Speech/statement | Date: 20/03/2010
Seminar hosted by the Norwegian Consulate in New York, Women`s Forum and Catalyst The last 40 years has seen substantial equality between the genders come true, with great changes in Norwegian culture, politics and economic life. Today, we are discussing men’s roles and rights in terms of parental leave, along with promoting women to the upper echelons of economic life.
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The last 40 years has seen substantial equality between the genders come true, with great changes in Norwegian culture, politics and economic life.
Today, we are discussing men’s roles and rights in terms of parental leave, along with promoting women to the upper echelons of economic life.
Women are participating almost on an equal footing as men in the labour market, and at the same time establishing families. This did not merely happen. It happened because Norwegian women and men wanted it to happen and politicians took decisions to enable it to happen.
A short look back
The ideal of the housewife with a husband working in well-paid industrial jobs, took foothold in the fifties and the early sixties. But less than two decades later, women began flooding into paid work and gradually started having their own economic power.
In Norway a new “partnership” was formed - between the authorities, the labour movement, trade unions, the NGOs and research institutions. Society needed heads and hands, and a question high on the agenda became if gender equality should be mandated. In Norway, the answer was yes and through political initiatives women were encouraged to enter the labour market and enabling structures were designed.
However, cultural traditions continued to promote care for children and homes as a female domain – while decision-making, money-making and public power remained male domains .
Women and men in the economy
Let me give you a quick picture of our labour market and the situation of women and men in Norway today.
80 per cent of all women aged 25 to 66 are in the labour force. Most mothers are in the labour force; approximately 75 per cent with children below 3 years and 84 per cent with children 3-6 years.
In the US this number is a little lower, but common for mothers in both countries is that about half of them have some kind of part-time arrangement. And every day, according to polls, mothers spend 1 hour more on housework than fathers (Synnovate).
Norway has one of the highest ratios of women in the labour market, but at the same time our country has one of Europe’s most gender segregated labour markets. The gender differences largely correspond to the division between the public and private sectors, and is kept alive through very stereotypic choices of education and work. The question of course, becomes how we can fight these stereotypes, and the Norwegian government believes that this can be done by mandating gender equality. Among the measures taken is the 40% rule, which mandates a minimum of 40 % female representation on boards.
Following this issue, is also the demand for equal pay. That women and men get paid the same for work of equal value has long been on the political agenda, but we still have a pay gap by hour at the average of the European countries. The pay gap reflects the gender segregated labour market, and not differences in length of education or employment. In addition; the pay gap increases when having small children.
Today equal pay for equal value is singled out as a priority in the new Policy Platform of our Government. We are now inviting the social partners to a renewed dialogue, and will present a new white paper on equal pay...
Gender equality and family policies
The basic idea of Norwegian policies in this field has been to combine gender equality with comprehensive family and parental provisions. We want to secure both women’s and men’s possibilities to work and to care for children and family.
Any person should have the right to choose both work and family. Like ambassador Breie pointed out, this points to one of the major differences between our two countries, as the Norwegian government believes that the right to choose should be facilitated by public policies.
We have several and quite generous gender-neutral arrangements to support parents combining economic activity with child care.
We have introduced greatly extended and improved parental leave rules and benefits. Parents are entitled to approximately one year’s paid leave when they have a child, and the right to a further year’s leave without pay.
In order to stimulate equality in parenthood we have introduced the father’s quota in the paid parental leave scheme.
The father’s quota of parental leave was introduced in 1993. From 1 July 2009, 10 weeks are reserved the fathers of a total of 56 week with 80 per cent pay. The father’s quota of parental leave has contributed to more active fathers and started a (small) revolution in men’s use of parental leave.
Ever since 1977, fathers have had the opportunity of sharing parental leave with the mother. Only 2-3 per cent of fathers took parental leave at the beginning of the 1990s. Today the father`s quota is a norm (by law) and 90 per cent of the fathers with the right to a quota make use of this right.
Another prerequisite for reconciliation between work- and family life is having a place for the child in a day-care centre. It is a key factor. One of the highest profiled political goals in recent years has been to achieve full day-care coverage of high quality and at a low price for parents. In 2008, approximately 84 per cent of all children aged 1-5 had a place in a day-care centre.
An employee with small children has the right to reduced working hours and also a right to be exempt from overtime. In addition employees who have the care of children under the age of 12 are entitled to paid leave of absence for up to 10 days per years to stay at home with sick children.
These arrangements give the parents the possibility and right to leave of absence from the labour market due to children, and the rights to re-enter their jobs and to take part in paid work and the economy.
My point is:
These are not only generous arrangements because Norway can afford it. I dare to say that today’s modern societies cannot afford not to.
Women’s participation in the labour force has proved to be good for our economy, as well as good for gender equality, and last but not least, good for the children. This recipie applies to all countries.
Most industrialised countries are facing a dramatic demographic development. Many countries are struggling with an aging population and decreasing fertility rates.
The fertility rate in Norway – as in USA - was declining in the 1960-ties. In Norway it was reduced from 3 children to each woman in 1965 to 1,75 in 1977. Today the fertility rate is increasing in Norway, and is 1,98 and among the highest in Europe.
We are sure there is a positive link between the fertility rate, employment rate and our family and gender equality policies.
The role of men
Gender equality is not only about women`s rights. Norway is an egalitarian country and gender equality is one of the most important pillars of our society..
We will not come further, however, without acknowledging that gender equality is also about men. Men have to be involved in the gender equality project.
On this background, the Government presented in 2008 a White Paper Document to the Parliament on Men, male roles and gender equality. An important purpose of the white paper was to show that gender equality is about both men and women. We wanted to discuss modernity in family life and at the work place.
The white paper contains a wealth of statistics on men’s health, education, jobs, care-patterns, violent behaviour, divorces, custody cases as well as all types of men’s marginalisation.
The conclusion is, - equality is a win-win situation for both women and men. This is a time for new alliances between men and women.
Talents are evenly divided among genders; for child-caring as well as for business.
Profound political will
The key is redistribution of power, care and work – and about changing
Let me underline the fact that societal change does not merely come by itself! Change has to be led by political will and decisions, mirroring values and norms in the population. Our experience is that targeted and affirmative action and legislation in the field of gender equality is needed and lead to change.
The freedom for men and women alike to have careers and families; not to be forced to choose either – or, is basic to a modern society.
To reach this level of development; facilitating families and children along with making the economy boost through employing the best talents and heads regardless of gender, governments need to design clever policies constructing enabling structures. Structures enabling people to make real and free choices like having babies along with pursuing a career.
Norway has worked on such schemes and structures since the fifties and thus paved the way for making able women and girls visible in the labourmarket.
The use of quotas is not a new measure in Norwegian policymaking. In fact one important measure in the development of gender equality has been the use of quotas. This is a controversial tool. But it has shown to be very effective. The use of quotas is simply a tool to display women’s competences.
It started in the 1970-ties when some political parties on voluntary basis adopted quotas on the electoral lists. All gouvernments since 19991 have kept the unwritten rule of at least 40 per cent of each sex in the cabinet. Today the gender balance is complete with the 50 – 50 per cent representation.
The Gender Equality Act has since 1981 contained a clause of at least 40 per cent of each gender to be represented in publicly appointed boards, committees, delegations etc.
In 2003 the large enterprises noted on the stock exchange market (Public Limited Companies), recruited only 7 per cent women to their boardrooms. Today women have taken more than 40 per cent of these boardroom positions. The Norwegian Parliament required this by law in 2003.
We have introduced the same rule for the state-owned companies, which measures more than 40 percent women on their boards as well. Further, we have recently included companies owned by the municipalities.
Although women now account for a substantial part of the labour force, they are still clearly in minority in management positions. The numbers also show that this becomes more and more the case the higher up in the hierarchy one looks. The numbers are roughly the same here in the U.S. - an issue I know the panel will address, but from the Norwegian government’s side we hope that the increased number of women on company-boards will make women more visible for management positions in the labour-force as well!
Still, it is of course important to keep in mind that any affirmative action is likely to fall through without a more or less gender equal society where women and girls are educated and working on equal footing as men.
To sum up:
Gender equality is about both women and men. Norway is a rich country with, among others, heavy investments in the oil and gas industry. This has helped to maintain and develop our welfare system. At the same time, we have also invested in gender equality.
We have strong indications showing that gender equality gives economic growth and prosperity. Women’s employment boosts the GDP. Norwegian gross domestic product per capita is even 20 per cent higher than that of the United States.
Let me finally say that the greatest gains countries can achieve, economically as well politically, come with empowering women, ensuring equal opportunity, health care, and increasing the ratio of women’s active participation in paid working life. This applies in rich and poor countries alike!
We will therefore continue our efforts to increase the level of gender equality which will:
- Give more freedom to everyone of us
- And improve our economy and our welfare.