UN Library talks: ‘Women of Power: What difference do they make?”

Statement by Ambassador Steffen Kongstad, Permanent Representative of Norway, UN Library Talks Geneva, 22 April 2015

Last updated: 24.04.2015 // 

It is a pleasure to be here at this launch of a book on an important and interesting subject. Gender balance in the access to power is a cornerstone of the Norwegian and Nordic concept of democracy and gender equality policies. Why is this so important?

 First of all, it is important in its own right. The entry of women into positions of power and decision-making in society is critical for the development of a democratic and egalitarian society.

Secondly, equal participation improves policy-making and contributes to economic growth. Women’s economic empowerment and participation in the labour force has been decisive for the socio-economic growth Norway has experienced during the recent decades. Equal representation creates space for a wider array of competencies and perspectives to influence decision-making.

Thirdly, as we have experienced in Norway: As women have become politically active, they have also increasingly shaped the content of politics. Female politicians have brought new issues onto the political agenda. For instance, areas that were previously regarded as private were given a place in the political sphere. Issues relating to parental benefit schemes, kindergartens, violence against women, to mention a few, are examples of this.

In our experience, increased participation of women in politics has gone hand in hand with the development of a welfare state. This has created an enabling environment for women’s participation in all spheres of society, and for a work-life balance for both men and women. This has also challenged the traditional role of men. Freedom and equality for women also means, in fact, more freedom and equality for men.

The current Norwegian government has made girls’ education a top priority in our development cooperation. Girls’ education is important to ensure women’s participation and thus women’s access to power and political influence.

The question we are considering at this event is what difference the women of power really make. In her book, launched here today, Torild Skard writes: “Women leaders are important, but it is also important that they are supported so that they can pursue woman-friendly policies.” To my mind there is no doubt that we all, irrespective of gender, need to play our part in order to create a supportive environment for creating such policies. One should not underestimate the responsibility men have in this respect - and men’s role in supporting women of power.

Perhaps one point to mention: When we are focusing on leaders, we look at individuals. Both men and women can be good or bad leaders. What we seek is equal opportunities and diversity, which in turn will improve quality.

Women in leadership positions can be positive role models. They pave the way for others. Today, we have such role models with us in the panel, and I am very much looking forward to hearing their perspectives.

Thank you.