Speech/statement | Date: 18/04/2013
Minister of International Development, Heikki Eidsvoll Holmås' speech at the World Bank–IMF Spring Meeting in Washington D.C on 18 April 2013.
To change politics, to change societies and to have gender equality, you need three things: You need to have a realization among people about the importance of gender equality, you need to have the politics in place, and you need to have the champions to fight for the political change.
Well, my champion, when I grew up, was my mother. That is because my mother made sure to get educated, and became an engineer. I sometimes say that I grew up under a meeting room table listening to my mother and her activist colleagues, working towards gender equality in Norway. And her two main challenges, the political issues they fought for, were the following:
The first issue was the right to choose. It was the right for women to control their own body, to choose when to have children and when not to have children. And that includes access to safe abortions.
The second thing that she worked for was the economic empowerment of women. To her, that was represented by the opportunity to pursue education, and the opportunity to work. And to allow for that, she needed access to a kindergarten for her children. This was a challenge for many women in Norway. So as a kid, I went around with t-shirts saying “Free kindergarten for all children”. Because I didn’t go to kindergarten until I was six years old, and that really made life tough for my mother, as she didn’t have the same opportunity as others to access education or work.
Now, champions are important. What did she teach me? She taught me to be a feminist. And I would just like to ask: How many around the table here would say that they are feminists? Raise your hands!
But if I frame the question differently, and ask how many of you think that there are unequal opportunities afforded to women as compared to men – that women have less power than men – and that this is something we should do something about; how many of you would raise your hands then? That would be nearly all of you around the table. That would make you feminists, in my eyes.
And that is the second thing. A realization that there is inequality, and wanting to do something about it, is necessary if you want to change society.
And then there is politics. And I would say “talk is cheap”. It is actions and policies that work. So what have we done in Norway to change and make my mother’s life easier?
Well, the first thing we did was to have an equal rights law, making certain that women had the same rights as men, and have the same right to equal payment for doing the same jobs as men in businesses. Because businesses are key.
Then we have kindergartens. My government is proud to say that we have now introduced a right to kindergarten for all children above the age of one.
We have also said that we want to secure women’s representation on boards. We have a law stating that women’s representation on boards of directors should be at least 40 per cent. That is important if you really want to change society.
Now, has this led to something positive in our society? Yes!
Many women feel that they have more equal opportunities today than they had before.
Secondly, and this is important to the finance ministers around the table: Gender equality policies have led to Norway having one of the largest shares of women participating in the workforce among OECD countries. Many of you know that Norway is rich from oil revenues. But the fact is that Norwegian women’s participation in the workforce above the OECD average is worth more to our income than all our oil revenues – past, present and future.
So, if you haven’t got oil – you know where your wealth lies. And if you do have oil – well, there is no reason to have stupid policies anyway!