Gender Equality and Quality of Life

Perspectives from Poland and Norway

by Marta Warat (Volume editor) Ewa Krzaklewska (Volume editor) Anna Ratecka (Volume editor) Krystyna Slany (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 322 Pages


This book engages with a critical perspective on gender equality and quality of life. It provides a comprehensive overview of theoretical and methodological frameworks for exploring both concepts which is complemented by the analysis of gender equality policies in Poland and Norway. With contributors from sociology to history and health studies, it draws on a wide range of examples to examine a multidimensional concept underpinning policy commitments and actions in areas such as family, labour market, health, reproductive rights or participation in political life.
"This is not only an expertly written and interesting book, but also a particularly current one in the light of the Europe-wide socio-political changes that affect both Poland and Norway."
Prof. Małgorzata Fuszara (University of Warsaw)

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of tables
  • List of textboxes and figures
  • Gender equality and quality of life: theoretical, methodological and policy approaches (Ewa Krzaklewska / Anna Ratecka / Krystyna Slany / Marta Warat)
  • Part I: Gender equality and quality of life. Theoretical and methodological approaches
  • Studying gender equality as a multidimensional concept (Ewa Krzaklewska)
  • Well-being in the context of gender equality (Zofia Łapniewska)
  • Quality of life and well-being. A review and systematisation of concepts (Barbara Woźniak / Beata Tobiasz-Adamczyk)
  • Part II: Gender equality and quality of life. Perspectives from Norway
  • The development of a Norwegian model of gender equality research (Øystein Gullvåg Holter)
  • Norwegian gender equality policies in transition: withdrawing of government responsibility? (Trine Rogg Korsvik)
  • Gender, health and well-being. Perspectives, issues and future possibilities from the Norwegian context (Kari Nyheim Solbrække)
  • Part III: Gender equality and quality of life. Perspectives from Poland
  • Gendering citizenship. Reflections on gender equality policies in Poland (Marta Warat)
  • Gender equality in public life in Poland (Paulina Sekuła)
  • Gender equality in the labour market and in the workplace. The case of Poland (Ewa Lisowska)
  • Reproductive rights and gender equality in Poland after 1989 (Ewelina Ciaputa)
  • Notes on contributors
  • Index of Names

| 7 →

List of tables

Table 2.1: Matrix of areas and dimensions – selected examples of indicators

Table 3.1: Summary of the quality of life indicators (dependent on the analytical aspects included)

Table 3.2: Summary of the gender indicators (dependent on the analytical aspects included)

Table 4.1: WHOQOL Group’s quality of life dimensions vs Nussbaum’s list of capabilities

Table 4.2: WHOQOL Group’s quality of life dimensions vs Gender Equality and Quality of Life (Norway 2007)

Table 10.1: Employment and unemployment rates of women and men in the European Union countries and Norway, average 2014, percent

Table 10.2: Average monthly pay of women and men by occupational groups in Poland, 2012

Table 10.3: Average monthly pay of women and men by education level in Poland, 2012

Table 11.1: Students attending a “Preparation for Family Life” course, percent

Table 11.2: Sources of sexuality-related information as declared by Poles aged 15–49, percent

Table 11.3: Methods of contraception used by women aged 15–49 within the last 12 months, 2011

| 9 →

List of textboxes and figures

Textbox 2.1: Measuring the local context of gender equality

Textbox 2.2: Attitudes towards the roles of men and women and towards gender equality as a social and political goal (selected from diverse research projects)

Textbox 2.3: Measuring gender-equal practices within family (selected from diverse research projects)

Textbox 2.4: Gender-equal practices in the workplace

Textbox 2.5: Measurement of power in relations

Textbox 2.6: Negotiating power in relations – gender equality as a process

Textbox 2.7: Gender equality in childhood and youth

Figure 5.1: A Norwegian path to studies of men and gender equality and its international development

Textbox 6.1: The institutional body of gender equality policies in 2015

Figure 10.1: Women and men on the boards of the large listed companies in European Union countries (April, 2013)

Figure 11.1: The context of sexual and reproductive health and rights

Figure 11.2: The Right to Health: Essential Elements

Figure 11.3: Twelve Human Rights Key to Reproductive Rights

| 11 →

Ewa Krzaklewska, Anna Ratecka, Krystyna Slany & Marta Warat

Institute of Sociology
Jagiellonian University

Gender equality and quality of life: theoretical, methodological and policy approaches

Achieving gender equality is central to the protection of human rights, the functioning of democracy, respect for the rule of law and economic growth and competitiveness.

(Council of Europe 2013)


Over the last decades, the concept of gender equality has provoked intense debates over its conceptualisation, labels and framings used to capture the cultural and structural conditions under which gender equality could be advanced. Despite many attempts undertaken to clarify the meaning of gender equality, the ongoing discussions stimulate pluralism in approaches, viewing gender equality as complex, dynamic, multidimensional and contested (Lombardo, Meier and Verloo 2009a; Verloo 2006). The frequently voiced argument is that gender equality is a central aspect of democratic, social, economic, and political development in Europe, a key value shaping the order of the society, be it in family, labour market or civil society. This finds expression in diverse regulations, practices, legislations, and policies dealing directly with gender equality, but also taking it into account as a perspective mediating other areas. Recently, the latter includes the dimension of quality of life. This book aims to bring together these two concepts: gender equality and quality of life. Such contribution is important for several reasons.

Firstly, the chapters included in this book engage in a theoretical and methodological discussion with a range of studies covering these two concepts: gender equality and quality of life. They examine how these concepts are being defined and measured, both on a macrostructural level with the usage of indices comparable across countries, and on an individual level through the survey tools and qualitative methods exploring subjective experiences of gender equality. Secondly, the book makes a vital contribution to shedding light on both the general (transnational) and the specific (national – Polish and Norwegian) conditions under ← 11 | 12 → which gender equality and quality of life are shaped by social, cultural, and political processes. The specific areas such as labour market, health and well-being or public life are looked into in detail, providing new data on the situation of women and men. Taking the two countries as examples, the authors examine and evaluate different approaches to investigating and theorising gender equality policies. Over the course of these discussions, the main strategies, core actors and key outcomes of the policies are assessed. The contributions recognise varying political and institutional processes, exploring the role of national context in shaping gender equality policies. Hence, the potential and the shortcomings of the already developed tools for approaching gender (in)equalities are identified and contextualised. The book is characterised by the richness of the authors’ perspectives which show how diversified methodology can be used in the studies of gender equality – from quantitative country-level indicators to qualitative approach.

This introductory chapter provides a brief overview of the approaches towards gender equality, especially in policy settings. This is followed by a reflection on bringing quality of life into gender studies. Finally, the rationale for choosing Poland and Norway as case studies is presented.

Exploring gender equality policies

Gender equality is a concept “open for interpretation and contestation by different actors” and “it is discursively constructed in particular ways that are not to be understood as fixed achievements that cannot be challenged” (Lombardo, Meier and Verloo 2009b: 7). This fluid character of the concept and different meanings attached to it cause methodological challenges for researchers, but also create a space for new definitions and interpretations. Therefore, gender equality can be perceived as an integral part of human rights and an element of the global measures of development (see Łapniewska in this book). It is also a widely recognised purpose of social justice, modernisation, and economic efficiency policy. As an important part of policy framework in contemporary societies, gender equality engages various political and social actors, including national, international and transnational institutions, non-governmental organisations and activist networks, aiming at transforming existing social orders (Korsvik in this book; Warat in this book). Last but not least, it is an everyday practice and experience, relevant at every stage of life course, and as such is also an object of study and analysis (Krzaklewska in this book).

Gender equality as a theoretical concept has been developed within feminist studies and applied in the analyses of various spheres of social life. The definitions of this concept range from laconic and general – for example, “Gender equality ← 12 | 13 → means that women and men, girls and boys have equal power and influence, and equal rights, responsibilities, obligations and opportunities in every area of life” (Nordic Council of Ministers 2015: 8) – to broad ones, touching upon its theoretical foundation, like the one presented by the Council of Europe (2004: 10):

Within the existing studies, three visions of gender equality can be identified, followed by three strategies of achieving it (Rees 1992; Walby 2005). Those three distinct approaches to gender equality are described by Judith Squires (1999 quoted in Verloo 2005: 345) as follows: “the strategy of inclusion, based on the principle of equality; the strategy of reversal, based on the principle of difference; and the strategy of displacement, based on the principle of diversity”. Each of them is translated into policy instruments. The first one, called tinkering, is based on the principle of equal treatment and uses legal redress to ensure the same treatment of women and men. Tailoring, in turn, is a strategy based upon the principle of difference, which uses tools such as positive action and recognises that differences between men and women prompt specific measures for addressing disadvantages experienced by women as a consequence of those differences. The third strategy –transforming – is based on the principle of diversity. It uses gender mainstreaming as a tool, which helps understanding how the existing systems and structures cause indirect discrimination, followed by altering and/or redesigning them to become more appropriate (cf. Global Gender Gap Report 2015).

Gender equality policies yield a relevant question, often raised by academics as well as gender equality practitioners, pertaining to an intersectional approach (Ferree 2008; Hancock 2007; McCall 2005; Squires 2007; Walby 2007; Yuval-Davis 2006). The intersectional perspective puts emphasis upon the “dimensions of inequality themselves as dynamic and in changing, mutually constituted relationships with each other, from which they cannot be disentangled” (Ferree 2008: 87). It allows to include multiple forms of inequalities in a dynamic way and better ← 13 | 14 → adjust the proposed measures in order to tackle gender inequalities in relations to other factors. The intersectional perspective is seen as a tool that allows avoiding the reductionist approach of confining inequalities in separate spheres, be it gender in family, class in economy, etc. (Walby 2007). Yet, it should be treated not as “a concept added on to an analysis formed on some other theoretical ground, but is part of basic explanation of the social order as such” (Ferree 2008: 87). The development of the intersectional approach is a remedy for presenting women (to a lesser extent men) in policy papers as a homogenous group, disregarding even such basic characteristics as their family or socio-economic situation, and thereby failing to address suited policy solutions. On the other end of this spectrum, a tendency of ignoring gender in policy documents dealing with other inequalities also calls for a more nuanced approach (Verloo, Bustelo and Lombardo 2007: 283).

The intersectional approach has created new challenges for gender equality policies (e.g. Agustín and Siim 2014; Holter, Svare and Egeland 2009; Kantola and Nousiainen 2012; Kraus 2012; Lombardo, Meier and Verloo 2009a; Lombardo and Verloo 2009; Mokre and Siim 2012; Verloo 2005; Walby 2005; 2009). The biggest task at present is to bring together the cultural, ethno-national, and class diversity on the one hand and, on the other, the politics of identity, social mobilisation of actors, their recognition and integration. The transformative potential of the intersectional approach has also met cautious judgements from scholars. According to Mieke Verloo (2006), intersectionality in policies may prioritise claims for diversity over gender equality struggles, causing significant tensions between these two approaches in the European Union policies. Recognising the tensions and barriers for employing the intersectional approach, Judith Squires (2007) argues that two opposite scenarios are possible. In the first scenario, policies oriented towards addressing a vast array of different inequalities may push the specific foci of gender equality into the margins and potentially blur and eventually weaken or delay the achievements of equality between men and women. In the second scenario, developing sensitivity to broader inequality through an intersectional dimension may equally facilitate an acceleration of reaching all equality-centred goals (including gender equality).

Importance of gender equality perspective on quality of life

While there exists extensive literature on gender equality, the relation between gender equality and quality of life has not been sufficiently explored yet. Although in the developing countries, gender differences in quality of life has been investigated in the context of social development since the 1980s (e.g. World Survey on the Role of Women in Development conducted by UN since 1984), in Europe this perspective ← 14 | 15 → has become popular rather recently. Various approaches – such as the capability approach developed by Amartya Sen (1993) and Martha Nussbaum (2000) – have developed frameworks to capture the differences between women and men’s well-being and quality of life. They contribute to a better understanding of quality of life from subjective and objective perspectives, taking into account individual, societal and contextual factors or health factors (see Łapniewska in this book; Woźniak and Tobiasz-Adamczyk in this book). In a similar vein, they also view gender equality from a new angle, pushing the studies further by arguing that the relationship between gender equality and quality of life is far from simple, for example, is differing for men and women or between groups of women and men (e.g. of different socio-economic status or between rural and urban women and men). Especially Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway) were active in researching the relations between gender equality and quality of life (Holter in this book), while also reflecting upon the measurement of gender equality (e.g. Backhans et al. 2009; Backhans, Lundberg and Månsdotter 2007; Harryson, Novo and Hammarström 2012; Holter, Svare and Egeland 2009; Neyer, Lappegård and Vignoli 2013; Sörlin et al. 2011). Other studies emphasise the need to combine objective indicators to measure women and men’s quality of life with qualitative study (Austen and Leonard 2008).

With a growing number of research concerning the relation between gender equality and quality of life, there are more arguments confirming the need to apply the gender lens for the analysis. There is an extensive evidence that gender equality translates into positive effects, not only on the level of the society, but also with respect to the individuals’ quality of life. The study of Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009) indicates the positive impact of income equalities on well-being in society, including the increase of social trust, health improvement or decrease of violence. They underline that income inequalities result in lowering of the social status of women. This impact causes further effects of gender inequality: in the countries with lower women’s status (as compared to men), women less often vote, less often serve public functions, less often receive higher education degree, less often work professionally, and, last but not least, earn less. Another cross-country analysis indicates that, in European countries with higher gender equality (and in the US, too), both women and men are happier and suffer depression less often (Holter 2014). Moreover, in more gender-equal countries, the chance of violent death is halved, rates of divorce are lower and higher fertility is witnessed (Holter 2014). Hence, numerous research shows that gender equality not only has a positive effect on quality of life and health, especially for women (Holter, Svare and Egeland 2009), but can also translate into positive societal outcome for both boys/men and girls/women (e.g. Scambor, Wojnicka and Bergmann 2013). ← 15 | 16 →

Studying and revisiting gender equality and quality of life not only brings into picture the positive achievements, but also reveals various tensions. Researchers have raised a particular concern about the relation between gender equality in family and well-being. In most countries, we witness the “incomplete” revolution (Esping-Andersen 2009) or “unfinished” equality (Backhans, Lundberg and Månsdotter 2007), where women are active in the labour market, but the participation of men in care and housework is still insufficient. This situation hinders the realisation of positive effects of gender equality on health and quality of life. Favouring women’s participation in the labour market without freeing them from the responsibility over the household and care of children and other dependents (e.g. older people) may cause an overburden with duties which, in turn, may have further negative effects on mental and physical health (for example, increasing the level of stress). Arguably, this inequality can have negative impact on both partners, e.g. inequality in division of household tasks causes distress to both women and men in the couple, no matter who is treated unfairly (Harryson, Novo and Hammarström 2012). The research conducted in Sweden underlines the importance of men’s engagement in the private sphere (Backhans, Lundberg and Månsdotter 2007). As the authors state, “Sweden may have reached a critical point, where further one-sided expansion by women into traditional male roles, spheres and activities will not lead to positive effects for either sex unless men also significantly change their behaviour” (Backhans, Lundberg and Månsdotter 2007: 1901).

As recently argued, gender revolution – including both the engagement of women in the labour market and of men in household duties and in care responsibilities – reverses the trend of low fertility and reinforces the institution of family (Goldscheider, Bernhardt and Lappegård 2015). The first phase of the gender revolution, meaning the entrance of women into the labour market, has resulted in the increase of divorces, widespread cohabitation and non-marital childbearing, as well as delayed and reduced fertility, while the second phase – the engagement of men in private sphere leading to more equality in housework and care – would strengthen the unions and raise fertility.1 A theoretical assumption behind this theory is that people do everything to maximise their well-being, which is why gender equality becomes indispensable for women and men in families to achieve high quality of life in the current structural conditions. ← 16 | 17 →

One of the contexts in which the relation between gender equality and quality of life is particularly remarkable is that of advancing gender equality in unequal environment. The pioneers of gender equality – those whose gender equality attitudes and practices are more equal than in their surroundings – might enjoy less health benefits than those whose gender-equal perceptions and practices are backed up by the environment (Backhans et al. 2009). In the light of those results, the comparison of Poland and Norway in terms of gender equality may bring interesting results. A closer look at the spheres of women’s activity, be it labour market (Lisowska in this book), civic sphere (Sekuła in this book) or reproductive sphere (Ciaputa in this book), shows that the inequalities are still pertinent and the progress is still rather slow. Hence the question arises: what are the effects of gender equality on quality of life in Poland which scores lower than Norway in various gender equality indices (see Łapniewska in this book)? As Mona Christina Backhans and others (2009: 1901) suggest: “In a more gender-unequal society, with large power inequalities both within families and overall, it is possible that any change towards gender equality will benefit both men and women”.

Poland and Norway as case studies

To illustrate how gender equality and quality of life can be advanced through policy measures, we decided to examine two countries different in terms of their histories of gender equality policy implementation, as well as cultural contexts, geographical locations and relation with the European Union (a member and a non-member state): Poland and Norway. This choice enables us to look at two distinct models of gender equality policy, although the analysis put forward in this book does not aim at comparing both countries or evaluating their advancement in achieving gender equality goals.

Over the past decades, Norway has been in the forefront of gender equality, securing one of the top positions in the Global Gender Gap Index (Global Gender Gap Report 2015).2 Poland, by contrast, lags behind: gender equality has not been treated as a high priority by the governments, which is why considerable gaps between men and women still persist in many spheres of social life. In Norway, the framework for gender equality has been developed since the 1970s when the first debates took place concerning equal status and rights for women and men, and when the first Gender Equality Act was passed. Since then, measures aimed at advancing gender equality have been developed, but this process cannot be seen ← 17 | 18 → as a harmonious progress towards gender democracy (see Korsvik in this book). After the period of significant structural changes in the 1980s, characterised by the institutionalisation of gender equality policies and cooperation between national authorities and grassroots feminist organisations, the pace of reforms slowed down and the reluctance to introduce progressive reforms could be observed. First, the feminist advocacy’s appeals for further actions on improving women’s position competed against the claims for recognition of other underprivileged and marginalised groups. Second, a resistance to gender equality became stronger in Norwegian society. As a result, the 1990s can be seen as a period of missed opportunities and lack of strong commitment towards gender equality policies. Despite this backlash against gender equality polices, Norway has never stopped treating gender equality as a core value and “a part of Norway’s identity”. The successive governments have related gender equality policies to the provision of a strong welfare state and reconciliation of work and family life, but these were not the only aims pursued. Women’s movements and feminist activists have advocated for enforcing provisions concerning the prevention of violence against women, reproductive rights or inclusion of women in the processes of decision-making.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (April)
Well-being and health Men and masculinity studies Political participation Labour market Reproductive rights Gender equality research
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 322 pp., 13 b/w graphs., 11 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Marta Warat (Volume editor) Ewa Krzaklewska (Volume editor) Anna Ratecka (Volume editor) Krystyna Slany (Volume editor)

Marta Warat is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Krakow. Ewa Krzaklewska is a Researcher at the Institute of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Krakow. Anna Ratecka is a Researcher at the Institute of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Krakow. Krystyna Slany is a Professor at the Institute of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, as well as Chair of the Department of Population Studies and the founder of Gender Studies at the Institute of Sociology at Jagiellonian University, Krakow.


Title: Gender Equality and Quality of Life
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