Gender equality and non-discrimination

Norway’s cooperation with the EU on gender equality and non-discrimination involves participation in informal ministerial meetings, the development of common rules and participation in EU programmes. Norway adheres to EU gender equality legislation through the EEA Agreement. The EU/EEA cooperation also provides a forum for the exchange of experience and views in areas where there are no common rules and no common EU policy.

Photo: Stein J. Bjørge, NTB/SCANPIX

Norway’s cooperation with the EU on gender equality and non-discrimination involves participation in informal ministerial meetings, the development of common rules and participation in EU programmes. Norway adheres to EU gender equality legislation through the EEA Agreement. The EU/EEA cooperation also provides a forum for the exchange of experience and views in areas where there are no common rules and no common EU policy.     

To an increasing extent, the framework for gender equality policy is developed at the international level. The aim is to find common solutions to common challenges. The EU’s gender equality agenda is broad. It involves promoting equal treatment and human rights, regardless of grounds for discrimination – gender, age, religion, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation – through the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights; it also involves promoting equal opportunities and diversity as a basis for economic growth and sustainability through the EU’s growth strategy, Europe 2020.      

EU policy
Gender equality and non-discrimination are fundamental principles of the EU. These principles are enshrined in the Treaties and other EU legislation, and further developed through the decisions of the European Court of Justice. The scope of the EU’s gender equality policy has expanded in step with the European integration process. As early as 1957, the Treaty of Rome contained a provision on equal pay for equal work, which provided a basis for a significant body of legislation in this area. This has helped to bring about a radical change in attitudes and traditions.

Under the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, a number of new provisions relating to gender equality and non-discrimination were introduced, which have strengthened the basis for developing policy and legislation in this area. As a result, the EU can, for example, accede to international conventions such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Convention on Human Rights.  

Norway’s participation through the EEA Agreement
In the EEA Agreement, gender equality is a horizontal policy area that is considered significant for the functioning of the internal market. Norway adheres to EU gender equality legislation. The Equal Pay Directive, the Equal Treatment Directive, which provides for the equal treatment of men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training, promotion and working conditions, and the Pregnant Workers Directive are examples of legislation that have been incorporated into the EEA Agreement.

Large parts of Norwegian non-discrimination legislation are based on EU legislation. Most of the EU rules in this area set out minimum requirements, which means that countries may enact more stringent legislation.

EU/EEA cooperation also provides a forum for the exchange of experience and views in areas where there is no treaty basis for pursuing a common EU policy. The cooperation focuses not only on the development of common legislation, but also on non-legal measures and non-binding harmonisation of policy.  

There is considerable interest in Norway’s experience of policy instruments in the area of gender equality, and Norway can learn a great deal from other countries. Norway brings its experience to and participates actively in the European dialogue on policy development in the area of gender equality and non-discrimination.  

Participation in EU programmes
Through the EEA Agreement, Norway participates in two programmes in this area in 2007 - 2013:

  • The Daphne III programme seeks to prevent and combat all forms of violence against children, young people and women. Its focus is on preventive measures and support for victims and vulnerable groups.
  • The EU Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity (PROGRESS) is a financial instrument supporting the development and coordination of policy in the areas of employment, social inclusion and social protection, working conditions, anti-discrimination, and gender equality.

Norway also participated in the programme committees of both programmes where the framework for the programmes and many of the priorities for programme activities are decided. In addition to issuing public calls for proposals, the European Commission organises a series of expert seminars where participants can exchange experiences and lessons learned, which in turn provides useful input for the development of policy aimed at combating all forms of discrimination. In spring 2012, for example, Norway hosted expert seminars on improving gender balance in corporate boards and corporate management and on combating discrimination and promoting diversity in education.

Relevant forums
Norway participates in a number of working groups and advisory committees, as well as certain high-level groups under the European Commission such as the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, the High-Level Group on Non-Discrimination, and the High-Level Group on Disability. This enables us to put forward our views and provide input to the development of policy and legislation.   

EFTA’s Working Group on Gender Equality, Anti-Discrimination and Family Policy is responsible for following up legislation on equal treatment and participation in relevant EU programmes and for providing input to European Commission consultations on matters where the EEA EFTA countries are in agreement.  

National experts at the European Commission
Contact information for all the Norwegian national experts can be found on the EFTA Secretariat’s website.