On paper at least, Norway is a country with full equality between the sexes. The Prime Minister of Norway is currently Erna Solberg, the second women after Gro Harlem Brundtland to serve in that capacity, and the chairs of the Norwegian Labor Organization (Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions) and the Norwegian Employers' Organization (NHO), Gerd Kristiansen and Kristin Skogen Lund, are women. But as we celebrate the International Women's Day on March 8, 2017, statistics still show that women have a way to go before they are fully equal to men in the workplace. In 2016, the average monthly salary of women was 87.5% of men's. Two thirds of the CEOs and others in leading positions are men, and although the majority of women are in the workforce, 35% of them work part time, as opposed to 14% of men. Women now dominate in law and medical schools and most other fields with the exception of math, science and technology. The workplace, however, is still strictly divided by gender. Men dominate the private sector, where salaries are generally higher, and women dominate the public sector in fields like health and education.
Inequalities in the workplace are the background for many of the slogans seen in Norwegian parades on March 8: "Equal pay now!" "Say yes to the 6-hour workday!" "Demand 100% jobs!" "Raise the average women's salary now!" "Economic independence is essential to gender equality!" "Strengthen minority women's right to work!" "Defend public pensions!" Others address issues like family policy, research on typically women's illnesses, women immigrants, racism, LBGT rights, rape and violence against women, porno, global abortion rights, education as the key to ending poverty.
But one of the more interesting issues that has risen during the prelude to March 8 concerns developments in Norwegian society regarding education of boys, job prospects for men, and male public health issues like lifestyle and suicide. Men get lower grades, are more prone to drop out of school, more inclined to have an unhealthy lifestyle, more likely to commit suicide, die earlier, and are more prone to violence and its consequences. More boys are diagnosed with ADHD, are in special education, and have problems accommodating to the school environment. Furthermore, fewer men have children; 23% of men over 45 do not have children, as opposed to 13% of women, and fathers are often "recycled". Women who wait to have children often partner with men who have children from earlier relationships.
Camilla Stoltenberg, Director-General of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, addressed disturbing statistics on men, especially in education, in a widely-read article in the newspaper Morgenbladet. Stoltenberg was born in the 1950s, and during her lifetime, she has seen men go from winners in education to losers. Boys receive lower grades in middle and high school, and only 40% of college and university students are men. They make up 10-25% of those who study medicine, psychology and law, which are very competitive in Norway, and they are also in the minority of doctoral candidates.
Stoltenberg's article has been widely debated in Norwegian media, and the Norwegian Broadcasting Company (NRK) devoted its weekly debate program to the subject on March 3, considering the question of whether boys are becoming society's biggest losers. https://tv.nrk.no/serie/debatten/NNFA51030217/02-03-2017
Norway has practiced quotas for girls and women in some majors and jobs in the public sector. One participant argued that boys now need to benefit from a similar system to ensure that society will have female and male doctors and lawyers in the future. The Minister of Education agreed that boys often do poorly in school, but the background for quotas for women was that it was proven that women were discriminated against because of their gender, whereas this was not the case for boys. But everyone agreed that the problem is real, that the causes need more study and eventually a strategy to address how to keep boys from dropping out of school and get more of them in professions like medicine and law. However, it was pointed out that men still dominate in the hierarchy of managerial and leadership positions, and it is not clear whether the structure will change any time soon, despite the fact that women dominate many fields at the ground level.
A few decades ago, girls were the better achievers in elementary school, but boys' achievement would normally pass girls' around Christmas in the 8th grade and continued through middle and high school. Now, boys lag behind and girls keep up the steam through middle and high school. There is, however, little indication that more boys do poorly in school than before. What has changed is that most women do better than before, and the weakest boy students are more isolated in the system, and the consequences are great, since the job market no longer offers low-skilled positions in trade and industry. The workplace has also become more "feminized", valuing strong skills in language, communication, and other areas where women tend to excel.
In a theoretically egalitarian society like Norway, the media often question the relevance of celebrating March 8, and that men's issues should also be marked. 2017 is no exception, and March 8 is "balanced" in the press against the problem of the boy losers. But does all this have an impact on women's issues? Issues related to children, parenting, and family life are all intimately connected to the lives of women, so the fact that their sons are lagging behind in Norwegian society is something to be addressed. The debate will certainly continue, but it will not be a significant part of the marking of the International Women's Day.
A greater concern is the fate of immigrant women and their descendants in Norwegian society. The women's movement has often been criticized for not reaching out to minority women. But those who address women's issues in minority cultures often tread into a mine field. Feminists who have spoken out against white men's violence against women are applauded for their courage, but if they are concerned about the fact that some minority cultures are patriarchal, require them to obey their fathers and brothers, deny girls a decent education, arrange for them to marry at an early age, and condone wife beating and honor killings, they are met with scorn and accused of being racist. Another question is whether women's clothing like the hijab and burka have political connotations and are compatible with the fight for women's rights. Up until recently, minority feminist voices were rare. But now, minority women are beginning to organize and establish dialogue with feminist organizations. Shabana Rehman, an outspoken Pakistani-Norwegian woman, objects to the idea that Norwegian feminism is white and one-sided. The only reason it looked that way to some people was that minority women had not gotten organized. But that is now changing rapidly, and many new voices are coming forward to debate minority women's issues.
Nancy L. Coleman, DA Norway
Global Women’s Caucus Members in all corners of the world:
Have your own March 8th International Women’s Day Postcard Party!
Be a part of the worldwide movement to send the “Misogynist-in Chief” a postcard as part of the March 15th “Ides of Trump” campaign.
Use your postcards to give full expression to your disgust with this horrible regime and what it means for women.
You can also use your Women’s Day parties large and small as an opportunity to discuss with each other your thoughts on next steps and strategies for our Caucus- some of the best ideas ever have been hatched by just a couple of women over a pot of coffee!
And remember to share your ideas with us all!
Consider using blanks cards and re-creating your “Women’s March” protest signs in mini-format or use some of our colourful DA cards.
Prepare for mailing by March 15th, 2017, the Ides of March. Then, mail your messages to:
Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
This is a chance for our Democrats Abroad Global Women’s Caucus to really make the feedback GLOBAL.
SO HAVE A POSTCARD PARTY!
by Nancy L. Coleman, Brumunddal, DA NORWAY
As soon as I read that a Women's March on Washington was being planned for the day after Trump's inauguration, I knew I had to go. I live in Norway, and I bought my ticket before the sister march in Oslo was announced. Fortunately, I have a cousin in Maryland, so what better time than to visit his family and combine it with the march?
My cousin's wife Treva wanted to march with me, and she thought it would be a nice idea for us to join the Democrats Abroad, rather than the Maryland group. The morning of the march we were up early, in order to catch the Red Line to DC in time to meet the DA group at the Eastern Market. We were lucky that our metro station was one of the first stops, so we got a seat. At the Eastern Market we looked all around for the DA folks, who were supposed to be wearing blue hats or other blue gear. An identifier was supposed to be 70 members of the Canadian DA in blue ponchos. We saw numerous groups, but no one that answered to that description. Accessing the DA website with Treva's phone, we found instructions to go to L'Enfant Plaza station, so we got back on the Metro. We never did find anyone from the DA, but in such masses of people, it would have been a major feat if we had.
When we reached the Plaza, many had gathered, and it took a while to exit the station. But it was fun to be in the crowd moving very slowly towards the exit. Everyone was kind and considerate, and we could take the time to study the first of the many posters and signs that we would see during the march. We had a good laugh when we saw the first "Urine trouble" sign, in the form of a urinating male organ and Trump's picture.
From L'Enfant Plaza we made our way towards the meeting point at Independence and 3rd Street. But by the time we got as far as 4th Street, we realized that there would not be room for even the two of us at the appointed intersection. We were standing in a sea of people, but an organizer from the A.C.L.U. advised us to go back towards L'Enfant Plaza, where we could probably wedge ourselves into a spot in front of one of the screens that had been set up, and then we could watch what was happening on the stage.
Moving through such a crowd is a slow process, but it was no problem to wade through those who had already found a spot, and soon we had a good view of a screen. It made a great impression on me that the demonstrators were so pleasant, peaceful and accommodating to those around them. Several people were in wheelchairs, but that was no problem. Someone would yell, "Wheelchair coming through!", and people would somehow press together to vacate a wide passage so the wheelchair could pass. It did occur to me that a good many of us might get trampled to death if panic broke out, or some disrupters had mixed with the crowd. Guidelines instructed marchers to bring a very small purse and anything else in a transparent bag. We never saw any inspections, but clearly, there were many eyes scanning the crowd for anything suspicious. Nor did I see anyone or anything to threaten us. There had been a riot or two during the inauguration, but this massive crowd seemed almost unbelievably benign.
The rally featured a long list of profiled speakers and performers, and the crowd was enthusiastic. As far as we could see, there were people packed together, many wearing pink pussyhats. Treva and I were kind of an anomaly in the sea of pink. If I had been younger, I am sure I would have plunged into knitting pink pussyhats. But I found the video of Donald Trump bragging about just grabbing women by the pussy so despicable, that I jumped at the idea of a blue hat. So I crocheted a blue hat and matching neckpiece, and pinned my "cracked ceiling" brooch to the band. But the many humorous "pussy" slogans and the march itself dulled my wrath regarding the background for the pussyhats, so a few weeks later, I am busily knitting pink pussyhats. I am sure my granddaughters and I will need some when I go to the States in the months and years to come!
After a few hours, Treva and I realized we needed to visit a port-a-powder-room before the actual march started at 1:15. We started threading our way through the sea of demonstrators. Since I am tall, I could look over much of the crowd, and we knew roughly where the toilets were supposed to be. But with so many people it was impossible to find any. Eventually, we reached the Smithsonian Metro Station, so I suggested we might take the Metro a stop or two away from the march and find a restroom. That turned out to be a very good idea. The next day, we read that the crowd had overwhelmed the toilets, and organizers had to pass out cups and let people pee behind a curtain.
Back on Independence Avenue, the march had just started, so we joined it and moved slowly along the route. At intervals everyone let out huge roars, and I am sure this was heard at the White House, even though Trump himself had gone to the CIA to brag about the size of his inauguration crowd. The sound must have reached all the way to Virginia and elsewhere. Since the march was global, it may go down in history as the "pussy roar heard round the world!"
When we reached a point near the WashingtonMonument and the new AfricanAmericanMuseum, the march came to a complete standstill for a long time. Everyone cheerfully socialized, admired signs and slogans, and took lots of pictures. We learned later that there were so many people that the entire march route was full of people and too clogged to move! The organizers must have started channeling portions of the march off onto side streets, in order for us to march towards the Ellipse, where the march was to end. By the time we reached the edge of the Ellipse, there seemed to be parades everywhere, moving in every direction.
After the march, it was a problem to leave the center of DC, but again, everyone moved in an orderly and friendly fashion. We finally abandoned the idea of taking the Metro back home, and ended up catching a series of buses that were not very crowded. The bus stops had been moved, but my cousin's daughter deftly accessed their stops with her phone app.
Demonstrators had left their signs in front of Metro stations and other places, like Trump International Hotel (how fun!), so we had an opportunity to study them and again be impressed by the enormous creativity – and bloody seriousness – of the slogans.
The peacefulness of the march, the friendly atmosphere, feeling of solidarity and togetherness, and the humor in spite of a sense of urgency and dread of where Trumplandia will lead us, were all things that impressed me. It was wonderful to see groups that obviously consisted of 3-4 generations, there were many men of all ages, and there was much diversity evident in the crowd. However, Treva and I were struck by the fact that the large majority were evidently people from the upper middle class, and the percentage of African American, Native American and Hispanic women was fairly small. Washington has a black population of almost 50%, so the small number of blacks was particularly striking. In the weeks before the march, I read some articles and letters to the effect that many white women felt intimidated and had cancelled their plans to come, as a number of black women had given voice to how the march had tried (inadvertently) to usurp the title "Million Women's March" from the protest held in Philadelphia in 1997, and in general, that it was women of color who had the most reason to protest, that white women could never know the pain and suffering of black women. My instinct is that this conflict must have resolved itself to some extent, and I hope that non-white women felt they were most welcome.
A recent article in the New York Times, "How a Fractious Women's Movement Came to Lead the Left", points out that the march for women surprisingly "managed to crowd a broad opposition force onto its platform", and that the energy has only spread. "It seems unlikely that any other kind of march would have turned out quite this way. In this moment, it happened that 'women' was the one tent large enough to contain almost every major strain of protest against Trump." It is too early to tell whether the Women's Marches will be the pivotal moment in the realization of a society marked by equality and respect that we all hope for. Let us hope that they will.
Nancy L. Coleman, Brumunddal, NORWAY
by Randi Milgram, London, DAUK
On January 21, an unstoppable wave of hope and strength rose to resist the dark shadows of the preceding day. Once Donald Trump was officially inaugurated, many Americans felt disheartened and dejected, fearful that our values would be thrown aside. But then decent people all over the globe joined together to rise up, refusing to accept inequality and injustice in our democracy. In France, in Peru, in Macau, in South Africa, people of all ages, genders, races, and national origins stood as one band of solidarity against hate and for equality.
All over the world, citizens of numerous countries joined together with Americans in the first Global Women’s March, proving that millions of people with the same values will stand and fight for democracy, justice, and equal rights for all. Members of the Women’s Caucus of Democrats Abroad helped bring the enormous event to life in locations around the globe. Thousands upon thousands gathered in Brussels, Amsterdam, Brasilia, Mexico, Auckland, and even Antarctica. Just as in the epicenter of the Washington, D.C. march, with crowds breaking all estimates by the hundreds of thousands, most foreign cities showed turnout beyond all expectations as more and more people stood together to show support for women’s rights, gay rights, and equal justice. In London, the DA Women’s Caucus group marched proudly up front with other organizers as the crowds swiftly grew from the estimated 20,000 up to 100,000. In Paris, the crowd of thousands circled famous tourist destinations as residents and tourists alike joined to support women and girls.
The sources of inspiration were endless, from the many men who showed their support and willingness to fight for equal rights, to the many families who brought their small children, as it’s their world we are fighting to protect and improve. Common refrains were shared throughout various cities, with most participants stating that the massive show of solidarity among marchers provided the first feeling of optimism, the first smile, since Election Night. Many others said that this groundswell of grassroots activism is what will protect America from destructive policies.
Indeed, activists are acutely aware that the incredible momentum that built up to the epic march must be sustained, difficult as it will be, in order to effectively contest the aggressively undemocratic movements attempted by this administration. But the March proved to us that we are ready for the fight, that we are strong in number and resilient in will. Simply the sheer numbers of likeminded fellow marchers, no matter what city you were in, inspired us all to keep fighting, to keep making calls and writing emails, and keep marching on the right side of history.
To that effect, members of Democrats Abroad, and the Women’s Caucus in particular, are busily working to put all of this energy and goodwill into action. Several projects underway include an expat version of the superb Indivisible guide to activism and narrowly focused mass calls to Congress. The next date to keep your eye on is March 8 – International Women’s Day. This day of action for gender parity will use the tag “Be Bold For A Change” and advocate for women to promote themselves in work or private life. Keep an eye on the Women’s Caucus Facebook page and website for more information about how to mark this exciting day and about other upcoming projects.
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