Nordplus project with an impact at government level

Why is it women with a low level of education and foreign backgrounds who find it most difficult to enter the labour market? Yevgeniya Averhed, project manager at Folkuniversitetet in Uppsala, wanted to investigate this question. To find the answer she founded a project through the Nordplus Adult programme, in which she – together with colleagues from around the Nordic region and Lithuania – carried out a study.

The aim of this study was to look more closely at the reasons for the high level of unemployment amongst immigrant women, the barriers and opportunities that exist for them when entering the labour market, and what can be done to change the situation. Averhed also wanted to give the women a voice, because she feels that they are rarely heard. She and her colleague Ali Rashidi interviewed women in the whole of Sweden.

“The general belief is that the problem is caused by cultural differences – that the women have lots of children, that they think it’s better to stay at home and get welfare payments or that their husbands won’t let them work, but those we’ve interviewed say that that’s not at all the case”, says Yevgeniya Averhed.

A new focus

According to Averhed, the women say that authorities often focus on language difficulties as a barrier, but that the lack of understanding of the national education that the women bring to Sweden is a much greater problem. Another example of a barrier, according to the women interviewed, is that the information they receive from different places is not clear and coordinated, and thus only creates confusion.

“When the women arrive in Sweden we want them to be re-educated from the very beginning, which is a waste of resources,” says Averhed. “Then they get the same information several times from different authorities, they go from project to project and never get anywhere because there is a lack of coordination. They would like clear information gathered in one place, showing them what to do step by step.”

Social companies

The finding of the study is that it is not the cultural differences that create the difference; it is the structure of the reception given to the women in their new country. The project has therefore produced a number of example methods for helping the women into the labour market. One is to teach vulnerable groups how to start businesses as sole traders, within the framework of a social business cooperative. These may be in areas such as catering or sewing, and are suitable for women who perhaps lack formal education, but who are motivated and good entrepreneurs.

Transparent system

Another method is a Dutch model, Distance to Labour Market (DLM), which deals with creating a joint, transparent system for responsibility among all those who work with integration. Public authorities, businesses and private individuals must have insight into the system. This model has been tested in Luleå, Uppsala and Kristianstad, and is now being tested in more places in Sweden and in other EU countries.

“I interviewed a woman who had done five different courses in learning how to write a CV, but who still hadn’t got a job,” says Averhed. “DLM prevents that type of repetition. It is an ‘a-ha’ experience for those involved, and it provides quality assurance for the work being done.”

Great impact

The results of the project as a whole have exceeded all expectations. Averhed is continuing the work on the issue at regional and national level, and has been in contact with a range of public authorities, which have hired her as a consultant for the development of transparent systems. The government has also started work that focuses specifically on immigrant women. A new report from a government-commissioned study has come to the same conclusion as Yevgeniya Averhed and her colleagues.

“I feel proud. We hadn’t expected the impact to be this big. The issue of immigrant women is breaking new ground. People talk about it and think it’s important, but nothing is done. Now the problem is finally being brought to the table and examined more constructively.”