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18 January 2019

Turning our eyes to women and gender in the Arctic

Women of the Arctic



This past year has witnessed a massive global surge of interest in issues relating to

women and gender, more broadly. More and more women and members of the

LGBTQ2S+ community feel emboldened to raise their voices, to run for political office, and leadership positions of all kinds. All the while, the #MeToo movement continues breaking the silence surrounding a culture of (sexual) harassment and abuse. 

Women, men, and gender non-conforming persons continue to march for equal rights and pushing forward issues relating to women and gender into the mainstream discourse.


Nevertheless, in the Arctic, as elsewhere, the roles and contributions of women to northern policy-making, to daily life in community, to art and polar research often remain far from the limelight. This includes a focus on the challenges that women face, the successes they achieve, and the issues that matter to them most.


There have been numerous efforts to better understand the gender issues in the Arctic. These include, among others, the gender-related projects of the Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) of the Arctic Council (2004-2006) and two conferences hosted by the Arctic Council, “Taking Wing: Gender Equality and Women in the Arctic” organized during the first Finnish chairmanship in 2002 and “Gender Equality in the Arctic: Current Realities, Future Challenges” which took place in Iceland in 2014. Among more recent initiatives have been the work of Women in Polar Science (WiPS) which hosted the panel “From Entering the Field to Taking the Helm – Perspectives of Women in Polar Science” at the primary joint event of Antarctic and Arctic research communities, Polar 2018; Pride Polar, a network of LGBTQ2S+ and allies in polar research; the Gender in the Arctic Research Network which published a special issue of Polar Geography on “Gender in the Arctic” (2018) including topics like queering indigeneity; and the TUARK Network that brought out a special issue of the Nordic Journal on Law and Societyon “Gender equality in the Arctic and North” (2017).


With a desire to contribute to these efforts, “Women of the Arctic: Bridging Policy, Research and Lived Experience” sought to create a non-academic space where women who work on, live in, or engage with the Arctic could tell their stories and share their experiences. Hosted on September 6thand 7th, 2018, by the University of Helsinki as a side event of the 2018 UArctic Congress, “Women of the Arctic” brought together indigenous and non-indigenous women with various backgrounds from all Arctic states to discuss issues pertaining to women’s representation in northern policy-making, the position and contribution of women to polar research and knowledge production, as well as the somber realities of gender-based violence which disproportionately impacts the lives of northern women and children.


Reaching beyond academia, “Women of the Arctic” collaborated with the Arctic Cycle, a New York-based arts organization who presented Whale Song, a 15-minute one-woman play at the evening reception of the UArctic Congress on September 6th. Whale Song, written by Chantal Bilodeau, told the story of women’s suffering and strength when faced with the adverse effects of climate change and gender-based violence. Furthermore, to maintain a long-term focus on issues of gender and women, “Women of the Arctic” worked together with creative communications collective, “What Took You So Long”,to document the event and interview speakers and participants about their professional and personal stories, to be released in early 2019.


Building on the event in Helsinki, the co-organizers of “Women of the Arctic” partnered with the Icelandic Center for Gender Equality, to host a panel at the 2018 Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik. The highly attended breakout session, titled “Toward an Arctic Women Summit”, was dedicated to the prospect of organizing a large circumpolar women’s assembly, an idea that garnered unanimous interest from both panelists and audience alike. As a part of the discussion, panelists noted that a focus on “women’s issues” must not only be confined to gender-focused events and it should not be trivialized, seeing those are all human issues which most often need to be addressed collectively. Panellists and audience members provided insights on how small-scale changes – for instance providing for caregiving options to balance parenting commitments - can encourage more gender-equal participation across conferences, panels, meetings and boards. The large number of men attending the session and participating in the discussions shown the increasing awareness of gender perspectives and inequalities across the Arctic landscape, with men actively seeking out ways to become part of a solution as advocates and allies. 


Lessons from Arctic countries show that fundamental and long-lasting changes are possible when it comes to gender equality. Still, even the most advanced of them that often rank among the top in the world in this regard, have not reached yet full parity, equal representation and pay, showing the need for further continuous effort. Whether speaking of climate change, ensuring sustainable resource management, environmental protection, leading sustainable practices, increasing well-being or enhancing resilience of their communities, women play a critical role at all levels from local through regional to global in addressing all of those issues. “Women of the Arctic” seeks to shine a light on some of these aspects and support broader efforts to create gender equality for all. Because gender should not be plan B in the Arctic.


Women of the Arctic © Gosia Smieszek



About “Women of the Arctic”

“Women of the Arctic” (WoA) is a non-profit association registered in Finland. It aims to raise awareness, support, and maintain a focus on women’s and gender-related issues in the Arctic. Its website serves as a digital storytelling platform, showcasing the personal and professional stories of Arctic women while also highlighting and promoting the inclusion of broader gender perspectives in all aspects of northern life. To learn more about WoA and explore the platform visit and follow along on Twitter and Instagram at @PlanArctic. To contact us please write at:


Gosia Smieszek is a researcher at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland and Tahnee Prior is Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation scholar and a doctoral candidate at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Together with Leena Rantamaula, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland they are founders of the association “Women of the Arctic”.

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