Women's rights and gender equality

The fundamental aim of Norway’s efforts in the area of women’s rights and gender equality is to increase the opportunities available to women and girls, promote their right to self-determination, and further their empowerment. This is crucial if girls, boys, women and men are to have equal rights and equal opportunities.

The global situation for gender equality is characterised by contradictions and paradoxes. On the one hand, opposition to women’s rights is increasing in some countries and regions. On the other, there is a growing trend towards gender equality, as the targeted efforts of the authorities and women’s own battle for their rights are providing better opportunities for women to participate in society at all levels on an equal footing with men. At the core of the contradictions are ideologies that view gender equality as a threat to the institution of the family, pressure to maintain traditional gender roles and the fight for the right to decide over one’s own body and sexuality.

Within this complex landscape, the national action plan Freedom, empowerment and opportunities. Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020 sets the framework for Norway’s international gender equality efforts. This action plan, along with Norway’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2015–18), the International Strategy to Eliminate Harmful Practices and relevant white papers, form the pillars of Norway’s foreign and development policy for gender equality.

The Government’s efforts to promote gender equality are based on the plans of action adopted at the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing and the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, general human rights, and the Sustainable Development Goals - in particular, Goal Five to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Gender equality is to be incorporated into all aspects of foreign and development policy. However, statistics show that Norwegian development aid specifically targeting gender equality efforts is too low. Therefore the Government has established a concrete target figure for gender equality efforts in development aid: half of all bilateral aid must have gender equality as a principal or significanttarget. The aim is to improve the results of Norwegian development aid - for everyone.

The Covid-19 pandemic affects girls, boys, women and men in different ways. Women make up a large majority of the informal labour market, especially in poor countries. These women have no insurance or pension to fall back on when they lose their source of income. Women and girls are more prone to experience violence during crises and when they are isolated in their homes. The pandemic also increases the risk of early pregnancy and of being subjected to harmful practices such as child marriage. When planning response measures it is important to ensure that women participate on an equal footing with men. 

Harmful practices affect girls

Harmful practices, such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and son preference are among the most serious manifestations of discrimination against girls. Every day 33 000 girls are married off as child brides. Every year four million girls are subjected to genital mutilation. A preference for sons leads to the devaluing of girls to the extent that they are neglected, subjected to violence and even murdered.

The Government adopted the International Strategy to Eliminate Harmful Practices in October 2019. The strategy follows two main tracks. One of these is to increase aid through relevant global programmes organised under the auspices of the UN and to integrate initiatives for eliminating harmful practices into development aid targeting education, health, gender equality and human rights. The other track is to strengthen Norway’s efforts in international arenas where norms and guidelines  are set.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights

Sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls are under pressure in many countries. The Government is working actively to safeguard the progress and results already achieved, and to prevent negative developments resulting from the erosion of established norms and rights.  

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are crucial for women’s freedom, empowerment and opportunities. When women cannot decide over their own bodies it has an impact on their schooling, work lives and ability to participate in society. This is why sexuality education, access to contraception, the right to safe abortion, and freedom from violence and harmful practices are essential in the fight for gender equality.

The right to decide over one’s own body is a controversial issue in many countries. There is growing pressure on women’s rights in general, and on their sexual and reproductive health and rights in particular. Certain countries that were formerly allies and like-minded partners in the fight for sexual and reproductive health and rights are now working to undermine global norms in this area. Norway therefore devotes a great deal of time and resources defending rights that were achieved many decades ago. Setbacks here will have many ramifications for the lives and health of girls and women.

There have also been some positive developments. The Nairobi Summit (ICDP+25) in 2019, which marked the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, provided an important reminder of this. Several thousand participants from over 170 countries attended the summit, which mobilised both a commitment to comprehensive measures and billions of dollars to support efforts to promote sexual and reproductive rights and health in the years ahead. In connection with the Nairobi Summit, the Norwegian Government pledged to maintain its leading international role in this area both politically and financially.

Women, peace and security

Norway is working to ensure that peace negotiations are inclusive, and that peace agreements safeguard the rights, needs and priorities of both women and men. There is much that remains to be done, however. There are still few peace agreements that adequately incorporate a gender perspective. Norway will work to increase the number of women taking part in delegations to peace negotiations, to increase the number of women peace negotiators, to ensure that women are represented and consulted in peace processes, and to integrate the gender perspective into peace agreements. These goals are stipulated in the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2019-2022).

Priority areas:

There are five priority areas set out in the national action plan Freedom, empowerment and opportunities. Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020, which has been extended until the end of this parliamentary term. Norway will work to promote:

  • inclusive and equitable quality education for all girls and boys;
  • women’s equal participation in political life;
  • full economic rights for women and equal opportunities for women to participate in the labour market;
  • the elimination of violence and harmful practices against girls and women;
  • sexual and reproductive health and rights for girls and women.

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