Mr/Ms. Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen.
Norway is known as a society based upon gender equality - a country
in which women and men to a great extent share the tasks related to
working-life, family-life and politics.In my opinion complete gender
equality entails that women and men have equal rights and opportunities,
that they are treated as individuals and that all tasks in society,
working-life and within the family are shared equally.
As far as I know no country has reached complete gender equality,
not even Norway, although women's rights and opportunities have improved
over the years. It has not always been like this and the road ahead
is still long. Many factors have been important and in the following
I will discuss some of these.
At the beginning of the last century women in Norway had few rights
and opportunities. Norwegian women played no part in the political
life. The right for women to vote was first accepted in 1913 and
the first female member of parliament was elected in the 1920`s.
Female participation in working-life was dependent on social status
and the family economy. No matter social status married women remained
out of work. The family economy was dependent on the fathers income
and he therefore also controlled the family's total consumption.
Those women who chose to divorce their husbands experienced great
financial and social difficulties. Many women chose to remain in
a difficult marriage rather than get a divorce and all the problems
that would follow this choice.
After the second world war Norway was faced with the extensive
task of rebuilding the country. The idea of the welfare state was
developed and realised after the war and during the 50s and 60s.
Employment for all was an important prerequisite for the successful
development of a welfare state. This meaning employment for all
men! In relation to women the political aim and a sign of high status
was having a husband supporting wife and children. Those women choosing
to work were quite unique and few in numbers. In the 1960s less
than 20% of the female population were employed. Even less than
20% of the married women were employed. More than any other European
country the Norwegian society depended on the housewives! Due to
the development of the welfare state and financial progress families
could offer their children education beyond primary school. Education
was mainly offered the sons - the destiny of the daughters were
to be mothers and housewives. Slowly also young women were offered
During the late 60s and early 70s many changes occurred in Europe,the
United States and the rest of the world. Students attacked the established
society and got increasingly involved in political issues. Women's
rights and liberation were put on the agenda in many countries.
Also the United Nations and the European Union focused on gender
equality, women's rights and living conditions. Also Norway put
the issue of gender equality on the agenda. Women's organisations
had been working for gender equality and women's rights since the
beginning of the century. They now experienced prosperity and increased
attendance. New organisations and female wings of political parties
were established. Their work was aimed at both the public and within
the political parties, and demands were put forward for political
codetermination and statutory protection against gender discrimination.
In Norway The Gender Equality Council was established in 1972.
The functions of the Gender Equality Council was to strengthen women's
rights and promote change leading to gender equality. In 1973 a
committee was established to prepare a proposal for the Gender Equality
Act. The committee put forward its proposal in 1975 and the Act
of today does not differ greatly from this initial proposal. The
political parties agreed that gender equality was an important issue,
but as to whether Norway needed a Gender Equality Act there was
some disagreement. The different opinions also involved the issue
regarding whether the Act should be neutral in relation to gender
or if it should only prohibit discrimination of women.
The Gender Equality Act passed in the Parliament in 1978 and entered
into force in 1979, four year after the proposal was presented to
the Parliament. A result of the Act was the appointment of the first
Gender Equality Ombud in 1979.
There is no doubt that women's organisations in Norway played an
important role in the work for gender equality, the Gender Equality
Act and the Gender Equality Ombud. The work of women's organisations
has also been decisive in the work to promote law-reform related
to gender equality .The Gender Equality Act - which is my field
of work - has entailed great changes in Norwegian society, but not
entirely on its own. Our constant political focus on women's and
mens rights and positions, the importance of amending legislation
and promoting a change in attitude and behaviour regarding gender
equality have also been of great importance.The Gender Equality
Act has given us a statutory basis for demanding equal treatment
of women and men in working-life. Especially relating to equal pay
and appointments. The Act has also made it possible for the Gender
Equality Ombud to put forward the topic of non-discriminatory treatment
of women and men in relation to amending or introducing legislation
in other areas of the law. The Gender Equality Act applies to discrimination
between women and men in all areas of the society and as a consequence
of this my work is almost unlimited.
The Gender Equality Act gives the Gender Equality Ombud two main
tasks. The primary task of the Gender Equality Ombud is to ensure
that the provisions of the Act are followed. Any individual, organisation
or group of people feeling discriminated against may bring cases
before the Ombud. In addition to this the Ombud shall work to promote
gender equality in the society as a whole. This entails that the
Ombud must join in the general debate and express her views regarding
gender equality. The Ombud must also ensure that the Gender Equality
Act and the Ombud is made known to the public. During the past 20
years since the Act entered into force the Ombud has dealt with
many complaints regarding discrimination; especially discrimination
within the working-life. Additionally all our former Ombuds have
been public figures through media's interest in gender topics. The
Ombud gives her opinion on gender related politics through hearings
related to new legislation and proposed public undertakings.
Compared to the situation 50 years ago women now experience a different
situation and hold other positions. Today more than 70% of the female
population are employed, and their financial independence has as
such improved. The female participation in the working life is also
high for those with small children.Women are employed in all areas
of the work-force, but there are certain areas of the working life
where women are in majority or minority. The Norwegian working life
is divided due to gender. The jobs typically held by females are
in the public sector, work of a caring nature and teaching. In the
private sector females hold jobs in the commodity trade. Almost
half of the female work force work part time. This is mainly due
to the fact that women still have the main responsibility for children
and other household chores. Most women therefore hold "two"
jobs, and the only way to combine them is to reduce the working
hours for one of them.
One of the reasons that so many women work is the introduction
of the welfare system in the 1960 and the more recent developments
in this system. We have good systems for leave of absence with pay
in conjunction with pregnancy and birth. In 1977 our Act relating
to worker protection and working environment entered into force
and allowed for leave of absence with pay in conjunction with giving
birth. Parents are entitled to leave of absence for 52 weeks with
80% of their original pay. The pay is covered by our National Insurance.
The right to leave of absence is compulsory for the mother three
weeks prior to giving birth and 6 weeks after giving birth. The
father has an exclusive right to four of the 52 weeks. If the father
does not wish to use this right it may not be transferred to the
mother. The additional 39 weeks may be shared amongst the parents
as they wish.The four week father quota was introduced in 1993 and
to day more than 80% of the fathers use this right. This right is
used both by fathers holding high positions in the economic life
and politicians. A few years ago our Minister of Finance chose to
stay at home for four weeks with his new born child. As already
mentioned the father may also choose to stay at home with his child
for a longer period of time. This is a simple procedure, but still
most women choose to stay at home for most of the time.The possibilities
to combine work and politics with childcare entails that also younger
women and men can participate in important social development.
The present Norwegian Government consists of many women and many
of the Ministers have small children. They combine important political
work with that of being a parent. During the past few years we have
had a few female Ministers taking leave of absence after giving
birth while still being a Minister. There is no general dissatisfaction
or disagreement to this arrangement, although I consider this arrangement
impossible only 20 - 30 years ago.The length of the leave of absence
in conjunction with pregnancy and birth makes it possible to combine
children and staying in the work force. This again has led to an
increasing number of child-births in Norway. Our birth rate is today
1.75 and with this number we are one of the European countries with
the highest number of child-births seen in relation to the population
as a whole. As a comparison , and to my knowlegde, Japanese women
on average give birth to 1.32 children. This may be due to the fact
that Japanese women to a greater extent must choose between work
and children, and that some due to this situation wait until they
are older before founding a family.
Even if women take part in the work force at almost the same rate
as men, we still experience great differences as to which positions
are held by women and those that are held by men. Most highest positions
in both the private and the public sector are held by men. The female
participation in such top positions are only 6%-7% in the private
sector and 20-25% in the public sector. One could hope that this
low number was due to differences in education and work experience.
But the bitter fact is today that more women than men complete higher
education at our Universities. Women have also been in the work
force so long that one can not claim that the lack of female leaders
is due to their lack of experience. One reason so few women hold
high positions may be that there is still scepticism as to women's
competence in working life. The complaints received by my office
clearly show that women are discriminated against when appointed.
In numbers these complaints are received more often than any other
Norway is often describes as a country based on gender equality
due to the fact that many women are active in the political field.
This is indeed true. Our present Government consists of 8 women
and 11 men. The women constitute 42%. In our Parliament, Stortinget
37% of the representatives are women. On the local level we have
42,8% women in the county council and 35,4% in the municipal council.It
is important to note that there are no formal quota requirements
for elected political positions. The large number of women participating
in the political field are due to non-legal mechanisms. In particular
efforts within the political parties, pressure from women's organisations
and "vote for women" campaigns. The major political parties
have their own internal female quotas of at least 40% in connection
with nominations to elections and the composition of our governing
bodies at all levels. Since 1986 there has been a customary practice
for the Prime Minister to have at least 40% female Ministers in
his or her Government. In my opinion these rules have played an
important role and proved to be quite effective.
Even if we have achieved some of our goals and experience admiration
for our work relating to gender equality we still have more ground
to cover and challenges to be met in the future. Women still have
the main responsibility for children and the home. Men have changed,
but less so than women. Men are to a greater extent involved in
their children's everyday life, but many men still believe that
their main occupation should be working rather than caring for children.
A combination of work and childcare is considered to be too difficult.
I believe that this has more to do with tradition and a stereotypical
understanding of the different sexes rather that an understanding
based upon reality. In the future, we must put more focus on the
man and the future male role-model. My office experience that men
feel that they are discriminated against when it comes to childcare
and the right to spend time with their children after divorce. After
a divorce many men loose contact with their children and find it
difficult to be considered capable of taking care of their children
on equal terms with the mothers.
We still have a substancial gender pay gap in Norway. Womens salary
is 86% of that of men. This tell us that there are still great differences
in what men and women are paid in Norway. Equal pay for work of
equal value is an area that the Ombud has taken into consideration
many times over the past years and which still needs a constant
focus. The different pay-checks are often due to the fact that women
and men hold different jobs. The jobs traditionally held by women
are those of a caring nature or in teaching and are often paid less
than those jobs typically held by men. In addition to this women
often work part time and as a result of this they are paid less.But
even if women do the same kind of work as men they may still be
paid less. The right to equal pay for work of equal value is stated
in the Gender Equality Act as well as many international instruments.
My office regularly receive complaints from women both in private
and in public companies that are paid less than those men they compare
their work with. We investigate and in some of these cases we found
that there's a violation of the Act. We then actually demand the
employer to increase the woman's salary.
In Norway we often experience that the work for and focus on gender
equality is considered an issue for mature women. Young women and
men consider gender equality an old fashioned topic that already
has been achieved and that we no longer need to promote. It is therefore
a challenge for everyone working for gender equality in Norway today
to reach out to the young people.
The Gender Equality Act has been one of the main strategies to achieving
equal opportunities. Probably the most important aspect of this
Act is that it has provided for an ombud to enforce it. Having such
an institution, free of charge, allows people to complain of situations
in which they feel discriminated because of gender, and the threshold
for correcting inequalities is lower. This means that the discrimination
becomes visible and can be redressed.
The Norwegian view is that to achieve gender equality in a society,
it is not enough merely to focus on the situation of women, or to
introduce temporary special measures in favour of women. Men's lives
and male roles must also be placed on the agenda. A major remaining
obstacle to gender equality is the low degree of men's participation
in care-related work. Thus in Norway men's participation in this
type of work, both in the family and in society, is encouraged.
Our present Minister for Gender Equality have recently presented
a gender equality report to our Parliament, and in this document
she introduces the need for an expansion of the father's quota from
four to ten weeks. I am sure that such a change will lead to important
changes in the role of men and by that impovement of gender equality
Another important decision made by the Government is proposal is
the to put forward to the Parliament a new legislation on quotas
in boards of private and public companies.Our Minister for Trade
and Industry stated on 7th march last year that if the companies
do not manage themselves within the end of 2005, there are going
to be a stautory duty to have at least 40% of each sex in every
private and public board. My hope is that this new legislation will
improve the position of women within business life.
Even though we are becoming steadily closer to the goal of equality
between women and men in Norway, we have learned that promoting
gender equality in society as a whole is an unending project.