Ladies and gentlemen,
In September 2015, the world adopted the "2030 Agenda" - with the ambitious sustainable development goals - the SDGs.
Gender equality is not only a stand-alone goal, it is key to achieving other goals. When given full and equal access to resources and opportunities, and when being part of decision-making, women will be driving development forward.
In order for women to fully participate in decision-making also in the labour market, civil society is key.
Women's associations and civil society and the private sector have made valuable contributions to giving women access to the labour market. I am confident that they will continue being important partners in our work to achieve the development goals, full economic rights for women being a key issue.
In Norway, we have invested in welfare schemes that make it possible for both men and women to combine work with family responsibilities.
Free education for all, affordable high-quality kindergartens and a generous parental leave scheme are costly investments – but they pay off. We have managed to combine a high attendance in the labour market for both men and women with a high fertility rate.
When most women work outside the home, the state's tax revenues increase and we can re-invest in welfare for the population.
As a politician, I am often impressed by the effort done by volunteers.
You open doors for others,
You fight for people that are struggling,
Some of you challenge authorities on behalf of different groups.
You all add value to society through your work.
Voluntary organizations have been a vital part in the political and social development over the past two hundred years.
In Norway – the women's rights movement has been a critical counterpart for the Government for a long time.
In 2013 we celebrated the centenary for women's right to vote. One of the organizations fighting for full political rights for women, was the host here today: The Norwegian Women’s Public Health Association.
This association is one of the most respected NGOs in Norway working for women's rights and health issues. Thank you for all the work you are doing, especially on gender equality and women's health.
Voluntary work plays an important part in most Norwegians' lives. As many as eight out of 10 are members of at least one of the 80 000 voluntary organizations in Norway. The Norwegian NGOs have around 10 million members, meaning that the average Norwegian is a member of two organizations.
Voluntary work is crucial in almost every sphere of society. Voluntary work is simply the foundation of a good society.
I believe that women's empowerment and gender equality cannot be created solely by the public sector. It is created where people live and work, and in cooperation with civil society. Voluntary work is the glue in many local communities.
I regularly meet with representatives from civil society and organizations. Many of you represent the voices that are not usually heard in public. The volunteers involve and engage on behalf of the people who need it the most.
Voluntary organizations, or civil society organizations, are an important part of Norway's democracy. Before major political reforms are enforced or new laws finalized and presented to Parliament, the Government make sure we have involved civil society.
We involve the NGOs in meetings where we discuss new policy in an informal setting. The NGOs are also always invited to participate in official hearings.
Why is this so important?
Because we believe, it makes our decisions better. Their voices are an important contribution to the Government`s work.
We also support NGOs financially. Their task is to be critical, to be an alternative voice and to represent another point of view than the Government's.
In the field of gender equality the government supports women's rights NGOs and centers working to improve women's rights and gender equality – both locally and nationally.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Civil society has played a crucial role in developing Norway as a democracy. A vibrant democracy is dependent on impulses from its citizens, and NGOs serve as important communication channels between the people and the official authorities.
Civil society is a platform where the population can experience social inclusion. I believe persons belonging to either the majority or the minority can't experience real inclusion without civil society.
Successive governments of Norway, irrespective of party composition, attach great importance to the views of the civil society and your organizations. You provide
valuable advocacy activities,
promotion of civil engagement,
transparency and active citizenship, all of which are important building blocks of our society.
In order to improve rights for women and girls, we need the brave voices of the volunteers. You fight for women`s rights both globally and locally. Without you, it is hard to continue working for equal rights and opportunities for all.
We need you in our work to secure women's economic empowerment.