Past, Present and Future of the Norwegian Women@
@
Kristin Mile, Gender Equality Ombud, Norway


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 higher education.

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 complaint.

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.

Conluding comments
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 in Norway.

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.