Dear Madame Secretary General, Maria Yannakaki (General Secretary on Human Rights, Ministry of Justice). Dear Madame President of the Municipal Council of Thessaloniki, Kalypso Goula, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure and honour to participate at this very interesting conference this morning and speak about gender equality and mainstreaming. Please let me go straight to the core of my message today, speaking from a Norwegian governmental point of view:
No country can afford not to acknowledge gender equality as key to economic stability, innovation and growth. We have strong statistical indications showing this correlation. I would argue that equal opportunity for all – independent of your gender – is just partly about moral, democracy and representation. It is just as much about sound and modern economics!
Because the human capital is a decisive part of our economy. And our human capital is vital for our prosperity. In that respect we need all talents, the best heads and hands, regardless of gender to secure and sustain the competitiveness of the economy. And our competitiveness and value creation serve as the basis for the funding of our extensive welfare system.
In Norway we can see how modern corporate businesses profit in recruiting the best persons regardless of gender, through a reputation of being family friendly.
And I believe it is important to underline that any Norwegian government through the years has acted upon the gender issue not only out of moral responsibility but for rational reasons as well;
namely to utilize the human resources in our societiy in the best possible socio-economic manner. Gender inequality entails dysfunctionalities. It prevents us from mobilizing people to contribute effectively to the society they live in. And sustained inequality structures of a certain level undermines the very foundation for economic growth and prosperity. It is just that simple.
The economic and welfare achievements of my country through the last decades, should not only be credited to the discovery of North Sea oil in Norwegian waters during the late 1960s, making oil and gas exports a strategic and prosperous element of the economy of Norway. It should also be credited to the emphasis various Norwegian governments have had on a strategy for cross-sectorial initiatives to ensure women’s participation in our society. In this context, I believe that we have succeeded in setting connections right between gender equality, professional career, family and welfare.
Norway is considered to be one of the most gender equal countries in the world. Still, a number of challenges to gender equality remain, and new gender issues keep surfacing. Gender equality policies have been more or less successfully integrated into many areas, while other areas lag behind. But the political will to ensure a gender perspective in all aspects of societal activities is there.
To achieve this strategic goal, a number of important steps have been taken in Norway, and I will comment briefly on five of them:
First, women’s accession into the labour market and management positions is key. Measures have been taken to ensure men and women’s equal opportunities for participation in the labour force and in the choice of occupation. Our laws have a “positive duty” to work for equality, and report annually for private and public sector alike.
Although we do not apply radical affirmative actions, we have a mild “positive discrimination” in our Gender Equality Law. This will ensure that the underrepresented gender at the workplace or at the management level will be chosen if two persons have the same competence in competition for a certain job. The corporate sector itself does operate recruitment programs, from where to elect women to corporate boards and corporate management top jobs.
Second, measures have also been taken to ensure men and women’s equal access to higher education. The funding responsibility for this rests completely with the state. Education is the most important investment we can make to empower our citizens, including women. Educated women are in a better position to make good decisions for their families, communities and countries. Education is not a quick fix for gender equality, but one of the best tools we have.
The number of girls in higher education in Norway has increased significantly over the last decades. We see that girls are better than boys in choosing non-traditional careers, after having embarked on a higher-education that has not necessarily been based on gender-expectations.
Third, a number of steps have also been taken by successive Norwegian governments to support two-career families. A reconciliation of work and family life is necessary if a two-career family can sustain over time. What is referred to as the ‘caring deficit’ - the gap between the need for care for dependents like small children in a family, and the availability of an adequate support system – is a strategic point in case. Measures have been taken to expand child care arrangements and arrangements for other dependents.
Eventhough we still have some miles to go, I believe we are om a good track and make significant progress. In addition, the division of responsibilities within households between men and women is also moving in a right direction. Men do take a greater responsibility for the daily housework. It has also become more common for men and women to share the parental leave, thus cutting down on the mother’s absence from work before she can make a re-entry into the labour market.
Fourth, Norway has become more multi-cultural through the last ten years by an increasing presence of migrants from other part of the world. In that context, I would like to stress the following:
My government do not accept the use of tradition, culture or religion to deny, suppress or scale back women’s human rights or opportunities in a society. Some people believe that there is a contradiction between believing in God and believing in gender equality. We would argue, that this is not the case. Women all over the world should be able to set their own goals, define their own future, and fulfil their potential.
Fifth, the involvement of men is key. I salute the many women who have fought for their – and other women’s – rights for decades, many under extremely difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, gender equality is also about men. Men need to be engaged, and men need to take more responsibility for this issue. We should all be the champions of gender equality. You won’t win the game, if half the team is just watching.
Norway’s national gender issues are more or less the same as those found internationally. Women’s rights and gender equality are integral to all aspects of Norway’s foreign and development policy. Gender equality is a priority of the agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable developments depend on women’s empowerment. And empowerment is about education and absence of violence.
Norway has always been among the top donors to UN Women’s core funding. And we believe that girl’s education is the single-most powerful investment for development. Therefore, my government has doubled the financial contribution to education through from 2013-2017. When you educate a girl, you educate a nation. Education is the way out of poverty, it has significant health gains, it prevents child marriage and early pregnancies.
Gender-based violence has gained recognition internationally as a significant social problem, demanding the attention and focus of authorities. Also in Norway we recognise this criminality as something we need to come to grips with and prevent. Cross-cutting challenges which require commitment and engagement from all sectors of our society has been already taken in this regard.
We are also dealing with this internationally, having developed a number of measures for the prevention of these forms of violence, for the protection of the victims, as well as responding to the perpetrators. We have established shelters for battered women, and those men who are violent have access to treatment and counselling.
On 1 January, Norway took over the presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The programme for the Nordic gender equality cooperation includes inter alia initiatives against gender-related violence and online hate speech. In addition Norway will highlight gender equality in the labour market as one of the three dedicated initiative from the Nordic Prime Ministers. The objective with these initiatives is to offer Nordic solutions to global challenges.
Two interested issues to be discussed in that context is how we can increase participation of women with immigrant background in the labour market, And how we can encourage girls/ women to break free from traditional gender-based educational and career choices.
Gender equality is also cross-cuttting issues of the the Norwegian funds for Greece (EEA and Norway Grants).
Tackling domestic and gender based violence and promoting gender equality are key priorities for the Grants. In the most recent funding period, €50 million were allocated for various gender measures. The Council of Europe has adopted a new Convention that obliges EU member states to strengthen their legislation on domestic and gender-based violence, and as a response to this part of our programmes for the current period were established to prevent and tackle this crime as well as human trafficking in a number of countries.
An estimated one-fifth to one-quarter of all women in Europe have experienced physical violence at least once during their adult lives, often alongside years of emotional abuse. More than one-tenth have suffered sexual violence involving the use of force. Eradicating such violence is a challenge for all European countries. Although pervasive, it is still largely invisible. Sustained by a culture of silence and shame, it is rarely reported.
This funding supported initiatives tackling both the causes and consequences of violence. In Slovakia, the Grants increased the capacity of women’s shelters, as well as crisis and counselling centres. Support was also used for training and awareness-raising campaigns, establishing specialised services and improving coordination within the existing social services network. In Bulgaria, efforts were focused on improving police services for victims of domestic violence. In Cyprus, where there are currently very few services for victims of gender-based violence, our Grants supported the construction of a new shelter for victims.
In Greece, we developed an integrated project for an early detection of potential or suspected victims of human trafficking in the region of Thessaloniki. This project also aimed to protect and support the victims through a Drop-In Centre for Victims of Human Trafficking. Other projects we have supported in Greece provided legal aid and development of a Counselling Centres for women, including those with a migrant background.
The Norwegian Police Directorate, the Norwegian Directorate of Health, the Norwegian Secretariat for the Shelter Movement and the Council of Europe were all involved as partners in the programmes dealing with domestic and gender-based violence.
In addition, various programmes promoting gender equality also received support from the EEA and Norway Grants. The funding supported activities to promote awareness-raising, improve the gender balance on corporate boards and reduce pay gaps between men and women. Programmes within this field were being set up in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
Please let me also address a few points on Norway’s broader engagement in Greece for the coming years.
We now have the new funding period in front of us leading up to 2021 with a total of €116 million euro. Negotiations are still ongoing and, hopefully, we shall be able to finalize the pertinent MOU with the Greek State just after the summer break.
In the context of the new program, Norway will continue to support gender equality issues in many ways. We will support Greece’s capacity to tackle the enormous challenges from the migration flows. This crisis is not a national responsibility only, it is a European responsibility that commit us all. And we will support Greek civil society organizations, the Greek research and technology efforts, entrepreneurship and innovation - in particular with a view to the young educated people - and not at least environmental and renewable projects.
All these areas stand out as important benchmarks where we hope to take om an added value.
In closing, I would like to thank SYMBIOSIS’ President, Ms. Despina Syrri, for her tireless efforts in promoting not only migrant but also human rights issues. I would also like to thank Mr. Ljubisa Vrencev, for being the “power behind the throne”, organizing all SYMBIOSIS events in a professional manner. The Norwegian Embassy is proud to be your partner, and do really appreciate what we have achieved together through our excellent cooperation.
Thank you for your attention.