I would like to begin by thanking the Chairpersonship of North Macedonia for convening this conference on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Women’s political participation is a timely and pressing issue. The OSCE region has enjoyed steady progress in gender equality in the past decades, but we are at a critical point in our history.
Global democratic backsliding goes hand-in-hand with regressive, anti-gender movements, which threaten equality among the genders. Making the case for why gender equality, and particularly gender equality in political life, matters, is crucial. And it is fundamental to our efforts to achieve security and stability in the OSCE region.
The Georgetown biannual Index on Women Peace and Security is expected to be launched in October and will provide us with fresh data and trends related to the correlation between women’s status, and security and stability.
Women’s widespread underrepresentation in political life continues to be a challenge across our region. In 2023, women made up only 31% of parliamentarians in Europe. According to UN Women, at the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years. Yet, despite the slow progress, this is not an issue without remedy or solutions. Strengthening access to women’s professional networks, increasing access to funding, mentoring and leadership programmes, developing anti-discrimination legislation, as well as addressing social and cultural barriers surrounding women’s participation are just some of the many measures that can be implemented to facilitate women’s political participation. While gender equality is a human right, progress in gender equality is a political choice.
We need to make an active decision to implement comprehensive policies aimed at reducing obstacles for women in politics. In the OSCE, both the field missions and other executive structures play an essential role in facilitating local and national efforts to eradicate such barriers. The online course on women in politics conducted in Kyrgyzstan by the OSCE, for instance, exemplifies how the OSCE can and should make an impact on the ground. In breaking down the structural and normative barriers that hinder women’s effective participation in political life, we can unlock the full potential of our countries, and of the OSCE region as a whole.
Women’s political participation is not just a matter of what is right, but what is best for our region. It is well-documented that women play an indispensable role in conflict prevention and in peacebuilding efforts – including in the political sphere – and thus play an essential role in matters of peace and security. Nothing so clearly illustrates women’s indispensable role in matters of peace and security as Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, where women are critical to crisis management, peacebuilding, and recovery. Achieving gender equality in political life is furthermore a prerequisite to a well-functioning democracy. Research shows that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes can improve them. Thus, there is no doubt that increasing women’s participation in politics is not only right, but to the benefit of all of society.
Yet, in order to achieve women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in political life, we must also ensure the safe participation of women. When women speak up, they risk more than men. Women peacebuilders and human rights defenders, particularly, risk more than anyone. Where they should receive recognition, they are often met with threats and violence. There must and should be zero tolerance for threats and reprisals targeting women in politics, and particularly women in peace and security processes.
Norway supports the UNDP program, Women in Parliaments, and now the program is being further developed. One feedback from Women in Parliaments is that harassments through social media is on a rise. Such social media campaigns spread quickly, and are damaging. They hamper the recruitment of young politicians, and is a security threat for those already in positions.
During Norway’s recent tenure in the Security Council, Women, Peace, and Security was a priority. We launched, together with Germany, a new funding window within the Women, Peace, and Humanitarian Fund, which aims to provide protection to women’s participation, particularly human rights defenders, and women involved in peacebuilding. The Women, Peace, and Humanitarian Fund is expected to have a Replenishment Conference in October in connection to the open debate in the Security Council on Women, Peace and Security.
Participation in politics – including in matters of peace and security – cannot come at the cost of women’s safety. Nor can security come at the cost of women’s participation.
We welcome increased initiatives on experience-sharing on implementing policies on gender equality and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, and urge participating States to explore increased exchanges on best-practices, not least through joining the Women, Peace, Security and Humanitarian Action Compact.
Norway has extensive experience developing and implementing policies on the promotion of women’s representation and participation in political decision-making processes, as well as in all levels of public life. We will launch our government’s fifth national action plan on Women, Peace and Security this month. Six ministries and seven ministers are engaged. We will at the same time launch an action plan on women’s rights and gender equality in Norwegian foreign and developmental policy later this year.
In closing, participating States must make a concerted effort to deliver on their OSCE commitments on women’s participation in political and public life. This is ultimately a political choice. The 2009 Ministerial Council Decision laid the groundwork for this work in calling for a gender balance among elected public officials at all levels of decision-making. Yet, reaching our goals for gender equality will encompass more than achieving quotas. As Norway’s second woman Prime Minister stated, “We have not reached our goal until we no longer consider the gender composition of our leadership as relevant”. A balanced representation of women and men at all levels and branches of governmental leadership must be the norm, not the exception. Only then we can unlock the full potential of the whole population.
Norway will continue to repeat our calls for greater action on gender equality in political life, particularly in matters of peace and security, until the day women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation becomes the standard.