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Historisk arkiv

NORA in 2006 — Women’s challenges

Historisk arkiv

Publisert under: Regjeringen Stoltenberg II

Utgiver: Barne- og likestillingsdepartementet

By minister Karita Bekkemellem, 4th Japan - Norway Joint Seminar on Gender Equality

What does it mean to be a human being? To me, the answer is very clear: It means to be a participant in society on an equal footing with men. For men, it must involve sharing the everyday workload at home on an equal footing with women.

NORA in 2006 – Women’s challenges

Minister Karita Bekkemellem

The Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality

4th Japan-Norway Joint Seminar on Gender Equality

Minister, ambassador, ladies and gentlemen

First I would like to thank you very much for your wonderful selection of scenes from A Doll’s House.

So, Nora leaves her husband and her children. She leaves to find her independence after realising that her husband was not the noble man she had believed him to be. In her marriage Nora had been a doll, her home a doll’s house. Torvald, her husband, constantly refers to her as his little «lark» or «squirrel».

A Doll’s House was written in 1879, 127 years ago. For Nora to break out of her marriage was a scandalous proposition to Ibsen’s contemporary Victorian audience. Even today, many cultures would view her actions in the same way. To many people, nothing is more sacred than marriage, and portraying a female character who develops and takes responsibility for her own life is unacceptable.

Many Norwegians have recently had the pleasure of experiencing a Japanese play called “Double Nora” by Theatre Office Natori during the Ibsen festival in Oslo. “Double Nora” is a modern Noh play, another example of the many different forms Nora can take. The theme, however, remains unchanged: Ibsen allows women to be human beings.

What does it mean to be a human being? To me, the answer is very clear: It means to be a participant in society on an equal footing with men. For men, it must involve sharing the everyday workload at home on an equal footing with women.

In Norway, the Nora of today is a participant in society. She is educated, has a natural role in the Norwegian economy through her participation in working life and has a social life that is not restricted to her family. Particularly if she is young, today’s Nora has a husband who shares responsibility for the children – and he even washes the floor now and then. Central and local government regulations provide for day-care places and after-school facilities for their children.

Some Noras, like me, wield a great deal of power. I am proud to be in a government where of our 18 ministers, we have 9 Noras. Nora has been elected by the people and is a member of parliament. Of every five members of parliament, two are Noras. It is therefore a paradox that Nora has such a weak position at management level in the business world in general and at executive level in particular. When ten business leaders meet, only one of them is a Nora. The battle that remains for Nora to win is to make it to the top in business and industry. Innovative thinking has been our guideline here. In order to strengthen the position of women in business and industry, a new law was introduced requiring that at least forty per cent of the executive boards of all publicly owned entities and privately owned public limited companies should be women. The new rules will result in greater gender equality and democracy, and will strengthen management in the business sector and enhance companies’ competitive capabilities.

At the end of A Doll’s House, Nora leaves. Her husband does not see her as a human being.

Today, many couples divorce. More women file for divorce than men. In 2004 approximately 11 000 marriages in Norway ended in divorce. Over the past five years, divorce affected a total of 55 200 children under the age of 18.

In A Doll’s House the children stay with Torvald. When today’s Nora and Torvald divorce, the children live with Nora and Torvald becomes a weekend parent.

I do not think this is an optimal solution. I believe that children should have extensive contact with both their parents.

Today’s fathers must be more involved in caring for the child and in running the home. There must be greater equality in parenting. Only then will there be time available to the Nora of the future so that she can work more and earn more. Today’s Nora earns on average 15 per cent less than he does. And this, in turn, affects her pension. It pays to be a man. Half of the women in Norway work part time. When Torvald works a lot, Nora has to stay at home with the children.

We must continue to develop a model that reflects a reality where mothers combine parenting with paid work. But it must also include men by providing opportunities and incentives for men to expand their new role in the family. Continually pushing developments in the direction of equality is a political responsibility. We have made some progress. Norwegian women give birth to an average of 1.84 children. The high fertility rate in Norway is probably a result of generous family policy programmes such as long parental leave, the possibility of taking unpaid additional parental leave, the right to stay at home to care for a sick child, and the right to work shorter hours.

Caring for children them must be a joint responsibility. Tha quota of parental leave reserved for fathers was therefore extended to 6 weeks in July this year. We hope that extending the quota will encourage men to stay at home for a longer period. The government aims to extend the quota to 10 weeks. The most important tool to enable both parents to participate fully in working life is the provision of day-care facilities. The Government is making a sustained and intensive effort to provide day-care facilities to meet demand, and will achieve its target in the course of 2007.

Men must work less overtime and spend more time at home!

I will be presenting a Report to the Storting about men and gender equality next year. It is the first of its kind in the world. The report will include a discussion of the role of men vis-a-vis working life, parenthood and relationships, and of men in relation to power and their own health.

Gender equality is of great importance. I see gender equality as a vital human rights issue. And it is a problem that women’s talents and economic potential are not utilised to the full. This is a problem of prosperity at a national level, and also a problem for the individual woman.

We have challenges to eliminate the gender pay gap. We need to see changes in men’s roles, and we need to put an end to domestic violence. In Norway priority will also be given to fight forms of violence that affects groups of minority women such as forced marriages and trafficking.

The challenge facing Nora and Torvald in the 21st century will be to accompany each other into the future with full respect for each other as both parents and economically active individuals. Equality in parenthood is the key to equality at work. Equality at work, where both women and men take part in the labour force and contribute their expertise, experience and skills is, in turn, the key to increased productivity and economic growth. These are not just fine words; they are hard factsthat we must accept.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good family policy is good financial policy

We need to re-allocate power. We need to create an alliance between men and women in order to achieve gender equality. It is important to make use of all human resources in our country, not just half of it. I will give you three reasons:

One: It is good for business. Two: It is good for the country. Three: Gender equality creates a win-win situation.

Thank you for your attention.

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