment (Esser, 2006). Therefore, it is important to be given the opportunity to learn the language. The primary institution in Akureyri to learn the Icelandic language is Símey. There are three levels available; however, two of the participants mentioned that courses they had applied for had not taken place due to an insufficient number of participants for the course. One participant mentioned the cost of the course as the main reason for not taking part. However, it wasn’t clear whether this participant was aware of the possibility to get partial reimbursement of expenses for Icelandic courses from her trade union. There are additional options to learn Icelandic in Akureyri: Alþjóðastofa Akureyrar, the Intercultural Centre of Akureyri, offers support to find volunteers keen to assist immigrants practice Icelandic; there are teachers who offer private lessons, however the prices for them are usually very high; there are websites to improve your knowledge of Icelandic.

Over recent years there has been different activities for immigrants to learn Icelandic in Akureyri. For example, Zonta’s International Education Fund funded a language course for immigrant women with children; the Salvation Army in Akureyri offers support to learn Icelandic; there is an Icelandic chat group at the municipality library of Akureyri; reading and homework assistance is available for primary school pupils (attending first and second grade) at the municipal library. In 2015 and 2016, there were two workshops entitled Icelandic through artistic expression, in which immigrants expressed their experience of living in Iceland.

Self-confidence or how immigrant women doubt their capabilities

Six out of eight participants are experiencing issues that are possibly caused by low self-esteem. These participants were overly critical not only about their language skills but also about their capabilities in general, overall showing lack of self-worth. Some of the participants were aware of their lack of self-confidence, but there were also examples where women didn’t see the connection between high self-esteem and ability to forward in their lives and careers.

When people see that you are very quiet, you are not sure of yourself, they can’t or don’t want to accept you to work. Maybe this is the main problem. (Interview 5)


I think that I am not that confident also…you have to be very strong if you want to have a business. (Interview 7)


I think there are people who don’t speak Icelandic but have better jobs, but I don’t know where the key is, I didn’t find out… (Interview 1)

Some of the participants are unable to see or doubt the existence of possibilities that would help them to improve their career prospects. The relative long time spent under-employed in Iceland can make immigrant women look negatively towards the future. Our past experiences influence our present actions; we know our competences and capacities based on past experiences (Strandell, 2016). ‘‘Previously I tried being X by doing Y, which failed, making me feel ashamed. It is unlikely that I will succeed in doing X today, either.’’ (ibid: 6).

Honestly, I think I won’t make more money than what I am on now. (Interview 1)


I don’t think I can find a job [according to my education]. (Interview 4)

For some lack of confidence has influenced their career advancement, which has caused tension at home. The partners feel unhappy as their help and support is not sufficient to improve the women’s self-confidence. Some women even mentioned disagreements with their partners caused by this. Most of the women expressed willingness to have employment rather than being at home, as with their jobs they contribute to the family’s economy, meet new people, develop skills and gain work experience.

[I] start to fight with my husband, crying, not meeting anybody it’s not good for me, I want to do something… (Interview 2)


[My husband] says: “You put your head down, [but] you must look in the eyes!” (Interview 5)

The interviews revealed that several women are influenced greatly by what others suggest and say about them. Social factors can have an important role in valuating oneself. Recognition of others is important because it verifies the successful depiction of one’s identity (ibid.). Therefore, it is sometimes helpful to receive encouragement and support to pursue a goal that is not easily achieved. However, self-esteem can be deteriorated by discouragement.


I just never think that someone could do something to give me a job. I have to do it myself, […] I need someone to push me, my husband did but that wasn’t enough. (Interview 4)


I was very nervous [..] I didn’t believe in myself too much. It look like I lost hope in myself […] And my size maybe, [..] in the bakery they say they need someone strong… (Interview 5)


 I was like: “Let’s do it!”… but then I spoke with the woman who organise this course and she was like: “Maybe it is hard for you.” (Interview  4)

Several women of this study compared themselves to others in similar situations. They were under the impression that if someone had done something alike, they were their “role models” and therefore they themselves couldn’t do things in a different way or even be better than others. Therefore, they have made negative evaluations from upward comparison. Social comparison is a part of the construction of our self-esteem (Stangor, 2011). When we compare ourselves favourably with others, we feel good about ourselves; however when the comparison suggests that others are superior, the self-esteem will most likely be influenced negatively (ibid.). There are two main types of social comparison: upward comparison and downward comparison. In the former, people compare themselves to others who are better than they are; in the latter, people compare themselves to those who are less accomplished than they are (ibid.). It is suggested that exposure to someone who is superior to oneself can lead to positive or negative evaluations. Such circumstances suggest that either one is relatively disadvantaged or that one could improve (Suls et al., 2002). Unfortunately, the women interviewed mostly saw further faults in themselves.

I was working there until eight months of pregnancy […] My other colleague, she was pregnant as well, […] she quit one week before she gave birth, so I was feeling a little bit like… at the end, out of power but I felt so stupid to say I’m done here because she was so full of energy all the time and she’s a rough woman… I was feeling stupid to tell them I was seven months pregnant and leaving. [Interview 1]


X did this course last time and […] I thought if it was hard for him then [I cannot do it]. (Interview 4)

Some participants believe they are in worse circumstances than they actually are, or presume something is a disadvantage while it actually not necessarily like that. People’s general sense of self-worth is regulated by three main factors: their positive and negative feelings about themselves, their beliefs about themselves, and the way that they create these beliefs (Pelham & Swann, 1989).

I had a breakdown there [at the language course], I said I shouldn’t be there because you have to know a lot. (Interview 7)


I still have an accent. There is nothing [you can do about it]. I have an accent and to teach [with an accent is a bad idea]… (Interview 6)


Maybe people are not interested in what I am doing, maybe they don’t like it. (Interview 7)

Lack of self-confidence has hindered several women from taking opportunities that could improve their work situation and satisfaction. Self-esteem works in motivating in two directions: pushing or pulling, thereby influencing an individual’s behaviour (Strandell, 2016).

I never tried [to find employment related to my education] because I thought that language is really important in that. I was offer [to take part in my education related project] but I was not sure if I could handle it. [..] I think I was afraid, I am a kind of chicken. (Interview 1)


I was thinking about taking some course, but I don’t know if they ask you to have some more [education than I have]. (Interview 7)


I somehow… I couldn’t… I would be happy to do it one hand [take a cooking   course], but on the other I am afraid… but there is no point to be afraid. (Interview 6)

Self-esteem can be defined as a degree to which one values oneself or a ratio between one’s competence and worth (Reber, 1995). Orth and Robins (2014) believe that there is an interconnection between self-esteem and development of important life outcomes; high self-esteem can often predict success and well-being in life domains such as relationships, work, and health. Research shows that high self-esteem is “a predictor, not a consequence of life success” (ibid: 384). However, “prior experiences of success, a perception of the environment as supportive and nurturing, and involvement in close encouraging professional relationships are identified as important antecedents to professional confidence” (Holland, 2012).


I’m still trying to find a job, but I’m not so positive about it anymore. […] Maybe I wasn’t lucky enough. (Interview 1)

It is not always the lack of opportunities that prevent women from taking small steps towards better career prospects, but negative evaluation of their abilities. Therefore, they should be provided with experiences that would improve their self-esteem and consequently provide them with the confidence to improve their language skills and advance their careers in suitable employment.



When trying to determine the causes of underemployment of immigrant women, it was necessary to look in detail at four main issues: recognition of foreign education, availability of support, Icelandic language, and self-confidence. The findings of this research unveils the tedious process of credential recognition in Iceland. Although, there are guidelines of what should be done, in reality the process is not always clear and takes extremely long time. Even though there is some support available in Akureyri for the recognition of foreign education, the examples clearly show that they are not sufficient. As the recognition process takes place in institutions that are located in the capital, the procedure is complicated for people living in other parts of the country. There is scarcity of support from institutions and current employers. This situation should be improved as not all of the immigrants have vast social networks to rely on. Most of the women believe that their current Icelandic language level is not sufficient for both everyday life and employment opportunities, and are therefore willing to make improvements. Immigrants should be provided with more classes free of charge for language learning. Although language is important for integration, many experience issues due to fear of rejection, striving for perfection, and low self-esteem. In our analysis, poor self-confidence is not necessarily conscious in the immigrant women’s mind, but low self-esteem builds negative social comparisons and creates negative self-image and discouragement. The negative influence of low self-esteem not only hinders advancement in the labour market, language learning and use, but also has an impact on family life.

Even though it would be greatly beneficial to have more support for foreign education recognition, language learning opportunities, and help with forwarding their careers, it seems that the most fruitful action should be to address women’s self-esteem first. The fact that many of them have tried unsuccessfully to obtain their education related employment for several years have contributed to poor self-confidence and loss of hope for change. Self-esteem improvement workshops should be provided, as well as internships that would provide the women with experience of success and new, supportive environment.





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[1] Funded by Jafnréttissjóður Íslands in 2015

[2] ENIC-NARIC Network purpose is to help interested organisations and individuals find information on procedures for the recognition of foreign qualifications.

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in the Polish Social Safeguard System

The following article presents the social and cultural background behind the operations of the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in Poland. These social and cultural conditions have significant bearing on the application of the provisions of the Convention in Poland and on related political decisions. The first section of the article concerns the reception of the Convention in Poland. Subsequently, it discusses the social, economic and legal conditions of the functioning of women in Polish society, including legal standards of equality between men and women. These issues are presented against the backdrop of official statistics on violence against women and domestic violence. The next part of the article focuses on legal regulations of the CoE Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence: the practical context of Poland. Of particular importance here is the protection of children. Observations concerning the influence of civil society on the functioning of the Convention in Poland conclude the article.


Reception of the Convention in Poland

Poland signed the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence on 18 December 2012, but this Act only came into force on 1 August 2015. Poland was the seventeenth country to ratify the Convention.

Ratified international agreements have the status of universally binding laws in Poland and are thus applied directly; therefore, the Convention is now an integral part of the apparatus for protection of human rights, including the safety of women and, in the broader context, also of children regardless of sex. This Act can also be considered part of the framework for combating and preventing domestic violence. Even prior to its accession to the Convention, Poland employed certain legal and institutional instruments that were in agreement with the spirit of the Act in question. Yet, the Convention introduces legal solutions that instil higher standards of protection, including specific means of responding to discrimination and acts of violence conditioned by culture.

The introduction of the Convention in Poland allows for closer examination of a situation in which socially important matters that arouse intense emotions become a tool in the struggle for political power. Examples may include debates and decisions of authorities both preceding and following the entry into force of the CoE Convention. To give one example, the signing and ratification of the Convention were accompanied by debates which questioned its purpose and validity. Shortly after the signing, the right-oriented Polish government took steps towards renunciation, which prompted strong reaction from the civil society. Such a strong social response was directly linked to the culturally conditioned position of women in Poland. It was also the proof that the contemporary opposition does not have to form a cohesive group, unified by shared political ideas. Contemporary opposition movements does not have to be a political party. It may be a social group without formalised bonds. Social issues have always been a factor that could unite communities of protest and such was the case in Poland. The ‘dispersed opposition’ was led by a strong need to protect the rights that had been to date guaranteed by law.


Culturally and Historically Conditioned Position of Women in Poland

The application of the Convention in Poland, the social reception of this Act and its consequences for public authorities and politicians are closely tied to the position of women in Polish society. Their current position arises from the conditions in which Polish society has operated in the last few hundred years and which can be seen as a conglomerate of historical, cultural, or – more specifically – religious, social and even geographical factors.

It seems clear that the social position of any group in any society is determined by both the history of the entire society as well as the roles that this group had to fulfil in the context of specific historical events. The same is true of the current situation of Polish women. It may be said that this position is and has been, relatively high; nevertheless, this does not mean that Poland is free from violence against women or its social consequences.

The primary factor worth considering is the impact of the Poland’s geographical location on its history and; consequently, on the social position of its female inhabitants. On closer inspection the history of the country appears to have been rather ‘drafty’ as Poland has been involved, willingly or not, in almost every major armed conflict in Europe, except, perhaps, for the religious wars. The spatial location of Poland is neither that of an island nor that of a peninsula and closer examination of the history of armed conflict in Central Europe reveals that the absence of significant natural barriers hindering free movement of troops is one of the reasons why wars were such an frequent occurrence in the Polish past. The country also happened to (literally) stand in the way of  its neighbours’ economic interests, which brought about the partition of Poland and the subsequent struggle for national independence.

Taking into account that it were usually men who participated in armed conflicts – at least until World War II – Polish women were forced to take the economy and welfare of their families into their own hands. The reason behind this were not  men’s wishes, but rather their absence; for decades they fought and died in wars, they were deported to Siberia or kept in Gulags. These events contributed to the relatively strong position of women with regard to their economic rights and their “social say”.

After the Second World War, Poland got into the orbit of socialism, which obviously had immense social consequences. Following World War II, the country was totally destroyed and the extermination of its population continued. Women were faced with very clear expectations regarding their social role. They were expected to engage in professional activity, but these expectations did not bring about equality in other spheres. On the home front, men might have helped, but women still bore the burden.

Lifestyle choices of the period also revealed the emancipation of women. The same tendency is described by A. G. Dijkstra and J. Plantega (2003) who claim that after the year 1950, socialist governments also emphasized the equality of men and women; they promoted the acquisition of the same education and the fulfilment of the same roles on the labour market. As a result, in 1985 the participation of women in the labour market in centrally planned economies was higher than in most of the OECD states. The average employment rate of women, in relation to men, amounted to 80% for Eastern Europe and 64% for developed industrial societies.

According to the authors – with whom it seems reasonable to agree – the idea of gender equality revolved around ensuring equal access to employment and equally low wages for both sexes. On the other hand, the distribution of responsibilities in the households remained unchanged. Nevertheless, the ideology, which may be summarized by the 50s slogan, ‘Women on tractors’, has been an important factor facilitating the present-day legitimization of equality on the labour market. As to gender equality, socialism clearly seemed to have levelled the chances, not only for women, but for other social groups as well. During the World War II and in the fifties, a substantial part of the Polish elite was exterminated. The aftermath of this massive cleansing is a post-peasant society, which, nevertheless, could benefit from those egalitarian tendencies in social life that became more prominent shortly afterwards.

Nowadays, Polish women enjoy a relatively strong position as regards their political rights and rights to participate in public life. They gained political rights when the country recovered its independence in 1918 and, compared to other parts of the globe, their situation was fairly good. Poland is the seventh country in the world to have granted these rights to women; the aforementioned circumstances were one of the primary reasons.

Regarding the culturally conditioned position of women in Poland, the question concerning respect for women proves to be a very interesting phenomenon of which two specific examples may be enumerated. One of the examples concerns a particular cultural artefact that comprises a specific behaviour that is often adopted by Polish men in dealing with women in general. This specific behaviour pertains to hand-kissing as a form of greeting and is common in all layers of society. According to the definition by E. Shein (1984), artefacts are the most visible external manifestations of a culture and they reflect specific tendencies characteristic of a given community. In Poland, the custom of kissing women on the hand is one of such visible manifestations of socially approved behaviours that are, in this case, used to show respect for women. Yet, outward displays of respect do not necessarily entail that respect would be present on deeper levels of organizational culture described by Stein, i.e. the level of norms, values and basic assumptions. Only then would it constitute a mental barrier preventing acts of violence against women.

Another noteworthy example related to respect for women may be difficult to observe directly; however, its numerous manifestations may be perceived in the broader context of social functioning. It is related to the specifically Polish framing of the essential elements of Catholicism and, particularly, their attitude towards the figure of Mother Mary. In Poland, Holy Mary is ‘forever a Virgin’; yet, the ‘Virgin’ is also a mother and these two facts are widely accepted as religious axioms, with the notion of undefiled conception helping to resolve this apparent contradiction. All in all, the glorification of Mother Mary and, indirectly, other mothers is clearly noticeable in Polish society.

This is confirmed by the analysis of the so-called homosocial cultures, i.e., cultures founded on male values and the community of men (e.g. men going to war), as conducted by M. Socha (2009), reveals an important role of the mother in such cultures. This conclusion is further reinforced by the observation that ‘idealized femininity’ safeguards male relationships and male history (qtd. in Ostrowska, 2004). According to Socha, the mother in Polish culture is conceived as Mother Poland or Mother Homeland. The author also notes that, on the symbolic plane, the Polish soul is a woman. The country is described in terms of Mater Polonia, while Mother Mary – the highest ideal of motherhood – becomes the spiritual patron of the nation (p. 81). Yet another proof of the importance of these two symbols may be the Resolution of the Polish Sejm of 15 December 2016, by virtue of which the year 2017 was considered the 300th anniversary of the coronation of the painting of the Mother Mary in Czestochowa (M.P. 2017, poz. 15) .

Since 1989, Polish Mother’s Memorial Hospital has operated in Poland. The history of the founding of this specialist medical unit, which deals with extremely severe maternity and childhood diseases provides an excellent illustration of how respect for women is conditioned by the homosocial culture. In 1982, when Poland strived for normalization after the imposition of martial law and during the celebration of Mother’s Day, the then-operating Military Council of National Salvation proposed that a monument of Poland Mother should be built, which was approved by General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who represented the head of the national authority at the time. This monument, as Jaruzelski characterized it, was to be ‘a tribute to the Polish mothers, who made a tremendous contribution to the recovery of freedom by the Homeland’. Finally, the authorities decided that the monument to commemorate Polish mothers should be a hospital dedicated to them. A public collection to finance its construction managed to raise about 530 million zloties (which amounts to about 126 million euros) during the first year alone (See: http://www.dzienniklodzki.pl/artykul/3652770, 25lecie-instytutu-centrum-zdrowia-matki-polki-w-lodzi,id,t.html).

Another issue worth considering is how the problem of culturally conditioned violence towards women is actually perceived in Poland. In the Polish language, there exist numerous terms that condemn violence against women or express disapproval towards such acts. One example is a popular saying, ‘Don’t hit a woman even with a flower’. Another instance may be a negatively marked epithet, ‘woman beater’. It is a contemptuous name for a man who uses his superior position or strength to verbally or physically abuse women. To sum up, in Polish culture violence against women is not and will not be treated as self-explanatory, at least not to the same extent that violence against children has long been. In the national criminal law there is no lawful justification that would exclude criminal responsibility for abusing women; yet, up to 2010 there was a justification for corporal punishment of children.



Legal Standard of Equality between Men and Women

The equality of men and women in Poland is granted by the Constitution. The provisions of the CoE Convention are based on a legitimate assumption that the main cause of violence against women and domestic violence is the unequal socio-economic status of women and men (which is also true of Poland). Its provisions aim to implement the principles of equality de jure.

The Polish Constitution, in Article 33 proclaims expressis verbis the equality of women and men in family, political, social and economic life. As stated in paragraph (1) of this Article: ‘Men and women shall have equal rights in family, political, social and economic life in the Republic of Poland’. According to paragraph (2), ‘Men and women shall have equal rights, in particular, regarding education, employment and promotion, and shall have the right to equal compensation for work of similar value, to social security, to hold offices, and to receive public honours and decorations’.

What is more, Article 32 of the same document introduces the principle of equal treatment of all citizens by the public authorities as well the principle of non-discrimination in political, social or economic life for any reason whatsoever. These two regulations are the constitutional standard to which the ordinary and internally binding laws should be subjugated. They should regulate the operating practices of the public authorities and the patterns of social life.


Violence against Woman and Domestic Violence in Statistics

The following data, which illustrates the scale and extent of violence in Poland, has been taken from the Blue Card questionnaires dating from 2016. Consequently, it only reflects the range of situations in which the victims have broken the silence and decided to report the case to the police.

Total number of victims of violence 91 789


Total number of people suspected of violence 74 155


Number of female victims 66 930


Number of suspected women 5 461


Number of male victims 10 636


 Number of suspected men 68 321


Number of underage victims 14 223


Number of suspected minors 373


Compiled on the basis of the report “Przemoc w rodzinie”, retrieved from: http://statystyka.policja.pl/st/wybrane-statystyki/przemoc-w-rodzinie/50863,Przemoc-w-rodzinie.html

This report does not account for the grey zone of violence against women, that is, these occurrences of violence that have not been reported to the police. It seems unlikely; however, that the Polish statistics would differ significantly from the statistics of other European countries. Thus, the problem appears to be complex and multifaceted.

By contrast, the following data comes from the study on the level of domestic violence in the European Union, entitled ‘Violence against women: an EU wide survey’ and commissioned by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in March 2014. The results of the survey were as follows:

33% of women throughout the EU have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15;

22% women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner;

5% of all the women surveyed have been raped. This corresponds to more than 9 million women being raped in the EU;

55% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. In 32% of the cases the victims indicated their colleague, boss or client as a perpetrator;

75 % of women in top management positions have experienced sexual harassment at work;

33% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an adult in childhood;

12% of women experienced sexual violence in childhood. Half of them indicated that the perpetrator was a man they did not know before. The most common forms of violence were exposing genitals to children or touching their genitals or breasts.

(Source: http://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2014-vaw-survey-at-a-glance-oct14_pl.pdf)

Surprisingly, this survey is often referenced by the opponents of the Convention in order to prove that Poland is not in the worst position and even that violence against women is actually a marginal phenomenon in this country (See: http://niezalezna.pl/62633-cala-prawda-o-konwencji-antyprzemocowej-wstrzasajacy-raport-zobacz-film). One of their ways to deprecate the Convention was to claim that it only presents the acts of physical or sexual violence against girls aged 15 and less or violence against woman perpetrated by their partners.

The survey also seems to prove that Poland, along with Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Croatia and Austria, is among the countries with the lowest levels of violence. More importantly, it claims that the highest levels of violence can be noted in Denmark, Finland and Latvia. These conclusions appear to be questionable on a number of grounds; for instance, all countries that reported relatively low violence are strongly catholic (even Spain, despite Zapatero’ s secularizing reforms). It may be argued; therefore, that culturally determined standards of public expression and understanding of violence as something that is “deserved”, might have significantly influenced the results.

Another reservation here may be linked to differing cultural convictions as to what words, gestures and other behaviours should be regarded as ‘violence’ and whether it is common to be open about it and publicly disclose such wrongdoings. Finally, one more phenomenon should be noted with regard to Poland; namely, the inferiority complex. The Poles who criticize the government in foreign press, for example, often face stigmatisation by the political forces. There exists a ‘social imperative’ to make a good impression on others because otherwise (perhaps due to economic reasons) Polish citizens might have thought of themselves as inferior; this may also have led the respondents to withhold certain facts.


Legal Regulations of the CoE Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence: The Practical Context of Poland.

Taking into account the specific context of Poland, it might be valuable to focus on these characteristics of the Convention that are important from the point of view of preventing violence in this country.

Firstly, the Convention interprets violence against women as the violation of human rights and as a form of discrimination. The law should clearly specify that certain social groups are also entitled to human rights. In the course of history, denying some people the status of full-fledged human beings always provided a justification to use violence towards them. Therefore, the law should hinder such practices.

Secondly, the Convention combats not only the effects but also the causes of violence against women. The financial independence of women – or the lack of it – is of fundamental importance. Articles 12 and 18 of the Convention have to be interpreted in the context of recent events in Poland. Since last year, there is a child benefit programme in Poland called 500+, in which the state gives families 500 zloties a month for each second and subsequent child. It was projected that this programme will make the position of women stronger.

For this reason, the publication of the Labour force survey in Poland in 2017 brought about a heated debate about the economic consequences of the 500+ programme for women. In this debate, the main argument against the programme was that 150,000 women decided to quit their jobs between March and September 2016, Indeed, the report revealed a tendency among women in working age to withdraw from employment for personal reasons, mostly related to family and household responsibilities. Family and household duties were the main reason for the lack of professional activity in the case of 45.9% unemployed women and only 9.1% unemployed men. Other reasons for unemployment included, e.g., education and improving qualifications, sickness or disability and retirement. Withdrawal from employment as a result of receiving unemployment benefits from the state will only weaken the position of women and make them more susceptible to violence. Negative consequences of employment withdrawal by women are illustrated by the model of household decisions, proposed by N. Ott (1992, 1995) and further analyzed in the context of G. Becker’s study by A.G. Dijkstra and J. Plantega. Ott’s model assumes that whenever a woman chooses to withdraw from employment and to produce goods and services for the benefit of the household, her utility (welfare) decreases as does her threat point, which is a parameter correlated directly with her earning capacity. At the same time, the threat point of her (male) partner increases. The woman thus exposes herself to the risk of losing occupational opportunities and/or the depreciation of her human capital. Ott claims that one consequence of such phenomenon is the loss of women’s power in the families, which will, as can easily be noted, negatively affect their decision-making powers not only in the household but also in the broader context of social life. Dijskra and Plantega add that political decisions leading to the increase in the bargaining power of men also have impact on the position of women. If a woman decides to bear a child and stay at home, her situation can be compared to a game called ‘the prisoner’s dilemma’. Although both partners sharing a household will benefit from this decision as the marginal utility will not be diminished; nevertheless, the female partner will still have lesser bargaining power in future negotiations.

Another positive consequence of the Convention is the introduction of regulations pertaining to the protection of children within families. The Convention forces the signatory states to adhere to high standards for the protection of children against violence. The provisions, which are presented in the figure below, establish a comprehensive protection system. This  is of fundamental importance from the point of view of societal developmentm since legal instruments ensuring children’s safety contribute to the development of a well-functioning society.




(The position of children: Holistic multidimensional protection. Prepared by: M. Tabernacka, on the basis of the provisions of the Convention.)


Protection of Children

Of particular significance to the Polish legal system is the commitment of the member states to the Convention to implement individual protection measures for children (adapted to the level of their emotional development) and to ensure that their best interests are served. The latter becomes even more important for these states in which the system of protecting children against violence does not have a long tradition, such as Poland.

It is thus of fundamental importance for such states that the Convention recognizes children who witness acts of domestic violence or violence against women as the victims of abuse. A key regulation that ensures the protection of children is Article 26, which requires all parties to the Convention to ‘take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that in the provision of protection and support services to victims, due account is taken of the rights and needs of child witnesses of all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention. [Moreover,] Measures taken pursuant to this Article (…) include age‐appropriate psychosocial counselling for child witnesses of all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention and (…) due regard to the best interests of the child’.

This regulation is supplemented by Article 56, paragraph 2, according to which a person who witness the commission of acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention or who has reasonable grounds to believe that such an act may be committed, or that further acts of violence are to be expected, shoulkd report this to the competent organisations or authorities. A child victim and child witness of violence against women and domestic violence shall be afforded, where appropriate, special protection measures taking into account the best interests of the child. Higher standards of protection become available also by virtue of the application of the provisions of Article 46, point d., which states that whenever ‘the offence was committed against or in the presence of a child, such a situation should be regarded] as aggravating circumstances in the determination of the sentence in relation to the offences established’.

In turn, Article 27 discusses the witnesses’ liability to report instances of violence to appropriate authorities and organizations: ‘person witness[es] to the commission of acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention or who has reasonable grounds to believe that such an act may be committed, or that further acts of violence are to be expected, to report this to the competent organisations or authorities.

Poland is a relatively homogeneous social area in terms of its culture and, as such, it does not have any established standards of response to problems resulting from conflicts of cultural diversity. The Convention takes the instances of such conflicts into account, which is particularly important from the perspective of children’s welfare. To provide with an example, Articles 37 and 38 establish an obligation for the parties to implement provisions that would assign legal responsibility for forcing children into early marriages and for ‘inciting, coercing or procuring a girl to undergo any of the acts [leading to] female genital mutilation’.


Convention as a Bargaining Chip in Political Debates in Poland

Signing and ratification of the Convention were preceded by a debate which questioned its purpose and validity; the Convention was even presented as harmful for Poland and for its culture. This debate was described in the liberal mass-media as absurd and many left wing thinkers perceived it as such. The alleged absurdity of objections raised against the Convention may denote that they were not substantive.

What is more, the signing and ratification proceedings were used by the then-opposition right wing parties to increase their political capital among the conservative minded voters, who tend to gravitate towards more ‘conventional’ modes of social functioning. The attachment to traditional Christian values and heterosexual family model often remain at the root of their convictions.

One should therefore expect that the main objections against the Convention were directed at the supposed promotion of homosexual values. Conservative communities claimed that the Convention contradicts the typically Polish and Christian traditions and that it may even be a threat to the current legal and systemic framework. Following are some examples of these accusations:

‘The anti-violence Convention fosters violence’ (See: http://www.deon.pl/wiadomosci/polska/art,21507,konwencja-antyprzemocowa-sprzyja-przemocy.html);

For corruption, for bureaucracy, for totalitarian regimes, not to mention ideologies that may get promoted along the way, this is a rare opportunity; It tries to smuggle gender ideology into our legal system. (See: http://niepoprawni.pl/blog/miarka/konwencja-przemocowa-6-niebezpieczne-zapisy-1zapisy 1);

The Poles would lose the right to protect basic natural and Christian values, in social and private life, in families and upbringing of their children (See: http://www.deon.pl/religia/kosciol-i-swiat/z-zycia-kosciola/art,18462,rzad-ratyfikuje-kontr-konwencje-przemocowa.html);

The axiological system of the Convention, which involves social engineering actions, is not compatible with the Polish constitutional order (J. Banasiuk 2014).

What is more, the critics of the Convention saw Article 14, paragraph (1) as a threat. This paragraph states that parties to the Convention shall take, where appropriate, the necessary steps to include teaching material on issues such as equality between women and men, non‐stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non‐violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender‐based violence against women and the right to personal integrity, adapted to the evolving capacity of learners, in formal curricula and at all levels of education.

Surprisingly, the biggest controversy was raised by the notion of gender itself. In this case, accusations mostly referred to Article 3 point (c.), which defines ‘gender’ as socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men. The notion of gender has been included in the Polish sociology textbooks for a couple of decades. In recent years, Polish society has become increasingly aware of the difference between the biological sex, indicated by ‘sex’, and socio-cultural sex, indicated by ‘gender’; yet, the distinction has not been questioned until recently.

Gender should be considered a normal social phenomenon. It can be noted that culturally conditioned expectations towards women are slightly different in Poland than, e.g., in Sweden or in Italy; they are defined specifically through the notion of ‘gender’. In Poland; however, this notion has in recent years become a kind of modern ‘witch’; a gateway to unload the frustrations of the conservative communities. As a result, the conflict that can be traced back to the division between the conservative right, actively influenced by the Catholic Church, and the progressive, pro-social left, was rekindled. In Poland, additional difficulty lies in the fact that the centre-right and the enlightened Catholic intellectual elite are not visible in the public sphere and, in debates, their voice simply disappears, which is the primary reason why the conflict is so polarized.

In December 2016, the Polish mass media informed about the alleged plans to renounce the Convention, something which had a very strong negative resonance. Its strength was further underscored by numerous social protests in November and December 2016, which were directed against political decisions limiting civil liberties. For example, the December strike was organized under the slogan, ‘Polite we already have been’ (e.g. http://strajkobywatelski.pl/event/strajk-obywatelski-gdansk-grzeczni-juz-bylismy/; https://pl-pl.facebook.com/events/340267749682840/)

The protests related to the plans of renouncing the Convention are a follow-up to the so-called black protests, which started in November 2016 in reaction to the attempts to tighten up the anti-abortion law. Political decisions pertaining to the Convention were thus taken in the situation in which the communities contesting the measures taken by public authorities had already been mobilised.

The Polish Ombudsman also reacted to the measures which could have resulted in renouncing the Convention. The official position of the state authorities presented to the Ombudsman by the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment also sheds some light on the developments. In the first statement it was noted that the renunciation project, prepared by the Ministry of Justice, has been sent for inter-ministry consultations. The subsequent statement; however, noted that the project of renunciation remains unprocessed and has not been proceeded upon. What is more, it has been reported that the Government has not and does not intend to carry out any actions leading to the renunciation of the Convention.

It seems apparent that further steps to renounce the Convention would incite Polish society and the widening gap between governmental actions and societal expectations would be difficult to overcome. All the more so, since further protests were scheduled to take place on 8 March (the so-called “Women’s strike”), and on the 14 February (the so-called anti-violence “dance” and part of a larger global action known as “One Billion Rising) (See: http://warszawa.ngo.pl/x/844332). The decision of the public authorities to terminate these plans should then be considered a reasonable step, in accordance with the public interest. Utilizing such a socially sensitive issue as violence against women and domestic violence for political purposes, especially by means of negating the existing legal and institutional solutions to counteract violence would not be of benefit to the society.





(Women’s strike on the Wrocław market, 8 March 2017’, photo by: M. Tabernacka)


The Convention and Civil Society in Poland

The validity of the Convention, its social consequences and measures taken by public authorities in relation to its introduction display a certain connection to the functioning of civil society and its institutions in Poland.

The provisions of the Convention envision a close and multidimensional cooperation with non-governmental organisations and the civil society. One example of an important regulation might be Article 9, entitled: ‘Non-governmental organisations and civil society’. According to this provision, ‘parties shall recognise, encourage and support, at all levels, the work of relevant non-governmental organisations and of civil society active in combating violence against women and establish effective co-operation with these organisations’. By contrast, Article 7 places non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations among the institutions which will pursue a comprehensive and coordinated anti-violence policy. More specifically, Article 7, paragraph (3) states that ‘measures taken pursuant to this article shall involve, where appropriate, all relevant actors, such as government agencies, the national, regional and local parliaments and authorities, national human rights institutions and civil society organisations’. A guarantee instrument in this respect is Article 8, according to which non-governmental organizations and the institutions of civil society should be eligible to participate in funds used by the state parties to the Convention for preventing and combating domestic violence and violence against women. According to this provision, Parties shall allocate appropriate financial and human resources for the adequate implementation of integrated policies, measures and programmes to prevent and combat all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention, including those carried out by non-governmental organisations and civil society.

The system of helping the victims of domestic violence and women experiencing violence in Poland in the last 20 years has been based on the effective and active engagement of NGOs. They have acquired a well-educated staff and are recognized in their local communities. One of the most important of their initiatives is the so-called blue line (See: http://www.niebieskalinia.pl). As of lately, the system based on NGOs has begun to collapse as a result of the financial decisions made by the government. This is part of the problem tied to the government’s way of dealing with NGOs (similar to that in Hungary). A further example could be the Centre for Women’s Rights, an NGO working to ensure equal status of women and men and provide assistance for the victims of domestic violence. This organization did not receive state funding in 2016 on the grounds that its activities were devoted to helping only one social group, i.e. women. It has encountered similar financing difficulties in 2017

(cf. http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/1,114871,20066209,rzad-odmowil-finansowania-centrow-praw-kobiet-bo-zawezaja.html, and https://oko.press/centrum-praw-kobiet-znow-srodkow-minister-dofinansuje-caritas/).)

In Poland, in view of the fact that a significant number of non-governmental organizations does not have its own accumulated capital, their operation is dependent on subsidies from the state. Yet, since NGOs work towards the fulfilment of public service objectives, which lie in the responsibility of the State, this is only to be understood.

Measures related to the plans of renouncing the Convention had a significant influence on the mobilization of the Polish civil society institutions. It can be noted that women’s grass-roots movements with significant potential began to form. One of the consequences of the mobilization of these social movements and their increasing activity is their inevitable institutionalization, which will have important influence on both social life and political conditions in Poland.

The illustration that follow provide examples of such activities. It is a website of a feminist movement called Gals4Gals. Its pejorative name is to reflect women’s anger. Some of the slogans to be found on this website are: “Stop violence against women” or “Hands off the anti-violence Convention”.




(“Gals4Gals” – Source: https://pl-pl.facebook.com/DziewuchyDziewuchomWroclaw/)



It can be noted that a real consequence of the attacks on the Convention is the unification and involvement in civic activity of social circles that have until now functioned rather separately. This may have a significant bearing on the question of legitimisation of political power in Poland.

The vigorous debate around the Convention seemed so unreasonable as to raise suspicions that this could be another “substitute” topic, used to divert the public’s attention from the real social, economic, and, recently, also systemic, problems. Perhaps this was indeed the case, but taking the situational context into account it appears that any measures taken to renounce the Convention should prove to be more detrimental than beneficial to the position of the Polish government. Moreover, developments concerning the plans of renouncing the Convention indicate that the government managed to retain its capacity to rationally evaluate the situation.

All things considered, the Convention is a wise document and, in the face of the current challenges for Europe, it lays out a uniform standard for dealing with violence. The latter is particularly important in the face of the crisis caused by the influx of refugees from various countries and cultures into Europe. The Convention is the foundation on which a common European framework of conduct may be developed and then adopted by individual European states, should they need to address the issues of culturally and religiously conditioned acts of violence. The culturally dependent position of women in European countries is generally similar, but fundamentally different from the position of women in Asia and Africa. The relatively high social position of women in Europe can be regarded as an essential component of the European identity. It is therefore justified to claim that the Convention may be one of the legal instruments to protect and maintain a shared European identity.




Banasiuk J.  (red.) (2014) Czy Polska powinna ratyfikować Konwencję Rady Europy o zapobieganiu i przeciwdziałaniu przemocy wobec kobiet i przemocy domowej? Raport Instytutu Ordo Iuris, Warszawa. Retrived from: http://www.ordoiuris.pl/public/pliki/dokumenty/Raport_przemoc_OI.pdf

Dijkstra A.G., Plantega J. (2003) Ekonmia i płeć. Pozycja zawodowa kobiet w Unii Europejskiej (Gender and Economics: A European perspective), Gdańsk: Gdańskie Wydawnictwo Psychologiczne.

Ostrowska E. (2004) Matki Polki i ich synowie. Kilka uwag o genezie obrazów kobiecości i męskości w kulturze polskiej, (in:) M. Radkiewicz (red.), Gender. Konteksty, Kraków: Rabid.

Ott N. (1992) Intrafamily Baring and Household Decisions, Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Ott N. (1995) Fertility and division of work in the family (in:) E. Kuiper, J. Sap. (red.) (in cooperation with) z S. Feiner, N. Ott,. Z. Tzannatos) Out of Margin: Feminist Perspectives on Economics, London-New York: Routledge.

Shein E.H., (1984, 2), Coming to a new awareness of organizational culture, Sloan Management Review 25

Socha M., (2009) Baba pruska. Etos Kobiety w XIX wieku wobec specyfiki etosu pruskiego, (in:) Kowalski P. Tabu, Etykieta, Dobre Obyczaje, Wrocław: Wydawnictwo uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego.

Labour force survey in Poland, Retrieved from: http://stat.gov.pl/obszary-tematyczne/rynek-pracy/pracujacy-bezrobotni-bierni-zawodowo-wg-bael/aktywnosc-ekonomiczna-ludnosci-polski-iv-kwartal-2016-roku,4,23.html

25-lecie Instytutu Centrum Zdrowia Matki Polki w Łodzi, Dziennik Łódzki, 19.11.2014, Retrieved from: http://www.dzienniklodzki.pl/artykul/3652770,25lecie-instytutu-centrum-zdrowia-matki-polki-w-lodzi,id,t.html



Authentic acts and sources of opinions:



http://niepoprawni.pl/blog/miarka/konwencja-przemocowa-6-niebezpieczne-zapisy-1zapisy 1










Dagmar Kutsar & Marjo Kuronen (eds.), Local Welfare Policy Making in European Cities (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

Local Welfare Policy Making in European Cities is an anthology covering 11 different cities in the European Union, through case studies of local welfare policies. The book disseminates the findings of the research program Impact of Local Welfare Systems on Female Labour Force Participation and Social Cohesion (FLOWS), and it is funded by the European Union’s framework program. Therefore, the book has a very strong theme of female labour force participation that is evident throughout the book. In connection with this theme, the book examines the policies of child- and elder care policies in the 11 cities.

The book tries to draw a connection between the European Union’s goals of gender equality and female labour market participation, with the impact of local welfare policies in the studied European cities.  It is both a main point of the book as well as the premise of its relevance, that local welfare policy processes can support the European Union’s goal of increased women’s labour force participation and, also, that local policy and polity are the main structural barrier thereof.

The studied cities is selected to represent the following European regions: the Nordic countries, North-west Europe, Continental Europe, Mediterranean Europe and post-socialist Central-east Europe.

The first section of the book is focused on statistical comparisons of the studied cities and comments on the development of female labour market integration across them. The later sections examine local policy processes, childcare and elder care respectively.

Although one might expect a comparative study of regional welfare policies, the book is narrowly concerned with female labour market participation in relation to the welfare services of child- and elder care. The gendered focus is also the reason that care-related welfare services are chosen as the welfare policies for comparison. Female labour market participation is a strong theme in all the chapters. There is nothing wrong with this focus, but I would expect the title of the book to reflect it. One could almost claim that the title is misleading. But as the saying go: “don’t judge a book by its cover”. To do justice to the content of the book, it can be assessed as a book about female labour market participation with a focus on local welfare policies.

Across the 11 cities, the book analyses the labour force participation and job opportunities for women in relation to factors such as, local gender culture, welfare regimes (on a liberal to social democratic continuum) and local economic situations. The policies and the local context in the cities are analysed in great detail. With an international group of contributors, the book utilises the authors’ local expert knowledge well and it gives a thorough presentation of the local circumstances forming labour force policies and gender equality processes.

The book tries to move between two widely different scales. I can only appreciate the attempt to get knowledge by analysing scales as wide as international statistical comparisons, to local city polity and local welfare service provisions. Though the relation between the two scales of analysis could be emphasised more strongly, the book shows that the interplay of local policy landscapes and global economic developments is of significant influence for gender equality in the local labour forces.

The international and interdisciplinary nature of the book that gives it the aforementioned merits also brings about one of the greatest quarrels that I have with the book. As stated, the book reports the findings of the FLOWS research project. It seems too apparent though, that the book tries to collect and re-sample various parts form the project. Though all the chapters are centred around female labour force participation and comparisons of the 11 cities, they seem only loosely connected. Albeit an anthology is fragmented by definition, I strongly miss credible conclusions and comments drawing the different chapters together into a coherent story or at least relating them to each other.

Because of its strong theme of female labour force integration, the book will be of particular interest to scholars in the field of gender studies. Scholars with an interest in labour market policy or with a focus on local welfare policy will also benefit from reading this book.