Get the hell out of my race - Gender Equality Challenges

Bergen – rundebord om kvinner i idretten. Tirsdag 24. mai

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In August 1983 the first World Championship in Athletics ever, was held in Helsinki, Finland. The Championship started with the Women's Marathon as the opening event on Sunday 7th August.

After running for 2 hours, 28 minutes and 9 seconds in the sunny streets of Helsinki, Grete Waitz finished as the first female World Champion in Marathon ever. 

For that, and for all of her other achievements, Grete Waitz is among our most admired, respected – and loved – Norwegian athletes ever, abroad as well as here in Norway.

When Grete Waitz started her career as an athlete in the

1960-ties, women were not allowed to run more than 3000 meter.

Participating in sport, doing heavy physical activities and sweating were something women should not be doing.

One of these other brave women was Kathrine Switzer from the US. In 1967 she was even attacked while running the Boston Marathon.  The organizer of this race, Jock Semple, lacked the vision of a gender equal society and yelled at Switzer: 

"Get the hell out of my race".

Yet another five years passed before women were allowed to participate in Boston Marathon in 1972.

As in other fields of society, attitudes were changing – not least thanks to women themselves.

Today, here in Norway and many other countries, women and men formally enjoy equal rights and freedoms.  Equal rights and opportunities in every field of society, also in sports, is our common goal.

Then you may ask why the history of frontrunners, literary speaking, like Grete Waitz and Kathrine Switzer is relevant for us here today?

  • It's relevant because women and men are still not treated equally.
  • It's relevant because we still meet our daughters with other expectations than we do with our sons.

It is more than a 100 years ago since women in Norway got the right to vote. It is almost four decades since Grete Waitz run New York Marathon for the first time.

Norway is often scored as one of the most gender equal countries in the world.  Still – inequality exists between the genders:

  • As many girls as boys, and almost as many women as men, are ordinary members in sports clubs. Yet – only one out of ten elected presidents in Norwegian sports federations are women.
  • Boys with minority background participate in sports as much as boys with majority background.
  • I am, however, concerned over the fact that girls with minority background are almost absent in sports in Norway.
  • Whereas the men's Norwegian national team in football have many prominent players with minority background, none are playing on the women's national team.

Also in other areas of society, we still face challenges:

  • Domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape are serious threats for all too many women. It is one of our biggest challenges when it comes to gender equality.
  • We see too few women in leading positions, especially in the private sector.
  • Many girls and boys choose their education based on expectations in society. It is important that we encourage young people to apply for higher education and to seek education according to their own interests and skills.
  • Only 22 per cent of engineering students in Norway are girls. At the same time we see that girls are a majority in higher education within studies such as law and medicine. The number of girls in higher education has increased over the last decades and we see that girls are better than boys in choosing non-traditional careers.
  • A modern competitive economy needs the best head and hands regardless of gender. This is sound economics.

Individuals like Grete Waitz and civil society organizations have played a critical part in getting us to where we are today.

The efforts must continue in order for us to both reach gender equality and a sustainable future, nationally as well as internationally.

Whether in the boxing ring or on the soccer field, whether they are professionals or enjoying an afterschool activity, women and girls athletes show what can be gained through sport.

They brake barriers and challenge stereotypes.

In many ways, I believe sports have helped us to argue stronger for more equality between women and men, girls and boys.

When given full and equal access to resources and opportunities, and when being part of decision-making, women will be driving development forward. In this respect, sports is an arena of universal language and fairness.

Sports are important both in our civil society and in the world of work because it encourages us:

  • To be team players
  • To spirit - and will to win fairly
  • To live more healthy.

In September last year, the world adopted the "2030 Agenda" - with the sustainable development goals - the SDGs.

In reaching this - gender equality is both a stand-alone goal and an integrated part of the other goals. This was a key priority for Norway during the negotiations.

The Sustainable Development Goals makes it imperative to strengthen our efforts for gender equality.

The targets are ambitious.

To succeed, we must make use of women's resources and talents in all sectors of society.

To conclude,

Civil society has played a crucial role in developing Norway as a democracy. In that respect, the world of sports and other NGOs serve as the ground floor of a vibrant and strong society.  

Sport clubs and other organizations are arenas where both boys and girls, men and women can use their talent and skills in many different ways, as both athletes and organizers.

It's important for me to acknowledge all the good work done by parents and other volunteers in small sports clubs in local communities. The shared belief in everybody's responsibility for our children's activities in sports is such a valuable asset.

Then it is imperative that girls and boys, men and women can participate on an equal footing.

The civil society is vital for us to achieve the sustainable development goals by 2030.

The world of sports and other NGO's are also a place for achievement and personal growth. Let's combine the work for the SDG's by securing girls and women the same rights and opportunities as boys and men.

For us here today, it is important to carry the legacy after Grete Waitz and other front runners.

They carry the torch of hope that will inspire us here today in our mission to work for equality between men and women - also in the world of sports.

Thank you.