Stories of the Finnish Arctic Expertise
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Women step forward in the Arctic

ARCTIC STORIES Gosia Smieszek and Tahnee Prior want to hear women’s voices in the Arctic debate.

Many great initiatives begin with a fortunate coincidence. That is true for Women of the Arctic, a UArctic Congress side event. It seeks to raise awareness of women’s issues in the Arctic as the women themselves see them.

“We both attended a workshop for young leaders at the Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi a year ago. While I was catching up with Gosia, a small seed was planted”, Tahnee Prior remembers.

“Arctic conferences were just mushrooming, but we realised that there was no venue for the women of the Arctic to discuss their own perspectives. So when the chance to seek funding for this event came up, we jumped on it”, Gosia Smieszek continues.

“There was a bit of frustration as well. We always hear that women are the backbone to the communities, yet there is not much chance for them to participate in the debate or decision making”, Tahnee Prior sighs.

Both women are accomplished researchers, but they wanted the event to reach beyond the academic field. They decided to bring together all women living in or working on the Arctic, including activists and artists. The focus is also on women decision makers, and on bringing women from the unrepresented circumpolar communities to attend.

“The distances, the cost of travel make it challenging to bring these women to the conference venues, yet we should not have these discussions without them. The women of remote communities in the north wear so many different hats, we are lucky that so many of them are able to come to our event”, Tahnee Prior notes.

Women are integral to their communities. At the same time, the communities are not always kind to them. This duality will come up in the panel about gender-based violence, where women from Alaska, Greenland, Finland, and Iceland can share their experiences. Indigenous rights will be discussed together with women’s rights.

“We do not want to highlight just problems, but also to focus on solutions, on things that are working. There are so many great things happening and these women are already making it happen, so we want to showcase the positive experiences”, Gosia Smieszek reminds.

Art and artists are an important part of the event that will open with playwright Chantal Bilodeau of the Arctic Cycle group presenting a short play, Whale Song, inspired by the women of Alaska. The creative communications collective What Took You So Long will document the event. One day is too short to discuss all the themes the organisers want to raise, so together with the artists and activists they have created a digital storytelling platform, Plan A. to sustain the awareness.

“The best part of this project so far has been the support and encouragement that we are getting. We feel that this really testifies to the importance and timeliness of our initiative.”

Women of the Arctic is a side event of the UArctic Congress, supported by co-organizers UArctic Vice President Outi Snellman and University of Helsinki Professor Reetta Toivanen. The UArctic Congress opened on Tuesday in Oulu and will move to Helsinki on Thursday. With over 550 participants from around 30 countries, the UArctic congress is an essential part of Finland’s Arctic Council chairmanship program. It highlights the themes and priorities of the chairmanship, including the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, supporting gender equality, and the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The University of the Arctic (UArctic) is a cooperative network of universities, colleges, research institutes and other organizations concerned with education and research in and about the North.

Gosia Smieszek and Tahnee Prior have created a platform for Arctic women to discuss their own views and experiences. Photos (c) Compic/Kimmo Brandt

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