Client Influence and Gender Equality in Unison

‘How can clients be part of gender mainstreaming in municipal services for the mentally disabled?’ The question was asked by Anna Fridell and Douglas Gilljam from the City of Eskilstuna’s adult care division.

A training four years ago arranged by the Sörmland County Council led to a 6-month pilot project.

‘We realised that our services promoted gender segregation. We had weaving and sewing groups and computer groups,’ says Fridell. ‘Males received more funding than females. The men received more support across the board and no other factor could explain this imbalance. The gender imbalance in funding to the disabled reflected the national average: 60 per cent to men and 40 per cent to women.’

Concrete Tools

The whole thing was a matter of gender stereotypes. A study by the Swedish government on women, men and disabilities (SOU 1998:138) showed that women with disabilities face worse living conditions and are approached differently than their male counterparts in the public care system. Karin Berron’s anthology Genus och funktionshinder (2004) inspired a new way of thinking: Why were the services designed this way? Which concrete tools can be used to achieve change?

‘To focus on individuals rather than on the gender categories – although there’s also a need for men’s and women’s groups.’

‘There were a number of success factors,’ says Gilljam. ‘To focus on individuals rather than on the gender categories – although there’s also a need for men’s and women’s groups. And to rotate the work tasks. And of course to involve the administrators.’

All staff attended a half-day training session. It was important to explain that gender equality is an additional tool in the development of services.

‘How do we work well in a disability perspective? One key task is to promote staff awareness,’ says Fridell. ‘It is important to include specific goals and objectives in the operational plan.’

How could the gender mainstreaming be embraced by the clients? A joint project with the art museum in Eskilstuna concerning education in gender and art has proved successful and will be developed further. A deck of ‘leisure cards’ with pictures of different activities that can be chosen has been developed by a group of clients. Another group attended a special camp focusing on women and disabilities at Kvinnofolkhögskolan in Gothenburg. Anna Fridell was there.

Film, Workshop and Feminist Self-defence

‘We watched the film Ninjakoll and attended workshops. We did value exercises with cards. We learned different presentation techniques and met some role models. And we did feminist self-defence, which was really cool. The workshop strengthened the participants’ right to own opinions and own feelings. A girls-only group has already been formed and a group for boys is underway, as is a course about gender and disabilities.’

‘We are also noticing the importance of avoiding gaps in knowledge between staff and clients.’

‘We have discovered that the clients are not used to being asked about their opinions. And that their knowledge varies. Some are aware while others are not. We are also noticing the importance of avoiding gaps in knowledge between staff and clients. Both groups’ need for knowledge must be attended to.’

A democracy group has been asked to develop an eye-opener training programme to promote awareness of gender and gender equality. The group is working with the programme as part of their daily work routine. The goal is to reach 400 clients with information about the programme.

Citizen Issue

‘One approach has been to talk about gender equality as a citizen issue,’ says Gilljam. ‘Do the clients feel like they are participating? To what extent are individuals with mental disabilities viewed as citizens with own rights? What is justice and what is injustice?’

Fridell and Gilljam say that the lesson learned is that everything takes more time than expected.

‘That’s what happens if you want it to be sustainable. Provision of equal services regardless of gender is a quality issue. One tip is to frequently sum up and emphasise what has been achieved. Things need to keep moving in the right direction. It’s not right to use individual clients to improve the statistics.’

‘It has to be integrated into the structure of the services. It’s a matter of client influence and gender equality in unison.’

Eskilstuna’s Recommendations,

  • Involve clients in the work
  • Integrate gender equality into the structure
  • Accept that the process will take time
  • Gender equality challenges established norms and in the end is a matter of democracy.
Lisa Gålmark
Edited: 25 Oct 2016
Published: 19 Feb 2014
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