Norway: Situation of women and the sensitivity of the government, and other groups, relative to other countries

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 June 1999
Citation / Document Symbol NOR31884.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Norway: Situation of women and the sensitivity of the government, and other groups, relative to other countries, 1 June 1999, NOR31884.E, available at: [accessed 24 January 2019]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


According to Norway's Ministry of Children and Family Affairs:

The Norwegian state has ... been considered to be sensitive to the situation of women. Since the 1970s, the Norwegian authorities, influenced by the new radical women's movement, have consciously pursued a policy to integrate ideas on equality between the sexes into government administration. With the State as its ally, the women's movement has regarded the recruitment of women into politics as an important political goal (n.d.).

The Ministry also states that the Equal Status Act of 1979 was formulated in close consultation with the women's movement and that its original purpose was "to prevent discrimination of women in working life with respect to job appointments and wages. ... However, the Act has also acquired a somewhat broader objective, which is to promote equal status between the sexes within all sectors of society with special emphasis on improving the situation of women." Further to this, Country Reports 1998 states:

The rights of women are protected under the Equal Rights Law of 1978 [sic] and other regulations. According to that law, "women and men engaged in the same activity shall have equal wages for work of equal value." An Equal Rights Council monitors enforcement of the law, and an Equal Rights Ombudsman processes complaints of sexual discrimination. In 1997 there were 101 written complaints and 485 complaints by telephone to the gender equality Ombudsman. Women filed 50 percent of the complaints, men 18 percent, and organizations 32 percent.

In 1995 the Parliament adopted a harassment amendment to the Working Environment Act, which states that "employees shall not be subjected to harassment or other unseemly behavior" (1999, 1404).

A 1981 addition to the Equal Status Act requires that both sexes have 40 per cent representation "on all public boards, councils and committees," which "helps to redress any imbalance in representation on committees where men tend to congregate in 'heavy-weight' areas, such as economics, agriculture, communications, technology and defence" (BGD, n.d.). Thus, Norway has a relatively high proportion of women serving in the legislature and as ministers: it is placed second internationally with 39.4 per cent of legislature members being women, behind only Sweden with 40.4 per cent and ahead of South Africa in 12th position with 25 per cent and the United States in 41st position with 11.7 per cent of women in Congress (Feminist Majority Report Spring 1997). The Christian Science Monitor states that Nordic countries have the highest representation of women in legislatures "because they elect lawmakers through a system of proportional representation in which candidates lists can be weighted in favor of women" (14 May 1997). This opinion is shared by The Feminist Majority Foundation, which reported that an Inter-Parliamentary Union analysis found that a system of voluntary quotas for choosing candidates, featured in Scandinavian Social Democratic parties, has spread through the world and that all of the 12 countries with the highest proportion of women in legislatures use some variation of this system (Spring 1997). Please see the attached table from the United Nations The World's Women 1995 for a sampling of the percentage of women who were serving as ministers and subministers in different countries in 1994 (1995, 153). Furthermore, according to the Human Development Report of the United Nations "Scandinavian women are the most powerful and influential with regard to business and industry" and "women in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark held the highest percentage of both high-level government positions and traditionally male-dominated managerial and technical jobs" (AP 9 Sept. 1998).

The Norwegian government has also indicated its belief in the need for a new division of labour and thus changes in the male role (BFD 26 June 1996). AP reported on 21 July 1998 that "Norway, which hails itself as one of the most egalitarian nations, announced new rules that would introduce affirmative action programs to promote equal employment opportunities for men in traditionally 'female' occupations." These jobs include child care, preschool and primary school teachers and child welfare workers and the Minister of Families and Children stated that this would help "change children's views on gender roles, and provide boys with role models in their schools or care centers" (ibid.). Reuters reported on 4 November 1998 that the Norwegian Prime Minister had urged men to move into roles and responsibilities traditionally viewed as "feminine," including housework and child-rearing. Reuters noted that "Norway has made a great deal of progress toward gender equity. Women compose just under 1/2 of [Prime Minister] Bondevik's cabinet, and benefits including maternity or paternity leave of up to a year, and government pay for childrearing" (ibid.).

The aim of the MiRA Resource Centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women, in Oslo

is to promote equality for minority women in Norway. We try to increase awareness about the specific conditions that often determine the life quality of minority women. Through well-established legal and social services, information and networking, the MiRA Centre tries to strengthen immigrant and refugee Women's position in society. The MiRA Centre is also a place for self-organisation and has created a space for minority women to define their own realities (3 June 1999).

In 3 June 1999 correspondence the Director of MiRA stated:

The major gender-related issue for women in Norway is the hidden discrimination that exists in the education system and the labour market. There are quite a few women in high positions in Norway, both in the state bureaucracy and in the private sector, but women are still a minority within higher positions or one can say in decision making positions. If one looks at the wages earned by women they are still lower in average than men's. In other words, men are still considered to be the main earning hands in the family and women's income is considered a suppplement. This is despite the fact that a large number of families are single parent families where women have either part time or full time job.

Recently, the media has focused on the fact that pregnant women have difficulty in getting a job, and could easily lose their jobs if the employer decides to reduce the work force.

At university level there is a large percentage of female students in social sciences, but in natural sciences there are few.

Black women in Norway face extra discrimination due to their skin color and cultures of origin. The muslim women who wear for example headscarf are openly discriminated at the labour market. Migrant women are mostly concentrated in low paid manual jobs. The percentage of unemployed immigrant and refugee women is much higher than the percentage of ethnic Norwegian women without a job.

We can briefly mention that custody of children mostly is rewarded to the mother, and seldom disputed by the father, and that support payments from men are not awarded to women in Norway, as they are also supposed to support themselves. Child support is awarded at no less than about 11% of the man's total income or a set (minimum) sum of money if his income is lower than the minimum. The state will pay child support or the remaining of the sum if the father has a low income, or if the father is unknown or i.e. has left the country. If the father refuses to pay, the money will be deducted from his monthly salary via his employer. The father can also chose to pay more than the 11%, should he be able to afford it.

The existing laws poorly protect minority women in Norway. Immigrant and refugee women who come to Norway for family reunification risk being denied further stay in Norway if their marriage lasts less than three years. This means that they have no independent legal status.Those women who are exposed to physical and mental abuse in their marriages are therefore afraid to break out of the relationship due to the threat of deportation from Norway. Minority women who are married to the white Norwegian men also risk losing custody of their children, as this is often awarded the (white Norwegian) father to make sure the child stays in Norway.

In general, Norway is quite sensitive to women's issues. We have an equality law that ensures equality between men and women in many areas. We have a state funded ombudsman to follow-up these laws, and The Centre for Gender Equality, which is working to promote the equality of women. The state has a policy of no less than a 40% representation of women in all state and community councils, and in the managements and administrations of departments and ministries.

Minority women are at a loss despite these measures. Their issues and agendas are being ignored, and equal right laws do not take racial discrimination into consideration because according to the equality ombudsman and the centre for gender equality, racist-sexist discrimination should be handled somewhere else in the legal system.

In a chapter in a 1993 book on prostitution, Liv Finstad and Cecilie Høigård describe the emergence in the late 1970s of a group called the Joined Action against Pornography and Prostitution, which:

has been heavily dominated by Norway's strongest women's organization, the Women's Front. ... The Joined Action has worked on ridding pornography from stores. Innumerable newspaper articles have been written, hundreds of speeches and seminars have been held all over the country, and debates have been held on radio and television. In addition, smaller 'guerilla groups' made up of feminists and former prostitutes have been active. They have been able to use more nontraditional and controversial methods [which] helped get prostitution on the political agenda. The women's movement in Norway has given the battles against pornography and prostitution a high priority (218).

The authors go on to describe the first public aid for prostitutes which began in Oslo in 1979 and followed in three other cities, with two primary tasks: "to carry out social work and to do research" (219).

The social work aspect has focused on housing, jobs, the economy, and drug problems. ... Also much work has been done to strengthen the regular social welfare system in the forms of lectures and courses held for employees in the welfare system. Though social aid for prostitutes in Norway is advanced from an international perspective it has not been an easy development. Even though both officials and established political parties give lip service to the necessity of fighting prostitution, program budget cuts or closings are regularly proposed. The prostitutes in these aid projects have fought against these proposed cuts, often with great success (ibid.).

For further information on the situation of women in Norway, as well as the sensitivity of the government to these problems please see Norway's third and fourth periodic reports of 31 May 1995 to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), available on REFWORLD, which " praised the Government of Norway for the conceptualization and implementation of its gender policies, thereby serving as a role model for many countries, and they welcomed the fact that the Convention had been ratified early without reservations."  Further to this report, the International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) summarized some of the comments of Norwegian non-governmental organizations which "'reflect viewpoints which do not easily fit into a government report'" (Dec. 1994, 58). This report is available in the Toronto Documentation Centre.

In addition, attached to this response is Norway's National Follow-up to the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women, which documents a range of Norwegian government planned initiatives involving women (May 1997). Also attached are the indexes for Gender-Related Development and Human Development from the 1998 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Associated Press (AP). 9 September 1998. "Scandinavian Women Enjoy Greatest Power. Influence; Gap Between Rich and Poor Grows." (FMF Feminist News 9 Sept. 1998/Internet) [Accessed 14 May 1999]

_____. 17 July 1998. "Norway to Introduce Affirmative Action Laws for Men." (FMF Feminist News 21 July 1998/Internet) [Accessed 14 May 1999]

Christian Science Monitor. 14 May 1997."Women Try to Break the Glass Ceiling in French Politics." (FMF Feminist News 15 May 1997/Internet) [Accessed 14 May 1999]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1998. 1999. United States Department of State. Washington, DC.

Feminist Majority Report (Arlington, VA). Spring 1997. Jyostsna Sreenivasan. "Women Still Hold Less Than 12% of Parliamentary Seats Worldwide." (Feminist Majority Newsletter/Internet) [Accessed 14 May 1999]

International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW). December 1994. 1995 IWRAW to CEDAW Country Reports on Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mauritius, Norway, Peru, Russian Federation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Uganda. Minneapolis, MN: Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

MiRA Resource Centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women, Oslo, Norway. 3 June 1999. Correspondence from Director.

Ministry of Children and Family Affairs (BFD), Norway. n.d. "Women in Politics." [Internet] [Accessed 10 May 1999]

_____. 26 June 1996. Speech by Grete Berget, Minister. "Family Policy in Norway." [Internet] [Accessed 10 May 1999]

Prostitution: An International Handbook on Trends, Problems, and Policies. 1993. Edited by Nanette J. Davis. Finstad, Liv and Høigård, Cecilie. "Norway." Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Reuters. 4 November 1998. "Norway's PM Urges Men to Embrace 'Feminine' Roles." (FMF Feminist News 5 Nov. 1998/Internet) [Accessed 14 May 1999]

United Nations, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. 31 May 1995. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: Norway. REFWORLD.


United Nations. 1995. 2nd edition. The World's Women 1995: Trends and Statistics. United Nations: Statistical Division, New York, NY USA.

United Nations Development Programme. 1998. Human Development Report: Gender-Related Development Index. [Internet] <> [Accessed 25 May 1999]

_____. 1998. Human Development Report: Human Development Index. [Internet] [Accessed 25 May 1999]

United Nations, Division for the Advancement of Women (DESA). May 1997. "Norway's National Follow-Up to the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women." [Internet] [Accessed 19 May 1999]

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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