Josefine Krantz and Jenny Storvold – Members of the Swedish Painters Union

At the recent BWI European Regional Women’s Conference, the Swedish Painters Union was represented by Josefine Krantz and Jenny Storvold who shared their challenges in being women painters as well as women trade unionists.

What attracted you to become a Painter?

Jenny:  I entered the profession during high-school and I realized this was what I wanted to do with my life.   The best part about being a painter is knowing that you are appreciated by your client.  When we are in the house painting, they don’t like it because it can be somewhat chaotic.  But when we are finished, they are very happy, and this is what makes me proud.   

Josefine:  I wanted to study psychology but after my accident during high school, I just wanted to stop studying and work instead.  Since my father is a carpenter, I thought about entering carpentry but then I started to paint, I became hooked.  I like the freedom and independence in being a painter.”

What would you say to male co-workers who believe you don’t belong?

Jenny and Josefine:  Why Not?  

Jenny:  Many male painters like to boast about their physical strength and challenge each other as to how much they can lift or carry at a job site.  But we women on the other hand, use carriages or other equipment to lift big items up the stairs.  We use our brains instead of our brawns.  In fact, this is safer.  As one of only two women safety officers in the union, I should know.

What is MIRA and how does it work?

Josefine:  Women comprise 13 per cent of the Swedish Painters Union and of this, at least 30 per cent are under 25.  We realized that there was a real need for women Painters to meet, network, and exchange ideas.  It is because of this, two years ago we formed MIRA, which stands for Målinriktade, Inspirerande, Respekterade, och Accepterade.  In English it means, Goal Oriented, Inspiring, Respected, and Accepted. 

MIRA has been very important to our members and through MIRA, we give each other strength to stand up against discrimination and harassment; encourage each other to run for trade union leadership positions; educate each other; and prepare each other for any challenges we may face.

MIRA is not a “top-down” organization.  Instead, in each of our union districts, we have MIRA networks which meet regularly, so MIRA is rooted in the membership.  And all the members of MIRA are actual painters who work on the worksites.

How has the union supported MIRA?

Jenny:  The union has been important in establishing and building MIRA.  The union encourages MIRA members to participate in trainings to increase our knowledge and awareness.  I believe that trainings are important.  This is how I became introduced to trade unions.  

Jenny you said that you were introduced to the trade union through a training.  Can you elaborate?

Jenny:  In 2014, I attended a training organized by LO for workers under 30.  Right away, I realized that the trade union was for me.  I attended more trainings, broadened my understanding on a variety of issues.  Today, I am the one doing the training and educating others.  This is definitely my passion.

I go to schools to outreach to young people to not only promote the union but inform them about their rights and responsibilities so that they are not exploited in the labour market.  

Why do you think it is important for young people to know about their rights?

Jenny:  Knowledge is power.  Knowledge is also understanding that you have an obligation and responsibility to fight against exploitation and injustice.  But most importantly knowledge provides you the opportunity to become active and influence for change.  We can only influence if we are many and we do it together.  We are stronger if we are together.

How do you think men can support women and the campaign for gender equality?

Josefine:  I think it is important for men to recognize us publicly as skilled professionals.  In numerous cases, clients will gravitate to my male colleagues, some of whom are younger and less experienced than me to ask questions about the job.  On these occasions, I would really like my male co-workers to say, “Wait a minute, I actually don’t know.  I am not skilled so, why don’t you ask her as she has more experienced and is the professional.   

What is the biggest challenge in women becoming elected into trade union positions?

Jenny:  Even though many understand the importance of women in trade union leadership positions, there is still resistance.  Once they are in power, many men are unwilling to leave.  It takes a real brave and strong trade union male leader to step down.

Josefine:  It is important that trade union leaders are willing to make organizational changes to open up more positions for women to become leaders.   Some will say to women, “Just wait your turn, your chance will come.”  I disagree.  We are active and committed members of the union.  We are making important contributions.  We should be part of the leadership.  It is time for unions to change to make room for women leaders.