SALAR is the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions. It supports the work on gender mainstreaming in municipalities and county councils.
It represents the governmental, professional and employer-related interests of Sweden’s 290 municipalities, 18 county councils and 2 regions. In order to contribute to the improvement of Swedish municipalities, county councils and regions with regard to their functions as employers, service providers, supervisory authorities and community developers, SALAR works proactively with the Swedish government as well as European institutions.
The association is a member of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). It is considered one of the strongest associations of its kind. This is due to a long tradition of decentralisation and recognition of the local political level in the Swedish constitution, which entails the attribution of significant responsibilities and functions to deliver welfare services.
Between 2008 and 2013, SALAR ran a large-scale programme for gender mainstreaming. Its aim was to help its members provide services of equal worth to girls and boys, women and men, and to ensure an equal distribution of resources regardless of sex.
The programme was funded by the Swedish government and participating organisations could apply to SALAR for grants to finance local development projects. SALAR arranged workshops, seminars and conferences to exchange experiences and developed a number of tools and materials to support work on gender mainstreaming.
Definitions of gender mainstreaming usually cover both the development of policy content and the forms of the policy process, pinpointing that this is an issue not for gender experts but for those actors normally involved in the decision-making process. A necessary condition for this strategy to be successful is that these actors have adequate knowledge and awareness of gender equality issues. If not, the assistance of gender experts might be needed to maintain a gender perspective through the entire process.
In the context of its gender equality programme, SALAR realised that a specific tool to simplify, systematise and support gender impact assessment in the decision-making processes was needed at local level. That is why the association launched a set of checklists and guidelines in 2010.
The checklist was designed in two versions, in accordance with the different roles of politicians and civil servants.
The decision-making process is complex and varies greatly between organisations, areas and even type of tasks. The model below is a stylised description of the steps and actors that are usually involved in the process.
As can be seen in this model, two important steps within gender impact assessment are evaluation and feedback. Only through evaluation can the administration check the outcome of activities in terms of goal achievements for women and men. And only through a constant demand for feedback can the political sphere maintain momentum in the work of gender mainstreaming.
SALAR members vary in size from a few hundred to 50.000 employees, so for obvious reasons the question about organising gender mainstreaming work produces very different answers depending on the member in question. Larger organisations may have both a gender expert centrally located in a city management office and gender experts in all departments, assisting civil servants in performing gender impact assessment. In smaller organisations, gender issues might be handled part-time by an officer in the human resources department, leaving little time to support gender impact assessment work.
Accompanying the checklist, SALAR developed short guidelines for gender impact assessment. It also created guidelines for politicians and officers in the administration.
The guidelines stress that the checklist is not a solution in itself, but merely part of the solution. Any successful and sustainable gender equality work must be founded on concrete gender equality goals, which in turn are connected to the general goals of the service or activity at hand. This further implies the necessity of a political commitment on the part of the organisation to foster gender-equal services and resource distribution. Supply of statistics disaggregated by sex is also vital. Another success factor is the implementation of new administrative routines to ensure that gender impact assessment is always made when it is relevant for a policy.
The checklist is designed in a way that permits SALAR members to insert it in their own existing templates for drafting written proposals to political boards.
The document also contains the model diagram shown above to illustrate how the checklist could be used in the policy process, describing the various roles and mandates for politicians and officers.
The two versions of the checklist follow the same four patterns:
- Is the checklist relevant in this particular case?
- Background description: are there statistics disaggregated by sex?
- Gender impact assessment, describing consequences for women and men and analysing differences and similarities.
- Gender equality analysis: how do the suggested decisions relate to gender equality goals?
The purpose of the checklist for politicians is to facilitate gender equality control of any incoming draft or proposal that is subject to political decision-making. All questions in the checklist are to be answered yes or no. For obvious reasons, the checklist for officers contains more information about how to perform the different steps, since it is officers who perform the gender impact assessment. The third step, the actual gender impact analyses, comes with the following questions:
- Describe the consequences of the proposed decision for women, men, girls and boys.
- Describe the consequences the proposed decision alternatives will have on treatment, service, representation and distribution of power and resources. Resources can be funds, time, space, localities, tools or education.
- Describe the needs for women, men, girls and boys and different demands and expectations connected to gender stereotypes. Does the decision at hand contribute to fulfilling the service goals for women, men, girls and boys?
- If the result is equal for women and men, is that how it should be? Are there any arguments from research, experience or political priorities? If the result is different for women and men, on which grounds? Is there a reason or is it just ‘business as usual’?
- Propose measures to address unmotivated differences or unreflected similarities.
The checklist contains a link to a website, www.jamstall.nu, which offers – among other things – a large selection of tools for the different steps of the decision-making process, such as the 4R-method for gender impact assessment, which consists of mapping the situation of women and men in terms of Representation, Realia, Resources and Realization.
Strengths and weaknesses
The annual follow-up reports from participants in the programme for gender mainstreaming show that only a few worked systematically with gender impact assessments in the decision-making process. Over time there was a modest increase in the use of gender impact assessment, and in the final report 19 out of 46 respondents claimed to perform gender impact assessments to some or to a large extent. No one, however, claimed to reach the highest level of the scale, which entails performing gender impact assessments in all relevant cases.
The final reports in 2013 showed that many organisations are in the course of implementing SALAR’s checklist, customised versions of that checklist or a checklist of their own. A number of organisations have chosen to combine the checklist for a gender perspective with checklists for other horizontal perspectives, such as children’s rights or environmental concerns.
The reports and research group that have followed the SALAR programme indicate a number of success factors:
- A political commitment to gender equal services
- Adequate resources, in terms of time, staff and knowledge
- A strategy to combine the work for gender equality with other horizontal perspectives
- Gender equality knowledge among politicians, management and officers
One recurrent challenge has been to make sense of identified differences in outcomes for women and men, to understand what these differences imply and, hence, what to do about it. That is why SALAR has developed a simple method for gender analysis in seven steps, together with training material for three different areas of service: social services, schools and urban planning.