by Nancy L. Coleman, Ph.D.
From the series: The GWC examines Women's Policy around the world
Demonstration for women's suffrage in New York, 1913
Norway is a parliamentary, representative, democratic, constitutional monarchy. This is a mouthful of characteristics, but for all practical purposes it means that Norway has a monarch who has symbolic power only. The actual governing power is invested in the Parliament (called Stortinget). Following a parliamentary election, which takes place every four years, the government is formed by the majority party, or a coalition of parties. The head of the Executive branch is the Prime Minister. The PM is not elected to that position, but usually comes from the largest party in the Parliament and is designated when the Government is formed. The Government and Parliament cooperate in enacting laws.
Even though his role is mostly symbolic, King Harald V plays an active role in Norwegian society. Norway has been changing rapidly, partly due to immigration from war zones in Africa and the Middle East. In exercising their official duties, King Harald and Queen Sonja show that they want to foster an atmosphere of inclusiveness and unity in a country that is challenged by the rather sudden diversity. Queen Sonja is very concerned with women´s issues and calls herself a feminist. She is also a talented graphic artist and photographer.
Norwegian Women and Political Power
Erna Solberg is the current Prime Minister, and 7 of the 18 cabinet members are women, including Siv Jensen in the powerful position of Minister of Finance. Policies that foster gender equality are outspoken goals in the cabinet and Parliament, but it is not easy to attain it. An important goal is for each sex to have at least 40% representation in Parliament. In the Parliament elected in September 2013, 39.6% of the members of parliament (MPs) are women. Norway ranks 14th globally in the percentage of women in Parliament. Of the Nordic countries Iceland ranks highest, 47.6 % women and ranked number 4, after Rwanda (61.3%), Bolivia (53.1%), and Cuba (48.9%). Sweden is number 6, with 43.3% women. Denmark has 37.4% women and ranks 22nd. All of these countries have a unicameral legislature. In comparison, the USA has 19.1% women in the House, 21% in the Senate, and ranks 104th.
The most recent national election was held on September 11, 2017. Erna Solberg and her Conservative bloc were given renewed support and will continue to govern. The representation of women in the Parliament increased to 41%, 69 of 169 representatives, the largest percentage women have ever achieved. The Center Party has the most women representatives, 10 out of 19, with Labor in second place, 24 out of 49 representatives. The Conservatives have 20 women out of 45 representatives.
Like many Western democracies, Norway has many political parties, 15 in the most recent election. Nine parties are represented in the new Parliament, and the government is a coalition consisting of the Conservative and Progress parties, with support from the Christian Democrat and Left parties. Women chair three of these four parties: Erna Solberg (Conservatives), Siv Jensen (Progress), and Trine Skei Grande (Left).
(Photo left: The first women member of Parliament, Anna Rogstad, who served in 1911, before Norwegian women got the vote in 1913)
Women in Norway gained the right to vote in 1913, but it took several decades before significant numbers of women became active participants in politics. As in many other countries, women mobilized in the 1970s in the new feminist movement. They brought feminist issues into the political agenda, asserting the right to equal pay, that society should provide childcare, that women should decide themselves whether to have an abortion, and they proposed a 6-hour working day.
In 1986, Gro Harlem Brundtland became the first woman Prime Minister in Norway. She formed a cabinet in which nearly half of the members were women, and this attracted international attention. This has set a standard for subsequent governments, even though the work is not finished.
International Cooperation on Gender Policy
Norway is not a member of the European Union, but it cooperates with the EU, the UN, the European Council, and the Nordic Council of Ministers. Norway has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and reports regularly on its progress. (The USA has signed but not ratified it.) After Denmark, Finland, and Sweden joined the EU, Nordic cooperation was toned down for a few years, but it is now being intensified once again. One of the key areas for cooperation is promoting gender equality, as there is wide consensus that gender equality policy has been one of the most important factors in the success of the Nordic welfare state, which has proven capable of designing a sustainable welfare model that promotes the "good life" for every individual.
The Nordic Council of Ministers is a cooperation between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Oland. The Council has cooperated on gender equality since 1974, developing similar policies in the member nations. In 2017, the Council is conducting a Sectoral Program for Gender Equality, which Norway will chair since it holds the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers this year. Four main priorities in this project are: work to combat violence, work to combat hate speech, gender equality in the labor market, and men and gender equality. Conferences are being held to address each of these areas, and the results of the project will eventually create common policies.
Gender Equality Policy in Norway
Norway has been developing gender equality policy for several decades. In 1978, Parliament adopted the Gender Equality Act, and it was last revised in 2013. The Act shall promote gender equality and aims in particular at improving the position of women. Women and men shall be given equal opportunities in education, employment, and cultural and professional advancement. Gender equality policy has broad reach and is incorporated into many departments and governmental agencies, but the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, currently led by Solveig Horne (Progress Party), is responsible for coordinating family and equality policy and proposing legislation. The Ministry of Education and Research and the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization also play important roles. Gender equality is an integral part of the school curricula. Gender equality must be considered when hiring for teaching and research positions in higher education. If one sex is underrepresented, applications from the other sex are specifically invited, and qualified candidates from the underrepresented gender often take precedence. On all official committees, boards and councils, each gender must have at least 40 % of the members. The Ministry of Defense is also implementing policy to create gender-neutral armed forces. Girls born in 1997 and later will be serving in the military in larger numbers. About a third of those drafted and cleared for military service in 2016 were women. Women have served as Ministers of Defense since 1999, and in fact, with the exception of the years 2001-2002 and 2011-2012, all of the Ministers of Defense who have served since then have been women. Ine Eriksen Søreide (Conservative Party) is the current minister.
Gender equality policies will eventually impact all areas of society. Policies have been developed and more or less successfully integrated into the following areas: families and relationships; work, welfare and the economy; power and decision-making; education and research; crime and violence; peace and development; culture, media and sports; and health and reproductive rights. Gender policy is still being developed in other areas: transport and communication; finance; agriculture and food; fisheries and coastal affairs; petroleum and energy; and the environment.
One important policy area is women's health. Norway has universal health coverage, and it is a guiding principle that a woman has the right to make decisions regarding her own body. Women have the right to free health services during pregnancy and childbirth. There is easy access to contraception, and the Abortion on Demand Act, passed in 1978, regulates a woman's right to decide to terminate a pregnancy. The woman may decide herself in the first 12 weeks, while a commission must approve an abortion from 12-13 weeks, and except in exceptional circumstances, it is outlawed after 13 weeks. There are 16.2 abortions per 1000 women in the age group 15-44 years. In 2016, the US abortion rate fell to 14.6 per 1000 women, and this was the lowest since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.
Gro Harlem Brundtland became the first woman Prime Minister og Norway in 1986. Forty percent of her cabinet were women.
Much of Norwegian gender policy is centered around women's role as mothers. The system includes rights to parental leave, social security payments for children, leave to take care of sick children, and the right to childcare through a pre-school from the age of 1.
All countries have a goal of maintaining a stable population, among other things to ensure that the workforce is constantly fed with new generations. But Western countries have seen the fertility rate declining, and this has caused concern for the future of western democracies. Women are taking more education and participating in the workforce in increasing numbers, they are marrying and starting their families later and having fewer children. With an eye to making it easier for couples, but women in particular, to combine work with parenting, Norway has developed policies with the goal of making it easier to combine work and family.
In order for a population to remain stable, the fertility rate needs to be 2.1, that is that each woman needs to have on average slightly more than 2 children. In 1970, the fertility rate in Norway was 2.5, but by 1980, it had dropped to 1.72. Policies for longer paid parental leave and other measures seemed were developed, and these seemed at first to have a very beneficial effect, bringing the fertility rate up to 1.98 in 2009. Other European countries, like Italy, where the fertility rate was hovering around 1.4, sent delegations to Norway to study the impact of the family policies. However, the next years showed that there were no easy solutions to alleviate a falling birth rate. Every year since 2009, the fertility rate in Norway has declined, and in 2016, it was 1.71. Even so, it is one of the highest in Europe and other western style democracies.
When a child is born, parents in the workforce have the right to parental leave of 49 weeks at full pay, or 59 weeks at reduced pay. Parents of twins have the right to 54 weeks at full pay, 64 at reduced, and parents of triplets 59 or 69 weeks. In the case of adoption, the rights are usually the same. Single parents have the right to a leave of 2 years. In addition, two-parent families may take an additional year of leave, but the second year is without pay. Employers are required to grant parents parental leave, and the social security system refunds some or all of the salary to the employer. The refund has a maximum limit, and if a parent has a larger salary, it is up to the employer whether the remainder is also paid during leave. A pregnancy or leave may not be grounds for dismissal from a job. Parents who are not in the workforce receive a one-time sum of ca. $5475 for each child born.
One goal is to ensure that both the mother and father enjoy equal rights to parental leave, so the leave is currently divided into a father quota and a mother quota, each consisting of 10 weeks, with the remainder to be divided as the parents see fit. The mother must also take the last 3 weeks before her due date as part of her leave, and the six weeks after the birth are reserved for her. The work environment law also gives the father the right to a 14-day leave in connection with a birth. However, his employer decides whether it is paid or unpaid leave. Only in special cases can the father and mother quotas be transferred to the other parent.
The father quota was originally 14 weeks, but the Conservative government has reduced it to 10, in an effort to give the parents more freedom in dividing the leave to suit themselves. Analysts warned that this would lead to a reduction in the length of leave that fathers would be willing to take, and this has proved to be the case. There is at present general consensus that the father quota should be increased.
Women in the workplace who are nursing have the right to nurse or pump milk while at work. This time is paid leave of up to an hour a day.
Norway acknowledges the fact that children cost money. Parents receive $115 a month for each child up to the age of 18. Single parents may receive additional aid. Working parents have the right to stay home with sick children up to the age of 12, 10 days per year for parents of 1-2 children, 15 for 3 or more. Single parents have 20/30 days of sick leave to care for sick children, and if your child has a chronic illness, the quota will be extended by an additional 10 days.
When a child turns one, the parents have the right to childcare at a local nursery school and kindergarten, and children continue in this system up to the age of 6, when they generally start school. Parents pay for nursery school, but there is a maximum payment, and siblings are given a rebate. Childcare is subsidized for parents who cannot afford it, so that all families can exercise their right to qualified childcare.
Care of Elderly Family Members
Employees have the right to 60 days' leave to provide care for elderly family members or others dependent on their care. Employers decide whether this is paid or unpaid leave, but employers may apply for "care funds" refunded for an employee taking such leave. Employees may also take up to 10 days off to help elderly or sick family members who need help not otherwise provided.
Managerial Positions, Professorships, and Boards
In 2016, a number of new proposals were approved to help increase the number of women in managerial and board positions. The government had commissioned an assessment of gender equality, delivered to the Parliament in 2015. The opposition felt that the proposals did not do enough to promote women in leadership positions, and they suggested additional measures. Majority support for the most radical measures came from the parties not presently in the government: the Left, Labor, Christian Democrats, Center Party, and Socialist Left Party. These proposals targeted board rooms, with a goal of 40% female board chairpersons in publicly owned companies, new strategies to recruit women managers and university professors, stipulations to counter gender-based salary inequalities, the replacement of part-time with full positions, and a system of extra credits to equalize the number of girls and boys taking high school curricula traditionally dominated by one sex.
Egg Donation and Frozen Eggs
Two fairly new issues being debated as I write are egg donation and having one's eggs frozen. In their platforms for 2013-2017, the Progress Party, the Left, Labor and the Socialist Left Party all approved egg donation, while Conservatives, the Center Party and the Christian Democrats oppose it. The Green Party has proposed to rescind their disapproval in their new platform. This issue splits the parties in discordance with the government coalition, with the Conservatives and Christian Democrats opposing it, and the Progress Party and the Left supporting it. All of the parties are in the process of developing platforms for the next period, and the Conservatives are currently vigorously debating the question, while the Christian Democrats are throwing their weight around hoping to influence the Conservatives to continue opposing it.
In today's society, women often do not find a partner with whom they have children until their childbearing years are on the wane. An increasing number of women have eggs frozen before it is too late, so that they might have children later. In Norway, it is not permitted for women to have their eggs frozen, and an increasing number have therefore had them frozen abroad. Politicians are debating whether this policy should be changed, but there is fairly broad consensus that there are good reasons not to encourage women to become mothers after their natural childbearing years have ended. It is better to emphasize policies so that women can combine motherhood and careers when their bodies are designed for it.
Erna Solberg is the current Prime Minister. Party chairs in the Conservative bloc: Siv Jensen (Minister of Finance, Progress Party), Erna Solberg (Prime Minister, Conservative Party), Knut Arild Hareide (Christian Democrats), Trine Skei Grande (Left Party)
New Areas for Gender Policy Development: Violence against Women, Media, and Technology
One important "new" issue is gender based violence. Even though this has been a problem for a long time, there is more awareness of it today, as well as a will to address it through policy. Thanks to the women's movement and social scientists, it has been placed on the socio-political agenda. Gender based violence encompasses a wide range of human rights violations: sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, the trafficking and prostitution of women and children, as well as several harmful traditional practices, such as genital mutilation. Women are commonly the victims of gender based violence. Violence threatens the health, security, and dignity of its victims. Male violence against women and children is seen as a hindrance to achieving gender equality, and it is now being addressed by the Government.
Another new area is media and technology. In recent years there has been a tendency for mainstream culture to adopt the imagery and esthetics of pornography. Women are seen as objects, and the public space has undergone sexualization and "pornographization". The Gender Equality Act forbids advertising that discriminates on the basis of gender, and the law has been invoked in connection with a number of sexualized advertisements that were subsequently withdrawn.
Information and communication technology is also being addressed as a gendered phenomenon. On the one hand, it is desirable to make ICT available to all citizens. On the other hand, the widespread use of social media in our time has had some negative effects that help spread hate speech, sexual harassment, child pornography, and human trafficking.
Public opinion usually gives strong support to gender policies, as well as the goal of creating a society with equal rights and opportunities for women and men. Women politicians also command wide respect and support from their constituents. So how are the policies themselves working out?
Even though Norway has spent several decades developing gender policies, it is early to draw sweeping conclusions. But there are many indications that there are benefits to be drawn from a society that makes it possible for women and men to participate more or less equally in all sectors of public and private life. The Armed Forces, for example, which for generations was a man´s domain, see the participation of women as very positive. Women have changed and improved many aspects of military life, from leadership to daily life in the barracks, where women and men often share sleeping quarters – for sleep, not sex! Recent research shows that the number of sexual harassment cases has gone done, and both women and men feel that sharing sleeping quarters makes it easier to concentrate on the task at hand.
An important goal for many countries is to get women into the workplace and keep them there. Population studies show that this goal is in fact vital for countries to survive. The populations of many European countries are literally in the process of dying off. Ukraine is the country that has lost the most population, 9.5 million people since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1993. But Romania, Moldova, Latvia, Bosnia Hercegovina, Lithuania, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Belarus, Estonia, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Montenegro, and Germany are also in the threatened category. Macedonia, Slovenia, Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Spain will also experience significant loss of population. The Scandinavian countries, Austria, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Switzerland, and Ireland, will experience growth. Norway is projected to have the highest growth rate, a population increase of 25.9%.
In Norway, generous family policies have helped numerous couples combine work and family life. But so far, they have not given the important political results of increasing the fertility rate to the sustainable 2.1. Trude Lappegård and Lars Dommermuth at the Norwegian Bureau of Statistics have looked at the fertility rates since the highpoint in 2009. Starting with 2010 the rate has gone down every year. Two factors are important: 1) women are waiting longer to have children, and 2) fewer are having a third child. But with such good family policies in place in Norway, why is this happening? According to Lappegård and Dommermuth, people want to have children just as much as before. But potential parents experience a lot of uncertainty regarding the general economic situation and their own access to the job market. Norway was not hit as hard by the financial crisis as many other European countries. Nevertheless due to other factors, there are fewer jobs, and there are many uncertainties for young people looking for work. Especially in areas where unemployment is high, the birth rate has sunk markedly. It now takes longer to get established in a job, and the path into the workforce is crucial for people to have children. Women in particular experience more uncertainty in their economic prospects and postpone having children. Minister of Finance Siv Jensen has emphasized the need for more women in fulltime positions, if Norway is to preserve and develop the welfare state. Studies have shown that stay-at-home moms or women who work part time have more children. There is no indication that it will be feasible to get more women into fulltime jobs and simultaneously increase the fertility rate.
However, there is every indication that generous family policies have been of benefit to Norway. Even though there is a running debate on the details, no one would suggest decreasing parental leave and terminating the other benefits mentioned above.
At the moment, France has the highest fertility rate in Europe (1.93), but this was the lowest rate in 40 years. French women are also going to school longer and giving priority to careers in the workplace. The trend is similar to the Scandinavian countries. But contrary to what many people believe, there are positive signs. The highest fertility rates in Europe are found in the countries where the most women are in the workforce. Experience from both France and Scandinavia shows that general female participation in the workforce is the most effective way to increase fertility. But it is dependent on good policies for prenatal healthcare, parental leave and childcare.
There is every indication that Norwegian gender policy is promoting a more egalitarian society and a country with a sustainable welfare system which can more easily survive and adapt to our changing world.
Nancy L. Coleman, Ph.D.