Speech/statement | Date: 2009-06-24
Speach held at the Council of Europe Conference of Ministrers responsible for family affairs June 16th-17th 2009.
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Politics that promote equality and supporting families pay off in economic terms and increase the number of babies
Madam chair, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
Again, thanks to the Council of Europe and to Austria for hosting this conference. Norway is, as I said yesterday, prepared to take over the “baton” and host the next Ministerial conference hopefully in 2012.
I also thank the Turkish Minister for her interesting introduction. Even if our countries are situated in different parts of Europe, the south and the north, we face many common challenges. How ever, sometimes we apply different solutions based on national frameworks, culture and history. Still, we can learn from each other. Today’s theme gives me the opportunity to present some important principles for our family policy measures.
We maintain a close link between gender equality policy and politics that encourage and support family life. Family policy shall facilitate the reconciliation of family and work-life, and assure both parents and the single provider the possibility to combine family life and work.
In recent years we have put a strong focus on the role of the fathers and the importance of strengthening their roles for the good of the children. This promotes equality between women and men both in the family and in working life. Today, there is a web of arrangements, schemes and legal measures for families with children designed to reconcile family and work.
There is, however, a need to look back, as to comprehend the “historical and social” environment where strong family policies, gender equality and a relative high stable birth rate, could thrive.
In 2009 the Norwegian Gender Equality Act turns 30. These last 30 years has seen substantial equality between the genders come true in Norway. This Act has meant tremendous changes in Norwegian family life, culture, politics and economic life. Today, we are discussing men’s and fathers’ roles and rights in parental leave and custody cases along with promoting women to partake in the upper elite of economic life. An example: When measuring 300 large companies in Europe (Hudson 2008),Norway scored highest among the countries having 44,2 % women on company boards, Sweden coming in second with 26,9 %.
As some of you may know, this is not accidental. Norway has, as the only country in the world, legislation that demands gender equality in boards. From a family perspective, I will point out that more diversified boards also may make room for more family friendly human resource policies for big companies. Affirmative actions are no doubt disputed, also in Norway.
But change does not come for free. Change has to be led by political will, decision and budget lines, mirroring values and norms in the population.
After WW II, the Norwegian society set out to rebuild itself, with a cross-party agreement to abolish poverty and stretch for a comprehensive welfare system. Social reforms were introduced, like the Family Allowance Act in 1946 (paid to the mothers), the right to have a minimum security as a provider with little or no income in 1957, securing many women.
The needs of a welfare society for educated labour force became very visible in the years to come. Government was investing in technology, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, kindergartens, regional colleges, public services of all kinds.
Society needed heads and hands. The effects of the largest social reform ever in Norway, the National Insurance Scheme in 1966 (based upon law and the tripartite cooperation between State, employers and employees) demanded educated professionals to new jobs. Norway encouraged women to enter these jobs. Today 80 % of mothers in Norway are in paid work. In 2009 Norway has a fertility rate of 1.96, among the highest in all of Europe and among other industrialized economies.
Due to women entering into paid work, came the demands for expanded parental (then maternal) leave, full coverage of kindergartens, better maternal health care, the right to self-determined abortion and gender equal pay pr. hour. A gender equality law prohibiting any discrimination on the basis of sex was high on the political agenda.
Cultural traditions of perceiving care for children and homes as a female domain contra decision-making, money-making and public power as male domain did, however, prevail.
It took a massive mobilization of women and men to carry forth the first Gender Balanced Cabinet of Mrs. Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1986. There were electoral campaigns to promote women to local and regional political bodies and research was financed and used as to underline the need for gender equality and display the proud history of the women of Norway.
Under this Cabinet many laws were amended and more rights secured to parents, as to promote parenthood and raising children along with both parents enjoying careers and paid work. Today Parliament has 40 % women, as have the 430 elected municipal bodies. Cabinet enjoys 50 % of each gender.
The model of Norwegian politics to achieve a relatively high birth rate has been to combine gender equality with comprehensive family and parental provisions. This has secured women’s possibilities to paid work, and men’s possibilities to care for children and family. Any person, regardless of gender, should have the right to choose both work and family. Not to be forced to choose either – or. It seems that this type of political thinking is promoting economic development and stability. If one looks to the Norwegian gross domestic product per capita this is 20 % higher than that of the United States (2008, the CiA Fact book).
Today most people take reconciliation of work and family life and gender equality for granted in Norway. But mission is not yet accomplished. Cultural habits, traditions and stereotypes are stubborn. Still we see a gender-segmented labour market and young people still tend to choose gender-traditional educations. Many women are still working part- time.
A White Paper on Men, Masculinities and Gender Equality was presented to the Parliament in December 2008. It showed an enormous change in men’s roles and not the least: Fathers roles.
Fathers take a responsibility at home and for the children; they cook and clean and pick up the kids from kindergarten. Although, I would put in a remark: The Second European Quality of Life Survey from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in 2009 shows that Norwegian mothers expect even higher participation and responsibility from fathers at home. Men in paid work take leave of absence to care for sick children, due to the right in the Work Environment Law of 10 days pr. year with pay for a child below 12 years of age.
Norwegian politics has seen the use of affirmative actions as to promote equality. In 1993 the first fathers obligatory quota was introduced in the parental leave scheme, with 4 weeks to be taken by the father if refunding of his salary was to be enjoyed (not transferrable to mothers) . Today 90 % of the fathers covered by these regulations are taking their obligatory 6 weeks leave and proximately 17 % of the fathers choose more than 6 weeks. The father’s quota will be 10 weeks from July 1st 2009.
The essence of the research based on before-mentioned White Paper on Men, is to discuss modernity in family life and at the work place, along with demographic issues and what is best for the child. It is time to combat old-fashioned male stereotypes not sound for modern men. The White Paper contains a wealth of statistics on men’s health, education, jobs, care patterns, violent behaviour, divorces and custody cases as well as types of men’s marginalization.
The White Paper concludes that it is sound economics to employ all good heads and hands in a nation. In the competition for competence, businesses need to promote family friendly surroundings for both mothers and fathers, unless they want to loose out on available educated hands. Thus the laws and regulations on parental leave where the State, the employers and the employees (trough taxes) co-finance the expenditures, provide a favourable setting for making it “acceptable” (in business life) to be a parent, regardless of one’s gender.
The White Paper also concludes that equality is a win-win situation for both women and men. There is time for new alliances between the sexes. A modern nation cannot afford to lose out on demography or under-consuming educated workforce (due to a gender-bias) or not to make use of talented women in top-management or board-rooms.
Talents are evenly divided among the genders, also when it comes to child-caring and rearing.
Good family and Gender equality policy is about human rights and democracy. In this context I refer especially to the European Convention on Human Rights. Most nations are also party to the several Human Rights Conventions /Covenants of the United Nations, two of them designed to promote children’s rights and women’s rights.
Let us exchange experiences and lessons learned, to make these human rights come true. It is smart economy and it produces more children too.
Thank you for your attention.