CSW60: Parental Leave – learning from the Norwegian experience

Statement by Minister Solveig Horne at the CSW60 side-event Parental Leave – learning from the Norwegian experience, with New America, 14 March 2016.

| Commission on the Status of Women

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Thank you, Anne-Marie (Slaughter) for the kind introduction!

Thank you so much for once again inviting me to New America's debate on Gender Equality.

Gender Equality is a matter of equal opportunities: For both women and men to have the possibility of a fulfilling working life - and at the same time being able to have a family life.

How can we balance this in the best way, for both families and society?

This is a s subject that keeps engaging because it concerns all of us.

Tonight, I will address how Norway has designed a family friendly labour market policy for both men and women – and the children. And also: our economy!

Norway is often scored as one of the three most gender equal countries in the world on UN- and other statistics. Gender equality has been a political goal since the early 1980s for all Norwegian governments, also for the present one.

Last year I presented a White Paper to Parliament on Gender Equality: Equality in Practice: Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.

This is a political document where the Government lines up future policies in five crucial areas, including work force participation. This is the topic I will touch upon tonight.

Let me share with you some experiences from Norway.

High female participation in the formal paid workforce has a decisive effect on a country's economic performance, as the Norwagian experience shows. Any country's main asset is its workforce, and Norway, even with our oil wealth, is no exception.

In the last 50 years, there has been a tremendous change in women's participation in paid work in Norway, more than in most other OECD countries.

Labour market participation and paid work have been a key to economic independence for women. It has given women the possibility to develop and use their professional skills. Since the beginning of the 1970s, the labour participation rate has risen from 44 per cent to 76 per cent for women. At the same time, Norwegian women have had one of the highest fertility rates in Europe.

In addition, to the benefit of all Norwegians today: Eight out of 10 mothers with small children are working. So, how is this possible?

First, the increase in female employment in Norway took place at a time when there was a rise in demand for labour, alongside a remarkable boost in women taking higher education.

Secondly, we have invested in reaching full coverage of kindergartens at a subsidised price. Kindergartens for all children of one year of age and older was made a statutory right in 2008. Affordable and high quality kindergartens makes it possible for both women and men to combine work and family life.

In Norway today 9 out of 10 children in the age of 1-5 years attend kindergarten.

Third: Norway has a generous parental benefit scheme and other schemes giving fathers and mothers a unique opportunity to combine work life and family life. The parental benefit scheme entitles parents to paid leave of absence in 49 weeks with 100 per cent pay. Or 59 weeks with 80 per cent pay.

In order to encourage fathers also to be involved in care for their children, a father's quota of four (4) weeks was established in 1993. Today, the quota is 10 weeks, and we know the quota has had a positive impact on the father's use of parental leave.

Before the father's quota was introduced, only 2-3 per cent of fathers took parental leave.

Today, we estimate that about 90 per cent of fathers, who have the right to this quota, make use of it. In that sense, we have experienced a distinct change in men's attitudes. As a positive result, today it is as common seeing fathers with their baby strollers as mothers. Or men bringing and picking up their kids in Kindergarten.

On the other hand, we still see some men being opposed to a modern caregiving fatherhood. And also some employers choosing to oppose men's rights to parental leave instead of embracing it.

At the same time: It is important that each family must be ensured flexibility and freedom to choose the solutions that best suits them. We must acknowledge that children and families are different, and have different ways of solving their lives and their needs. Today the quota is 10 weeks each for both mothers and fathers, the rest of the total of 49 weeks are to share as family finds best.

It is a main goal that both mothers and fathers can combine family and work life. That's why workers are entitled to work flexible and shorter hours and take paid leave if the child is ill.

I want to stress that these quite generous schemes also benefits the child. The child gets to have one of the parents at home with paid leave the first year.

In addition, the father's quota ensures that both parents participate actively at an early stage of the child's life. This is a valuable investment for the future for both the child and the parents. It is good for the child to have two caregiving and engaged parents instead of one. It's good for the adults as both of them can experience professional fulfilment and at the same time nurture a caring and loving relationship to their child.

Women's active participation in the workforce is the basis of our welfare state. Our welfare schemes may seem costly, but they simply secure a sustainable future.

As said, labour force participation in Norway is among the highest in the OECD, for men and especially for women.

One next step for Norway will be to find ways to encourage women to move from part-time to full-time work. With family provisions and childcare already in place, we believe this is within reach. Each country must make their own way. I hope the experiences we have made in Norway can inspire others to new solutions.

What I do believe, is that talents and abilities are equally divided between women and men - all over the world.

Giving girls and women the same access to education, jobs and leading positions as men, we make use of all of society's talents and resources. Giving men the opportunity to be good fathers, the whole family will benefit and we will give our children the best startingpoint in life.

And that's our common goal, isn't it?

Thank you.