Connected with Erika Anne Hayfield, PhD, Associate Professor, Social Science at the University of the Faroe Islands, talking about peoples’ relationships and how they affect the Faroese society.

The Faroe Islands is a homogeneous society with roles, relations, norms and culture grounded in family values, and which is affected by the distance to other countries and by life on and with the sea. The people are strongly connected to each other but at the same way they are a mobile society. Many young people go abroad after finishing secondary education to study (of the 2.600 Faroese students undertaking tertiary education, around 1.600 of them study abroad and around 1.000 in the Faroe Islands). Some of them stay abroad after finishing their studies, therefore, to avoid “losing” young talent to other countries, strategies and programs need to be developed by the government to provide the choices young people want.

Faroese people also have a very special way of being interconnected – Prof. Hayfield calls it the “Interconnected Faroese Network”. Everyone seems to know each other, and if not, they will have a mutual connection. You can get an impression of how the Faroese network with each other by flying with Atlantic Airways to Vágar airport – it seems like a big family is on the plane home, chatting, going around and saying hello, laughing, discussing or even singing. This includes the very friendly staff of the airline!

That particular strong sense of belonging sometimes brings people who lived abroad to come back to the islands at some point. But at the same time it also makes it rather challenging for the new immigrants to find their place in society – they must find out how to build and use their very own personal network.

One of Prof. Erika Hayfield’s research areas is the power asymmetries and gender relation on the Faroe Islands. Power asymmetries between genders for example exist on the labor market, where women in general are highly active, but overwhelmingly work part-time. More importantly women are not well represented in management positions, so the balance of gender justice is impaired. Welfare for example is one of the sectors where many women work – a sector with a traditional part-time culture.

New industries strategically supported by the government are tourism, IT, research and teaching. They offer alternatives to the classic fishing and marine industry which is naturally dominated by men. Norms of masculinity entail that men do not have the same caring rights when it comes to children or family. The findings of Prof. Hayfields research can help politicians to decide for developments affecting the society positively.

Faroese people move a lot – to study, to work, to travel. Often they meet someone abroad, get married and stay there. The target for the society is to give them choices and attractive reasons to stay in or come back to the Faroe Islands. Recently a “policy on gender equality” was written by the Faroese Ministry of Social Affairs to identify and regulate a range of gender equality issues, including caring rights, like paternity leave for men. An important step to contribute to the better of the society – whereas other neighboring countries like Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have a strong background of gender justice.

“Everyone must be able to choose for themselves what kind of lifestyle they want to live” – whether it is to give priority to the family or to favor a career with good chances to grow professionally in a good job. “We do not evaluate or judge lifestyles, we just try to find out what causes them” and what the underlying reasons are for changing patterns. As Prof. Hayfield says “the way we live together as men and women does not necessarily come natural but is affected by choices we make within a spectrum of opportunities and constraints” – and a wide spectrum of choices must be made available.

Prof. Hayfield and the social science department of the University entertain a range of relationships with other small states and islands to discuss similarities and exchange on possible solutions. It is all about “the survival of societies in distant places and the way people live in such places”. They engage in relationships with colleagues and places at the peripherals of the Nordic countries, and also with islands like Malta, all of which have comparable challenges or societies.

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