How do you say Gender Equality in Faroese? I came across the question quite by accident when I was searching for information on the Southbank Centre’s annual Women of the World Festival, which, for those who may be interested, will take place between 7th and 12th March.
Intrigued, I fell down the rabbit hole and happened upon Nordic Matters – a year long festival hosted at the Southbank, in partnership with The Nordic Council of Ministers. As luck would have it my free Saturday afternoon coincided with the Opening Weekend so I headed down to, if nothing else, to pick up some new vocabulary.
I have to say I was really impressed with what I found at Royal Festival Hall. The place was buzzing with families, friends and solo visitors like me, all eager to soak up as much of the Nordic atmosphere as possible. It was jam-packed with lots to do for people of all ages, from talks to workshops, to storytelling and not forgetting fika, which is just an excuse to take the weight off your feet and enjoy a cuppa with something sweet.
Almost everything was free of charge with the exception of a couple of workshops and those these were reasonably priced at around £10. The timetable appeared to run very smoothly and, as far as I could tell, all events were located on the same level of the building allowing you to get to whichever event appealed the most with relative ease.
I managed to catch two of the talks and both were fascinating. The first – Ice, Forests and the Future – looked at the relationship between the Nordic region’s inhabitants and nature and the panel consisted of three writers – one Faroese, one Icelandic and one Finn.
I found this to be my most inspiring talk of the day and really enjoyed listening to the authors describe their interconnectedness with nature and how this, in turn, permeates their work. Each one described, rather poetically, the impact nature has had on them and all agreed that if we allow the natural world to become a greater part of our lives our wellbeing and mental health will certainly improve. It reminded me of a Cara Dillon concert I went to once where she described the old Irish remedy for heartache as taking oneself off out into the fresh air.
I was particularly struck by author and adventurer Durita Holm, who hails from the Faroe Islands. I’ve mentioned before that my Grandmother was Faroese and how I would love to explore the country’s culture on a deeper level but I have never met another living Faroese person, to whom I am not related, in the UK. I loved listening to Durita as she recalled fondly how seismic monitors have recently found the 18 island archipelago to ‘breathe’ in rhythm with the sea. Isn’t that such a magical way to describe that sense of oneness with nature? It’s obvious the Nordic region places great significance on the natural world and its preservation although it’s worth noting Finnish author, Emmi Itaranta’s observations on her government’s plans to turn Finland into a country which runs off biofuels. While it seems like a greener option than the consumption of fossil fuels on the surface, it relies upon mass deforestation which would dramatically alter the Finnish landscape – and the lives of those who live there.
Icelandic poet Sjòn also referenced the old Norse fairytales and reminded us that they served as a warning not to take things from the Earth’s resources which we don’t intend to return. I was very inspired by each writers’ ability and commitment to weaving the natural world into their work and it certainly gave me food for thought.
My next talk – the one which hooked me in in the first instance – was a larger panel comprising a diverse range of creative professionals from musician to journalist to author to broadcast television Head. This was a fairly candid discussion about the perception of gender equality in the Nordic region and while we in the UK often see it as something of a utopia, it is, as the panel conceded, not the bed of roses we imagine.
For example, the panel discussed the wider impact of a gendered workforce. Durita Holm explained that, as fishing is the largest industry in the Faroes men tend to become fishermen once they leave school. Women prefer to follow the education route and, upon graduating, tend to seek opportunities outside the Islands, though many of the Islands’ politicians are female, thus enabling them to effect change at a high level. However, by creating a gendered workforce the Faroes has come up against a problem which threatens its very existence: there aren’t enough women left on the Faroes to replenish its resources, so to speak. So the men have turned to the Internet for love and have begun importing brides from as far away as Thailand and the Philippines. The panel also looked at paternity leave, gender equality in Sami culture and it exists in the Nordic region compared with our own idea of it in the UK. A great panel full of interesting insights although I never did learn how to say gender equality in Faroese!
Norwegian folk musician Moddi rounded off the day with a series of songs from his latest album, Unsongs, which features 12 songs which have previously been banned or censored. A very interesting project which he elaborates upon further over on his YouTube channel. If you missed the opening weekend fret not, Nordic Matters is sticking around all year though the majority of events appear to be scheduled to take place in January. Take a look if you’re at a loose end.
Until next time,