Sweden’s Finns fear minority language rights are under threat

As rising immigration increasingly puts Scandinavia’s reputation for tolerance to the test, Sweden’s largest national minority fears its language rights are threatened and children will grow up with little or no knowledge of their mother tongue.

Finnish-speaking Swedes, known as Sweden Finns (sverigefinnar), make up more than 7% of the country’s 10 million-strong population and are entitled to Finnish lessons in school since Sweden reversed an earlier postwar approach of forced assimilation.

But complaints that minority language policies are not being respected are mounting. Reports for the Swedish government in the past 12 months point to failures with respect to Sweden Finns in particular, but paint “a dark picture” of the situation for national minority languages in Sweden as a whole.

There is a “severe danger” that the Finnish language will die out in the country, said Sari Pesonen of the Institute of Slavic and Baltic languages at Stockholm University, a co-author of recent research. “The signals we get from teachers, for example, they tell us that the situation is bad. Something needs to be done, and quickly.”

Pupils at one school in Gothenburg have reported being told to stop communicating in Finnish altogether. Nelli Tiikkaja, nine, said teachers had told her not to speak her mother tongue.

“They tell us to stop speaking Finnish if they hear us,” she said. “That feels sad. It doesn’t feel good when I’m not allowed to speak Finnish, because for me it is the easiest language.”

Other children at the school have also told her to stop, Nelli said. “Sometimes they threaten us. A boy in the other class once said he would punch us if we kept speaking Finnish … It feels like they want to destroy the whole Finnish language.”

A street scene in Gothenburg, Sweden

A street scene in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photograph: Beatrice Törnros

Nelli is not alone. Parents of Finnish-speaking children at the school took their complaints to the head, whose investigation confirmed that, although details were uncertain, one member of staff, who left in February 2017, had tried to stop students speaking their native language.

“It’s not good that students hear they’re not allowed to speak their mother tongue,” said Ingela Bertheden, the headteacher, adding that she had told staff she wanted no language bans at the school.

A similar case at a school in Västerås, about an hour outside Stockholm, has been reported to the national ombudsman for discrimination.

The Council of Europe last year reported that Sweden was “experiencing an increase in instances of interethnic intolerance, racism and hate speech” that was affecting national minorities, including language teaching.

It found several cases of Finnish teachers prohibited from using the language in school outside the classroom. “I have heard of many cases where Finnish teachers have been discriminated against,” says Sirpa Humalisto, the head of Sweden’s Finnish teachers’ association.

The position of Sweden’s four other official minority languages – Sami, Roma, Yiddish and Meänkieli (Tornedal Finnish) – may be worse, since they are spoken by fewer people. Municipalities have “almost completely failed” to apply minorities policy across the country, according to an official report in the summer.

The situation in Sweden is almost the opposite of Finland, where Swedish is compulsory for all school students even though only about 5% of the population have Swedish as their mother tongue.

Of an estimated 6,000 children entitled to Finnish mother tongue education in Gothenburg alone, only 177 are receiving it, according to the city council. In January last year, the only Finnish-language school in the city was closed down after a negative evaluation by the Swedish schools inspectorate.

“I do not want to move my daughter to Finland for her to go to Finnish-language pre-school, but that’s exactly what I have to do today if nothing changes fast,” wrote Sonja Jakobsson, under an online petition in the summer calling on Gothenburg council to deliver on bilingual schooling rights.

“Swedish-speaking people have an obvious place in Finnish society and are given clear Swedish-language schooling in Finland – why is it not the same for Finns here?”

The condition of the Finnish language in Sweden, say critics, means that the country lacks qualified mother-tongue teachers, as well as workers in other fields, such as elderly care.

In other areas, Sweden’s Finnish minority enjoys more rights than before, according to Petra Palkio, a board member of the Sweden Finnish Delegation.

“The media are covering us in a different way; we are more proud of being Sweden Finns,” Palkio said. By failing to invest sufficiently in its Finnish minority, “Sweden is robbing itself,” she said.

Racist incidents at universities show they aren’t as tolerant as we think | Malia Bouattia

Rufaro Chisango’s abuse at Nottingham Trent is part of a higher-education system that sidelines ethnic minorities
• Malia Bouattia is a former president of the National Union of Students

Many were outraged by Nottingham Trent University student Rufaro Chisango’s footage of people chanting “we hate the blacks” and a stream of other racist abuse. This young black woman felt forced to lock herself into her room for safety. Many have also wondered how this vile abuse was possible, in modern Britain, among educated young people. And not only that, but this weekend we heard of another Nottingham Trent student, Amrik Singh, being forced to leave a bar in nearby Mansfield purely for wearing a turban.

It’s 2018! We’re supposed to be a much more tolerant and progressive society than those grim days, decades ago, of abuse and overt racism. And in today’s universities there is a growing number of black and minority-ethnic students and staff.

Continue reading…

‘I’m quite happy to be a stopgap’: life in a boomerang household

A quarter of young adults in the UK live with their parents. Three families talk about the effects

A report this week found that young adults who return to the family home can have a negative impact on their parents’ quality of life. The London School of Economics study found that about a quarter of young adults in the UK now live with their parents – the highest number since records began in 1996 – as a consequence of spiralling housing costs and poor job security. We talked to three families affected by the “boomerang” generation about life in household with young adults.

Continue reading…

Oxford University says sorry for International Women’s Day gaffe

Oxford University has said it is “deeply sorry” after a female cleaner was pictured removing chalk graffiti saying “Happy International Women’s Day”.

Sophie Smith, the associate professor of political theory at University College, shared a picture of the scene on Twitter, writing: “What an image for #IWD.”

The university replied to the professor in a tweet saying the incident should not have happened. “We are deeply sorry for this and for offence caused. International Women’s Day is hugely important to Oxford. This should not have happened.”

Sophie Smith

Oxford security makes a woman cleaner scrub out “Happy International Women’s Day” on the Clarendon steps. What an image for #IWD, @UniofOxford. #strikeforUSS #UCUstrike pic.twitter.com/E9u5S37hWW

March 8, 2018

Smith thanked the university for the apology but said she hoped the cleaner, whose face she obscured in her tweet, received “a heartfelt apology”. She called on the university to ensure that all low-paid staff at the institution earned enough money to live in Oxford.

“I appreciate your apology, but far more importantly can you please make sure that the woman asked to remove the message receives a heartfelt apology, a warm cup of tea, the rest of the day off and, along with all our precarious staff, good enough pay to live in this city,” she replied.

Sophie Smith

I appreciate your apology, but far more importantly can you please make sure that the woman asked to remove the message receives a heartfelt apology, a warm cup of tea, the rest of the day off and, along with all our precarious staff, good enough pay to live in this city.

March 8, 2018

Garrick Taylor‏, a laboratory manager at Oxford University and the president of the Oxford UCU union, said the symbolism of the image was key to the debate.

“During a peaceful International Women’s Day rally. A low paid and probably precariously employed female cleaner was sent out in the freezing cold to clean chalk writing saying Happy International Women’s Day. Did it have to be removed? Then?,” he wrote.

But others were baffled by the university’s decision to apologise. “Are you for real? I’m assuming it’s her job as a cleaner. Why would she get an apology and the rest of the day off? That’s bizarre,” wrote one.

Technology will widen pay gap and hit women hardest – Davos report

Research into jobs finds men’s dominance in IT and biotech is reversing trend towards equality

Female engineers assembling robotics in factory

Women are struggling to break into high-growth industries such as IT, biotech and infrastructure.
Photograph: Getty/Hero

The gulf between men and women at work – in both pay and status – is likely to widen unless action is taken to tackle inequality in high-growth sectors such as technology, say researchers at this week’s World Economic Forum summit in Davos.

A new WEF report on the future of jobs finds the dominance of men in industries such as information and biotechnology, coupled with the enduring failure of women to rise to the top even in the health and education sectors, is helping to reverse gender equality after years of improvements.

The report estimates that 57% of the jobs set to be displaced by technology between now and 2026 belong to women. According to Saadia Zahidi, the WEF’s head of education, gender and work, this underlines that global efforts to reduce gender inequality in business are stalling.

“We’re really looking at a worsening of inequality, particularly in IT but across all sectors,” Zahidi said. “We are losing valuable opportunity to reduce gender inequality.”

The warning comes at a historic moment in the 47-year history of Davos: for the first time, the annual gathering of the world’s political and financial leaders in the Swiss mountain resort will have all-female co-chairs, in an attempt to increase awareness of longstanding gender and other inequalities in business and wider society.

The seven women chosen to lead the meeting come from all sectors of society: from the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, to Chetna Sinha, an Indian social entrepreneur focused on micro-finance for female entrepreneurs.

Davos co-chair Sharan Burrow leads the world’s largest trade union federation.

Davos co-chair Sharan Burrow leads the world’s largest trade union federation. Photograph: Jacky Delorme/IUTC

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and another of the seven co-chairs, said the fact that no men have been appointed to any of the meeting’s strategic roles this year “sends a strong signal that all is not right with the world”.

Burrow, an Australian union leader who described herself in her acceptance speech in 2010 as a “warrior for women”, said recent events had made it even more important to speak up for gender equality in the workplace and society at large. “We saw a wave of misogyny unleashed last year and it’s been allowed to escalate by government and corporations,” she told the Guardian.

The US president Donald Trump, who is expected to attend Davos this week, was “partly responsible for unleashing” this wave, she added.

Despite introducing a quota in 2011 designed to increase the number of female delegates attending, men continue to dominate Davos. Just 21% of some 3,000 delegates are women.

The WEF’s annual gender gap report at the end of last year calculated that the gulf between male and female opportunity had widened for first time since it started gathering data in 2006. “The global economic model has failed working people and failed women more than most,” Burrow said. “In the world of work, using any set of indicators, progress for women has stagnated. This has been driven by corporate greed and profit, more than anything.”

Chetna Sinha, the founder and chair of the Mann Deshi Foundation, believes that the all-female panel will bring gender inequality into “the heart of the corporate/business world, and that’s a really useful thing”.

She is particularly keen to ensure that “voices of poor women” are heard, adding that the panel emphasises the diversity of experience at Davos, with non-governmental and grassroots organisations joining the political and business leaders. “At Davos, I see myself representing the fractured world,” she said.

Despite introducing a quota in 2011, just 21% of 3,000 delegates at Davos are women.

Despite the introduction of a quota, just 21% of 3,000 delegates at Davos are women. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

Zahidi, whose team’s report on the future of work is published on Monday, identified two potential causes for the stalled progression of women in business. First, the fact there are fewer women working in high-growth areas such as IT, biotech and infrastructure, leading to a “smaller pipeline” even as larger numbers of women are going into higher education to study the relevant subjects.

Second, Zahidi said that even in high-growth sectors which typically employ lots of women – such as education, health and the care sector – the “leadership positions are still dominated by men”.

Despite widespread warnings about increasing automation – robots (real and virtual) doing the work of human beings – hitting so-called blue collar jobs in manufacturing, less has been said about “pink collar” jobs in customer service and administration typically held by women. Zahidi said corporations needed to consider organisational change at all levels of the workplace. “It needs a holistic approach from companies when thinking about gender equality – not just board-level positions. Diversity leads to creativity, which is even more necessary in a world undergoing an industrial revolution,” she said.

Each year, studies such as one from accountancy firm Grant Thornton in 2015, Women in business: the value of diversity, point out that companies perform better when they have at least one woman on the board. Yet change has been glacial and, after years of some improvement, is beginning to stall.

Mervyn Davies, the former senior banker and minister whose 2011 report set a 25% target for women on FTSE-100 boards, is not attending Davos this year. He applauds efforts to increase participation at the meeting, and believes any future progress will be led by “upwardly focused activism” rather than the old model, exemplified by Davos, of “downward discussion”.

“I think the mood of society is really changing very speedily. We are at a tipping point where the up-and-coming generation is going to say ‘we’re not going to tolerate this,’ ” Lord Davies said, adding, “We’ve got to get women back in all workplaces.”

Two years after his final report on the issue, Davies talked about the entrenched opinions he faced even as a successful chairman of a leading bank, Standard Chartered. “I faced a huge amount of hostility from men. I was a member of their club and because I was an insider they accused me of being an agent provocateur from the inside.”

His final report called for one third of all FTSE-350 boards to be held by women.

Despite the signs of stagnation, both Davies and Zahidi, who last year authored a book about the impact of more women joining the workforce in the Muslim world, are optimistic, partly because of the next generation. “The fact there has been a very public conversation around sexual harassment, around the #MeToo and the Time’sUp movements – all of this reflects the fact that a much larger number of people care about the influence of power,” said Zahidi. “There is now positive momentum and we need to make sure material change is achieved.”

Zahidi points out that among the younger people attending Davos, the so-called global leaders and global shapers, 54% are women.

Arriving in Davos, Burrow said: “We have the power in our hands to really change. The question is, do we have the courage?”

World-changing women? The seven Davos co-chairs

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde.

Christine Lagarde
Managing director of the IMF
The French lawyer and former cabinet minister has been the head of the International Monetary Fund since 2011, when she replaced the scandal-hit Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Re-elected for a second five-year term in 2016, she is regularly ranked as one of the most powerful women in the world by Forbesmagazine.

Ginni Rometty

Ginni Rometty
Chief-executive of IBM
Having started as a systems engineer in 1981, Rometty worked in sales, marketing and strategy before becoming the first woman to lead the head IBM in 2011. One of the best paid executives in the US – she earned $33m (nearly £24m) last year – she has faced mounting criticism for taking pay bonuses despite huge employee layoffs.

Sarah Burrow

Sharan Burrow
General-secretary of International Trade Union Confederation
The Australian was the first woman to become general secretary of the Brussels-based ITUC, the world’s largest trade union federation with 180 million workers in 162 countries and territories. This self-styled “warrior for women” has worked on several campaigns for workers’ rights in the growing digital economy.

Chetna Sinha

Chetna Sinha
Founder/chair of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank
The Mumbai-born social activist set up a bank that lends tiny sums to women in rural India after meeting a woman unable to save because other institutions thought her aim – to buy a tarpaulin to shelter her family during the monsoon – was too small. Singha’s bank, the first run for and by rural women to get a co-operative banking licence, has reached hundreds of thousands of women.

Erna Solberg

Erna Solberg
Prime minister of Norway
Elected Norway’s second female prime minister in 2013 after serving as leader of the Conservative party since May 2004. As minister for local government, a tough stance on the country’s asylum policy earned her the nickname “Jern-Erna” (Iron Erna). Subsequently involved in the decision to reject a request for asylum by the Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. Solberg was re-elected last year.

Fabiola Gianotti

Fabiola Gianotti
Director-general of Cern
In 2016, the Italian particle physicist became the first woman to run Cern – the pan-European nuclear research organisation best known for its large hadron collider. Always ranks high on lists of global thinkers and most influential scientists – of either gender.

Isabelle Kocher

Isabelle Kocher
Chief-executive of Engie
The only female CEO in the CAC 40, the benchmark French stock market, Kocher has led a radical transformation of the energy group formerly known as GDF Suez since her appointment in 2016. Having decided Engie should “take its responsibility” over climate change, she has sold 20% of its assets, notably in coal power. She also set internal targets for at least a quarter of Engie executives, and 35% of “high-potential staff” to be women.

  • If you have experiences relating to this article that you’d like to share, please email us at inequality.project@theguardian.com

‘Serious failing’: inquiry to scrutinise Toby Young’s OfS appointment

An inquiry has been launched into the “serious failing” of appointing Toby Young to the board of the Office for Students without studying his long history of incendiary comments, the commissioner for public appointments has said.

Peter Riddell revealed that the Office for Students (OfS) interview panel’s report to ministers “made no mention of Mr Young’s history of controversial comments and use of social media”.

“Without any doubt this row makes a strong case for more extensive due diligence inquiries by departments in any case of doubt about a candidate,” Riddell wrote in a post on the commission’s website.

Young’s ill-fated appointment to the university regulator’s board was announced at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It quickly prompted controversy over comments by Young during his career as a journalist, including a series of sexist tweets.

In a letter to Robert Halfon, the chair of parliament’s education committee, Riddell said he planned to ask the OfS and the Department for Education (DfE) to explain the process that led to Young’s appointment.

Riddell said the report to ministers “indicates that Mr Young was judged as an appointable candidate by a properly constituted panel chaired by Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students”, before being named to the board.

“The subsequent controversy has, however, highlighted flaws in the process,” Riddell wrote, pointing to ministers’ claims that they were unaware of Young’s offensive tweets. “This was a serious failing of due diligence,” he added.

“I am now seeking the full papers on recent appointments to the board of the Office for Students from the Department for Education so I can establish in detail what occurred and whether this was in line with the government’s governance code.”

Riddell said his main focus was on the procedures. “The merits or otherwise of the appointment of Mr Young and other candidates is a matter for ministers, and not for me,” he wrote.

Young stepped down from the OfS role at the start of this week after criticism from Labour and Conservative MPs, including a call by Halfon for the government to reconsider the appointment.

Riddell’s move comes as Young finds himself embroiled in further controversy over his attendance at a secretive conference held at University College London in May, which discussed eugenics and group genetic and IQ differences. Young has previously written about what he described as “progressive eugenics”.

Young said he attended the UCL conference “only for a few hours on a Saturday”, to gather anecdotal material for a speech he was giving to a conference covering similar topics in Canada.

The controversy puts a spotlight on Young’s role as director of the New Schools Network (NSN), a charity contracted by the DfE to promote and support applications by groups establishing new free schools in England.

Asked if the NSN’s board of trustees had discussed Young’s position, a spokesperson said: “The board has complete confidence in Toby Young as NSN’s director.”

Young was appointed in October 2016 by the network’s trustees, who cited his successful co-founding of the West London free school. Young receives about £90,000 a year as director, according to the NSN’s accounts.

The revelations surrounding Young come at a delicate moment for the NSN. The bulk of its funding comes from the DfE, and last month the department opened its tender to renew the free school promotion role from April 2018, offering up to £3.4m for two years. Tender applications close on 19 January.

But questions also remain over the NSN’s role, as no new free school bids have been approved by the DfE since before the last general election. In recent years, many new free schools have been opened by existing academy trusts, which need less help from the network.

#MeToo is important, but the war on women is a far, far bigger deal | Heather Barr

This year was a remarkable one in terms of women’s rights. From the euphoria of the Women’s March to the pent-up trauma released by the #MeToo disclosures, 2017 has been a rollercoaster for activists – and for most women. On Donald Trump’s first full day as US president on 20 January, women’s rights activists marched in unprecedented numbers in more than 70 countries. In October, allegations of a long record of sexual harassment and violence on the part of the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein set off a flood of similar allegations against other prominent men across the globe, toppling dozens by the end of the year. Women worldwide are fed up and that frustration was on display in ways that felt unusually visible and global.

But if the legacy of 2017 is to be more than a warm glow and a pussy hat, 2018 needs to deliver concrete, sustained change. Activists must harness the energy of the marches and #MeToo, connecting the struggles of women and girls internationally and creating change despite women’s rights often feeling increasingly under siege.

This year also brought plenty of bad news for women. The World Economic Forum declared that the “global gender gap”– the gap between the status of women and men on four key indicators: health, education, politics and the workplace – worsened, with growing inequality in economic participation a particular problem. This is the first time the gap has widened since tracking began in 2006. In 2016, the forum predicted that it would take 83 years to close the gender gap; now it estimates 100 years. It said: “Even though qualified women are coming out of the education system, many industries are failing to hire, retain and promote them.”

In education, new data from Unicef showed that in countries affected by conflict, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school as boys. In South Sudan, 76% of girls are not studying; in Afghanistan and Chad, the rates are 55% and 53%.

Writing this in Yangon, Myanmar, where I’m investigating trafficking of women, I’m painfully aware of how conflict targets women and girls. Human Rights Watch has documented in excruciating detail how the Burmese military has been using rape as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, attacks that were widespread and aimed at terrorising people so severely that they would never return home. Sexual violence against women and girls featured in numerous other conflicts, including in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In health, reproductive choice is under attack. Access to family planning services is also directly linked to education, politics and the workplace, since women with control over their fertility are more likely to attend school, to work and to participate in public life. Particularly harmful was the US government’s renewed and expanded imposition of the “global gag rule”, which bans recipients of billions of US aid dollars from even discussing abortion with patients or legislators. This rule is already having devastating consequences as service providers who choose not to comply are forced to shut services as they lose funding. This policy will affect virtually every country that receives US development assistance. A number of other Some donor countries have worked to mitigate the harm of this policy, but the large scale of US aid funding means a huge hole remains.

A protester during a march and rally to support women’s health programmes and protest against the White House global gag rule in March 2017.

A protester during a march and rally to support women’s health programmes and protest against the White House global gag rule in March 2017. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

To nurture the seeds of change sown in 2017, the women’s movement will need to find effective ways to embrace the problems of all women. Many have made the point that most of the attention generated by #MeToo has focused on elite workplaces and elite victims – the sense that many women who have come forward may risk losing a film role but won’t be left unable to feed their children. This response needs to be global, addressing the racial and economic divides that can deprive the movement of unity. Drawing connections and mutual support between a Rohingya rape survivor in Bangladesh and a groped intern in the UK parliament, an out-of-school girl in Tanzania and a woman denied access to abortion in Nicaragua will never be easy. Nevertheless, so many of our problems are faced in common.

Child marriage is a glaring example of an abuse that harms girls around the globe. About 15 million girls married as children this year – one every two seconds – in many countries, including Britain and the US as well as Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Brazil. Married girls often leave school early, are more likely to live in poverty, are at greater risk of domestic violence and face more serious reproductive health risks, including death in childbirth, than women who marry as adults. Bangladesh, which has one of the highest rates of child marriage, regressed this year and made it again legal for children to marry. The UK government opposed legislation that would have ended child marriage. In the US this year, Texas and New York narrowed the circumstances under which children can marry, but child marriage is legal in all 50 US states; in 25 states, children of any age can marry under some circumstances.

In 2018, our movement will have to widen its scope. Sexual harassment, abuse and assault of women is commonplace in many industries and workplaces. #MeToo has triggered discussion about gender-based employment discrimination, both overt discrimination and the more insidious ways inequality excludes, marginalises and exploits women workers. Women know that sexual harassment, job discrimination, reproductive rights and violence against women are all connected – they see those connections all around them. We need reform in all those areas, in virtually every country.

The growing number of women running for office, including many in the US prompted to seek election by Trump’s victory, is a good sign. And female voters in every country can demand more gender-balanced cabinets, such as those appointed by Canada’s Justin Trudeau, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and France’s Emmanuel Macron. Sweden has a “feminist foreign policy” and this year Canada pledged a feminist policy on overseas aid. They can be held to these policies, which could be models for all democracies. National action plans on women, peace and security offer a chance to focus global attention on the rights of women and girls affected by conflict.

Power concedes nothing without a demand, as the African American abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass said. Women communicated loud and clear in 2017 that they are fed up. Now they need to say exactly what they want and keep pressing those demands every day, in every country. The year 2017 was ferocious in terms of women’s rights; 2018 will be an even tougher fight.

Heather Barr is a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch