Mr. President, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
I am proud to say that for the first time ever, the Norwegian Cabinet now consists of 50 percent women and 50 percent men. The majority of the political parties in Norway today are led by women.
And as you can see, two out of three party leaders in our “center-left” government coalition are women.
Achieving full gender equality is at the top of Norway’s political priorities.
Despite the achievements in political empowerment and steady progress over the years, we are still not there.
We have a gender segregated labour market, where women tend to work in sectors of lower pay. As a result, women earn on average 15 percent less than men per hour.
The amount of women working part-time is still a challenge in Norway. The amount of part-time work reflects the ongoing imbalance between men and women in sharing family obligations. Part-time work also results in lower income.
We also need to improve the access to our labour markets for women with minority backgrounds.
Stereotypical attitudes remain a challenge. And last but not least - violence against women is still a serious problem in Norway and one main obstacle in reaching true gender equality. The Norwegian position is clear; no tradition, religion or culture can ever serve as an excuse for violence against women.
At the same time, by most standards Norway is recognized as a success with regard to gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment. We rank number two on the UNDP’s Human Development Report’s Gender-related Development Index of 2009.
In this presentation I will highlight some of the key components of the policies behind our success. I will also highlight how gender equality is a priority in our foreign policy and international development cooperation.
However, before I do so, let me spend five minutes to explain why the core features of our experience are universally relevant, regardless of level of development.
In short, the key to our success is political will – to make social justice, human rights and equal opportunity for all members of society a prime political objective.
Many seem to think that the generous welfare policies behind Norway’s gender equality are possible only because we are rich, and in particular, because of our petroleum revenues.
As you will see, this is wrong!
Social justice reforms were introduced while GDP was still low.
Many seem to believe that a country must develop and become rich before it can afford policies which promote social justice and equal opportunities.
Over 100 years ago Norway introduced universal and free primary education for all children, boys and girls. At that time we were one of the poorest countries in Europe.
As early as the 19th century, Norway saw a considerable investment in the public health services. After the Second world war, health service provision was substantially expanded towards universal access.
This took place at a time when we were still a poor country and had not yet discovered oil outside our shores.
How was this possible?
It was a result of political struggle by the poor and the progressive – not least by the women, and it led to;
political empowerment : Universal suffrage for men in 1898 and for women in 1913.
And equally important, economic empowerment - of the poor. Already in the 1950’s Norway ratified the ILO conventions on freedom of association and on equal pay for men and women.
Ladies and gentlemen,
These are some of the historical fundamentals which explain the progressive gender equality policies of modern Norway.
And let me underscore – these achievements are not only promoting and protecting human rights – they also contribute greatly to Norway’s productivity, growth and level of development.
Because, contrary to many misconceptions - despite being one of the world’s most richly blessed countries from mother nature – human resources, the men and women of Norway, represent our true wealth: More than 80 percent of our national production value. Petroleum accounts for only 7 per cent.
Therefore, if the objective is national growth and development which benefits all members of society - and not personal gain for the rich and powerful - it makes great economic sense to regulate and tax in order to invest in all of the country’s people, both men and women. To invest in their health and their education - and make sure all of them have full and equal access to political and economic life.
This is what we have done in Norway.
Norway now boasts a universal income security system. We have a wide range of publically financed services especially in education, health and care, which together result in an impressive economic growth and an even income distribution.
The development since the 1970’s has been substantial, and the connection with the increase of working women is obvious – and comprehensive.
The modern Norwegian welfare state is built on women’s participation in the work force. This is the backbone of the Scandinavian welfare model.
Some of this is straightforward. A higher labour participation means more tax income, which can be utilized to expand the income security system and offer more comprehensive public services. A higher labour supply is also needed to perform these public services. Many of these services in turn facilitate job opportunities, by moving for example the care of children and the elderly to some extent out of the family and into the public reign. As a result, the economy benefits from the salaries both of the people tending to the children, and of the women now free to join the labour force.
The so-called Scandinavian model is about how the Nordic countries are organized, particularly with respect to the welfare state and the labour market. This model has two main goals: a high income growth and an even income distribution. Norway achieves both goals, and we couldn’t have done so without high female work participation.
Knowing this, how can member states of the UN afford not to take equal opportunities seriously?
Let me give you three examples of how we made the Norwegian society change. Because, these changes did not happen just by chance.
They required a profound political will:
1) We promoted political empowerment:
In the 1970s, the first few political parties, on their own initiative, adopted quotas for women on the electoral lists.
Following the standard set in 1986 by our first woman prime minister, mrs. Brundtland, all Governments regardless of party affiliation have kept the unwritten rule of at least 40 per cent women in the Cabinet.
The results are clear. The Cabinet now consists of 50 -50 per cent women and men. In Parliament 40 per cent are women and at the Samediggi - the Sami Parliament - 46 per cent are women. And also at regional level women are represented in 40 per cent of the elected positions.
2) We also promoted economic empowerment:
Affirmative action and the use of quotas have also been needed to secure gender balance in elected positions: Norway – as the first country in the world, introduced a legal requirement for gender balance within company boards in the private sector.
A survey in 2002 showed only 7 per cent women on the boards of the Public Limited Companies. This was unacceptable, and because there was political will, change came about.
The representation of women is now 40 per cent.
3) And finally, family policies that promote gender equality.
Norway has generous welfare schemes which allow parents – both mothers and fathers - to combine work and child care;
- A whole year paid parental leave including a quota reserved the father.
- Paid leave when a child is sick.
- The right to reduction of working hours for employees who are responsible for the care of young children.
The result of these policies are that: Norway has one of the highest female workforce participation rates in the world. Close to 80 per cent of women age 25-66 are in the labour force. At the same time the fertility rate is at 1.98, which is high when compared with the European Union and other industrialized countries.
Over the last 40 years there has been rapid growth in economic activity among women in Norway. During 25 years, from 1974 to 1999, the female labour force participation rate in Norway rose by almost 60 per cent. Today, women participate in the labour market at almost the same level as men.
This is what contributes to our high economic performance – and what underpins its sustainability!
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen,
These values and national experiences explain why gender equality, women’s rights and empowerment are cornerstones also of Norway’s foreign policy and international development cooperation.
I will close my presentation by highlighting three of our main international priorities:
1) Norway is a major supporter of the United Nations funds, programmes and specialized agencies’ gender programs. Our largest contribution is to UNICEF’s program for the promotion of education for girls. We are also a strong supporter of UNIFEM and the UN Secretary-General’s Campaign UNite to End Violence against Women. Norway’s Minister of Justice is a member of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders.
2) Together with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has been spearheading the Global Campaign on Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. I am proud to say that Norway annually contributes roughly 500 million USD to global health issues.
3) Norway has been a strong proponent of the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and its follow up resolutions. We work targeted to ensure the active participation of women in the peace processes where we are involved – and we contribute both expertise and funding to the protection of women from sexual violence in armed conflict.
With these experiences in mind let me express Norway’s great satisfaction about the outcome of the negotiations on System Wide Coherence and the decision, which I understand will be taken Friday, to establish a strong and consolidated gender entity in the UN system. It is now crucial to ensure the gender entity gets a strong and competent leader – and financial resources to match! Norway stands ready to contribute.
Before I close Mr. President,
Let me make a final and crucial point:
Nothing of what I have told you today about Norway’s gender equality policy would have been possible without the persistent push and pressure from civil society, especially women’s groups. The cooperation with both trade unions and employers’ organizations – throughout Norway’s modern history has also been vital to reach the level of gender equality Norway has today. I am therefore very pleased to give their representatives the opportunity to speak and take part in Norway’s presentation here today.