English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 11-12, 2002

Conference on Gender Equality

Olga Terletskaya

In the tourist center of Saariselkä, in the northern part of Finland, women from circumpolar countries attended an international conference from 3 to 6 August on the subject “Gender equality and the status of women in the Arctic region”. Canada, Russia, Alaska (USA), Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland were represented. Ambassadors from Poland and France arrived. Representatives of the following organizations attended: the Arctic Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Gwich’in Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Saami Council, the Northern Forum, the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, United Nations, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, and the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs. Russia was represented by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), and Murmansk and Arkhangelsk oblasts. Prominent women public politicians came forth with their own views as regards the status of women of the Arctic and shared their experience. The organizers of the conference consisted of the Arctic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers as well as the Finnish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.

The conference began on a hill in Kaunispää where the guests of the forum were welcomed by the chairman of the Saami Parliament of Finland, Pekka Aikio. The welcoming ceremony closed with a musical presentation.

The conference began with plenary sessions every working day. Presentations made by the key speakers dealt with gender equality in the Arctic region countries. The female politicians who spoke have vast experience in the political and public life of their countries. For example, there was Eva Biode heads the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs in Finland and also carries out the responsibilities of a minister on matters of gender equality. Karita Peltonen – chief advisor of the Secretariat to the Nordic Council of Ministers, Tamara Ryumantseva – deputy governor of the Arkhangelsk Oblast for social affairs and chairperson of the presidium in the oblast Council for women, Glenna Hansen – commissioner of the North-West Territory (Canada), Margaret Vinberg – Swedish Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and as of 1998 minister responsible for Swedish gender equality. It suffices to say that the governor of Lapland, the largest province in Finland where indigenous people occupied with reindeer herding live, is also a woman. Hannele Pokka has held this post since 1994, prior to which she occupied the post of Minister of Justice and was a deputy in parliament.

Each conference day 16 parallel seminars were held with at least four lectures presented at each seminar. Discussions evolved around each paper presented during the work of the seminar. This resulted in proposals to be taken into account when preparing the presentation by the Artic Council for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Well aware of the importance a global dialogue bears for sound development, the women of the Arctic region want to be heard and participate on an equal basis in the future of this planet.

That was a brief overview of the conference. Below is more detailed information on the subjects concerning the women of the circumpolar region, in what manner the conference proceeded, what the hosts offered to the guests that was of interest, the cultural program, the conclusions reached, and what the indigenous northern women took back home with them to their regions. Also, more is said about the wonderful organization of this venue. Preparations were started well in advance. The participants had all the necessary information. Thus, for instance, knowing that I was given the distinguished honor of holding a presentation, I prepared it in advance and submitted it back already in February to the organizing committee. This allowed the conference to be better prepared. The RAIPON delegation attended the conference dressed in their national costumes, prepared an exhibition of crafts made by indigenous artisans, held an original concert and in this manner won the friendship and acknowledgement of friends from other countries. The only thing that separated us was the language barrier, and even this was not insurmountable since the official events were translated and during situations which were not official we used gestures, well-known phrases, familiar to all. We, the women of the North have so much in common: Love for our native region, anxiety about the future of our children, the desire to preserve the originality of our peoples and a sense of responsibility for everything that is happening in the world today. But now everything in the order of occurrence:

For the RAIPON delegation, the conference began in Moscow. The office of the association was located on the Vernadskiy prospect. Here we met from the Kamchatka and Kemerovo oblasts and from the Evenk, Chukotkan and three Nenets okrugs, having traveled many thousands of kilometers from our native regions. The trip and our living expenses were covered by RAIPON for which we are deeply obliged… On August 1, the leaders of the association had an organizational meeting with us and on the 2nd of August we departed from the capital’s Leningrad station on a long trip…

The capital of Finland, our nearest neighbour in the Arctic, is located in the south of the country. A cool and sunny morning greeted us. The representatives of the conference organizing committee met us at the railway station. In the office of the Finnish airlines, we received folders with documents and familiarized ourselves with the coming events. Since we had some time left before departure we went to see the Finnish capital…

In all we spent about 3 to 4 hours walking around in the capital of Finland. The impression was only visual. Each capital has its own virtues and distinctive features. The same holds true for Helsinki…

After an almost two-hour flight from Helsinki, our plane landed in the town of Ivalo in the north of Finland. The temperature was the same this summer as in our okrug. It did not rise above 9º C . During our entire stay in Finland, it never got warmer. While we were receiving our luggage and getting into the buses, we exchanged impressions and had the opportunity to take the first pictures of the land of the Saami – the indigenous inhabitants of Scandinavia. A reindeer―a real beauty―took his time and walked up to the airport building. Not paying any attention to the moving transport, he stopped right at the entrance to the airport. Quite evidently, nobody could withstand this. The ladies poured out of the buses and started to photograph the courageous animal, first from far away and finally almost hugging this wonderful animal. This is the reception we received in Ivalo!

Then on the road from Ivalo we observed small herds of reindeer several times and we were touched particularly by the little calves - suyukoc. The surrounding landscape was almost the same as in the surroundings of Naryan-Mar. Fir trees – not too high, pine trees, birch trees, willow herbs and everywhere the pale gray blooming heather covered the surface of the earth like a carpet. The roads across the hills were excellent, and the lakes had the cleanest water. The trip to Saariselkä only lasted half an hour.

This was our home away from home for the entire stay. Saariselkä―a large tourist center in the north―well-known beyond the borders of Finland. Picturesque places, modern service, invigorating air, an exotic national cuisine (similar in many ways to our Nenets) have made it a popular place to spend leisure time. It is not empty in the winter either. They have everything needed for winter sports. The tourist compound can accommodate ten thousand visitors at the same time.

Saariselkä was our home for three days, our work place, a place where we spent our free time and communicatd with representatives of all the Arctic countries. The house was comfortable and hospitable. All the possibilities were offered to work and relax. The conference participants had audio and video appliances at their disposal, computers, and friendly guides were always ready to help. Our group from RAIPON was situated in the wing Paraspaikka… The events ended late… In spite of the fact that we came from different autonomous okrugs, three from Nenets, Chukotka and Kamchatka, the Kemerovo Oblast, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), we prepared a small concert. We look so similar even though we represent 40 indigenous minorities of the North of Russia…

Kaunispää hill
The highest place in the surroundings of Saariselkä is the Kaunispää hill. On top of this hill, Pekka Aikio (Finland) the chairman of the Saami Parliament welcomed the delegates of the conference. And here under the open skies a musical presentation took place. And then, according to the traditions of northern hospitality, we were offered lightly salted salmon, smoked venison and fish. Then we had hot tea with pies made of blueberries and raspberries, which was just what we needed since a strong gusty wind with rain blew the remaining Moscow heat out of us. Not even the shelters in the shape of chums were of any help. As we were returning we could all see from the top of the hill as the sun was going down an extraordinary beautiful and bright double rainbow. Well, of course, the ancient Saami earth accepted us as honored and distinguished guests!

Plenary sessions
The key speeches were made during five plenary sessions. The plenary sessions themselves began with Tarvaryaraq, a cleansing ritual of the Yupik people (Alaska). It was performed by Ester Ilutchik, Mari Meid and Michele Sneider, wearing traditional costumes. Welcoming of the participants continued by Eva Biode, Minister of Health and Social Affairs, and on questions regarding gender equality in the Finnish Government, Karolin Hennan, director of the movement for the promotion of women at the UN, and Karina Peltonen, the chief advisor of the Secretariat for the Bordic Council of Ministers. The ceremonial part ended with a performance by the musical ensemble “Aŋŋel Nieiddat” (Angeli Girls).

In order to understand what the prominent female politicians, having an important say in their respective countries, talked about, and what the topic of the discussion was, I shall name the titles of the presentations and also certain very interesting moments during the presentation. Audrey MacLaughlin, from Cananda, talked on “Opening the roads: Arctic women are creating a future”. Bente Aasjord from Norway gave a talk entitled “Where have all the fish gone? Men are forming a naval Arctic future”. Ole Dorff, Minister on matters dealing with social welfare and self-governing of Greenland discussed “Women in the labor market and equal opportunities”. Tamara Ryumantseva, deputy governor of the Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia offered a presentation called “Conditions of life and the possibilities for women on the labor market”. Arliss Sturgulevski, former senator from Alaska (USA) talked about “Understanding our past―the key to understanding the future”.

“We have gathered here in order to work out a proposal for our governments concerning gender equality. Our task is to decide what can be done about the gender question. Women should not refrain from participating in politics. In all Arctic countries, with the exception of Finland, subsidies for families, children and health care are being decreased. In the USA 35 billion of deductions are to the UN are being curtailed. All decisions on cutting down finances were made by men. There is not one country where there is a 50% participation of women in politics. It is not worthwhile getting angry, we must do something ourselves. For us women a 50% participation in politics is important even though the mass media looks upon it negatively.

…I am disappointed by the fact that no administrative bodies were represented at the Conference…

…Norwegian fish is second in size as regards export. When the oil era comes to an end, then the era of the fish will begin. The Arctic countries are the largest suppliers of fish products. Fish – that’s culture. It is our future…

…Women’s salaries are 2/3 of men’s salaries. There are enterprises in the Arkhangelsk Oblast where the majority of workers are women… Women are not given access to the distribution of money. In the Arkhangelsk Oblast, men own 80 percent of real estate…There is no equality in the labor sector and it is particularly difficult in a rural location…at present in the village an active process of returning to old values is taking place. Revival of the village is due to women…

Men do not understand what gender equality is…

Alaska is the 49th state in the USA. The total number of inhabitants in Alaska is 626 thousand and 15.6 percent of them are aboriginals. 66 percent of men’s salaries amount to the salaries of women in Alaska. Alaska has the highest level of labor resources in the USA…”.

The third and fourth plenary sessions were dedicated to the following subjects: “A gender approach in the self-determination of indigenous peoples” and “Suppression of women”. Vigdis Stordal, an adjunct professor at the University of Tromsø (Norway), proposed the following contribution to the participants: “The Saami Parliament of Norway: access to women limited?”. Fenya Lekhanova, Vice-president of RAIPON spoke about “The role of governmental structures and NGO’s in establishing a new type of relation with indigenous minorities within the Arctic region”. An especially qualified person, commissioner of the Canada’s North-West Territory, Glenna Hansen attracted great interest with her lecture on “Diplomatic management: a constructive element in governmental establishments” and invigorated the conference hall. She began with her own experience in life. Having been left a widow at an early age with four children, she headed her husband’s company and after some time made it profitable. In the year 2000 she was appointed commissioner of the North-West Territory.

“Diplomacy is the part carried out by the commissioner. The most difficult part is to defend your honor. The basics of diplomacy is traditional knowledge. Diplomacy – a natural characteristic for women – that is strength, dedication and tact”.

The fourth plenary session was the most emotional one and its theme was “Suppression of women”. There were only two papers on this subject but during the discussion a large number of women took part. Some of them could not hold back their tears. This subject was then reviewed in detail in the seminar with the same title. In the seminar four groups were named: “Breaking the silence on the suppression of women”, “State of health of the Arctic woman”, “Experience in rendering social assistance” and “Trafficking (trade) women and prostitution”. Maria Kostina (a journalist for the oblast paper “Pravda Severa”, Russia) related her personal experience, using the mass media for this purpose, in shedding light on this problem about the suppression of women. Elena Antipina from the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Russia provided information about the “Tundrovichka” Crisis Center.

The closing of the seminar ended with Saami culture―“Northern women – new images”, a seminar dedicated to Alaska and also a seminar about the experience of Scandinavian-Russian cooperation along the border.

The fifth plenary session was dedicated to the reports by the heads of the seminars concerning the work done, with an analysis of the contributions by the participants of the seminars. The Ambassador of Canada, Adele Dion presided over this part. Many participants of the conference were mentioned, including the author of these lines…

Words of gratitude were expressed to the organizers of the international conference. Hannele Pokka, governor of Lapland, Finland, officially closed the meeting. Children wearing bright Saami costumes gave the participants of the conference symbolic triangles of life, with candles burning and the sound of Saami tambourines.

The story about the conference would not be complete without mentioning the cultural program of the Saami in Inari. It fit naturally into the series of events, confirming the main postulate of the conference: under Arctic conditions there is no life without women, much has been preserved due to women, the culture of indigenous peoples of the North dating back many centuries, it is the woman who naturally bears the responsibility in present days for the future of the circumpolar peoples. The settlement of Inari is the center of a commune for Finnish Saami. It is located 70 km from Saariselkä, an hour’s ride in a comfortable bus.

Siida―a Saami museum and a nature center of northern Lapland―is in Inari. The employees of the municipality of the commune arranged a warm and joyful welcome for the participants of the conference. Teuvo Niemelä, chairman of the municipal council, pronounced a welcoming speech, followed by an excursion to Siida, the oldest inhabited territory in Lapland. Archeological findings are presented here and they are nine thousand years old. The museum in Inari was founded in 1959. The modern exhibition center Siida came later. Today the open-air museum serves as an extension to Siida. On an area with a seven hectare platform the dwellings of Saami fishermen and nomadic Saami are exhibited. Means for hunting and fishing are presented, all that is used on a daily basis by the inhabitants of Lapland from olden times up to the present.

State-of-the-art technology is used to equip the Siida exhibition complex. It starts with hand-made articles, plaited, embroidered, souvenirs finished decoratively, reindeer furs manually worked on and the furs of wild animals. Traditional items represent not only daily articles but also festive clothing, silver decorations which the people of Lapland made for many centuries. But even today they look modern. Those who were interested could acquire any souvenir they wanted to please any taste and at any price…

It should also be stated that the women from RAIPON in answer to the welcome by the chairman of the commune presented a small concert and exhibition of traditional articles made by Nenets, Evens and Dolgans. Furthermore, albums were presented, books and advertisement leaflets finished with good taste about the Yamalo-Nenets and Dolgano-Nenets (Taimyr) okrugs…

The chairperson of the Arctic Council expressed general satisfaction at having met with women from indigenous minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East. RAIPON is an influential public organization. “We are happy to see you here as representatives of indigenous peoples from Russia.” and the overall opinion of the women was as follows: “We have received new strength and have seen new possibilities here”.

P.S. It was strange to hear personally about discrimination from the women who come from countries with a developed democracy, from women who have achieved the heights of political and governmental power, leaders of world-wide public organizations, with decades of experience in working in this field... In the case of female representatives of indigenous peoples it is double discrimination: one because of gender and the other due to ethnicity. Men don’t understand the problems of gender discrimination and do not wish to accept gender equality. Even in that Republic of Finland, the Prime Minister and Head of Parliament is a woman. As a rule women who have established themselves at the level of men, they are also mothers and often even mothers of many children. Until now I was convinced that we in our okrug are the only ones subjected to triple discrimination. I have gone through it personally. And only due to the knowledge of my mother tongue did I stay afloat. I relate a mother tongue with traditional knowledge, a part of a people’s culture. For that reason I could not refrain from mentioning in my speech that life in the extreme North, in the broadest sense of the word, persevered and will continue to persevere because of the traditional knowledge indigenous women have, namely that they are the keepers of the hearth.