Speech/statement | Date: 20/03/2010
Nordic ministerial side event Tuesday 2 march Challenges remaining after Beijing + 15
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Chairperson, fellow ministers
The cooperation between the Nordic countries is the oldest regional cooperation in the world! It started over fifty years ago, and Gender Equality has always been a important part of our cooperation.
This has paid off! It is no coincidence that all the Nordic countries are ranked among the top seven countries on “The Global Gender Gap Index 2009” and always among the top ten of other international statistics. This is due to our joint efforts! We have had a common labour market since 1975 and we have designed several of the same structures and initiatives in our societies.
I believe the greatest product we have developed is our welfare state. This is not only a question of having sufficient financial resources available. We became prosperous because we developed the welfare state.
The welfare state was crucial for women`s liberation and gender equality for two reasons: It provided paid employment and public services that made it possible for most women to combine labour market participation with family responsibilities.
We have sustained our economies together. But, there are differences between our countries. Norway has for instance been more willing to make use of affirmative actions.
Our experience is that targeted and affirmative action and legislation in the field of gender equality is needed and lead to change.
I want to give you some examples of measures and legislation which are exclusive for Norway (compared to our Nordic neighbours):
- Since 1979 our Gender Equality act has laid down that each gender must be represented by at least 40 per cent of the members of all official committees, boards, and councils etc.
- Since 2002, both public authorities and private employers are obliged by law to take active steps to promote and advance equality on the grounds of gender. Both public and private employers must also report annually of which active steps have been taken.
In 2008 this was expanded to also include ethnicity and disability.
- In 2003 industry recruited only 7 per cent women to their boardrooms. Competent women were not seen – not recruited. Today women have taken more than 40 per cent of the boardroom positions. We required this by law in 2003. The quota caused a big discussion when it was introduced. The Business Confederations strongly disagreed. But today, the critics have gone silent and the women have taken their righteous seats at the board room tables. International research shows that women in company boardrooms may have a positive impact on company performances.
In addition Norway invented the father’s quota in 1993. Our parental leave scheme reserves today 10 weeks for the obligatory, nontransferable father’s quota. 90 per cent of the fathers are taking their obligatory 10 weeks, and the Cabinet intends to expand the father’s quota to 14 weeks.
These strategies have given very good results. Norway is today one of the front runners (no. 3 in the world) with regard to the level of equality between women and men. Around 80 per cent of the female population participates in the labour market. In addition Norway has one of the highest birthrates (1,98 child per women) among the industrialized countries.
This did not come by itself!
It came as a result of systematic policy changes aimed at empowering women and giving them more equal opportunity.
The key is redistribution of power, care and work
This goal and development can only bee achieved if governments, in collaboration with the employer’s organisations and the employees organisations, design enabling structures and reforms. Structures which allow women - and men - to chose, both to have family and children, and professional lives and incomes as well.
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 labour market and to be eligible to high positions in the economy and decision-making processes.
- Greatly extended and improved parental leave rules and benefits.
- Flexibility in work-life when having young children
- A rapid increase in kindergardens and day-care centers
We know that women`s contribution to the economy are decisive to ensure sustainable economic growth and development. Clear scientific evidence confirms that gender balance in education, work life and the economy makes a significant difference in GNP, effectiveness, innovation and competitive edge!
Countries not promoting gender equality seem to score much lower on the UN and World Economic Forum scales than more gender equal societies. Gender balance is smart socio-economic politics as well as a matter of human rights! Both in the North and the South!
My main point: this is not only a matter of doing the right thing from a social and moral perspective - it is necessary to ensure sustainable economic growth and development, in rich and poor countries alike.
Any society needs profound political will to set goals and develop tools to reach them. Norway has set some standards we are proud of. However there are still challenges ahead such as gender segregation in education and work-life, unequal pay for work of equal value as well as gender based violence.
In order to meet remaining challenges, the Government appointed a public committee 12 February this year, The committee will view our gender equality policy in a life-cycle analysis as well as in a class- and ethnicity perspective. This will provide a foundation for modern, overall and knowledge-based gender equality policy.
Norway is playing an active role internationally in fighting for the empowerment of women and girls. The challenges in the North and the South are indeed different. But the answer is the same. Gender equality pays off – for each and every woman and girl child, boys and men, families, companies and the society at large.