Letters

Getting to Equal

How Norway is doing the hard work of achieving gender equality.

An overarching goal of Norway's gender policies is to allow everyone to participate in society on the same footing. That means creating a society absent of violence, discrimination, and social exclusion. And it means providing the same opportunities for men and women to achieve equality -- the freedom of choice.

While Norway regularly ranks highly on measures of gender equality, Kay Hymowitz argues that, in fact, many challenges remain for working women there, compared with the United States ("Think Again: Working Women," July/August 2013). Although Norway has seen successes, history has taught us an important lesson: Equality doesn't come easy.

Gender equality requires basic legislation, structures for enforcement, social security schemes, child-care provisions, and a commitment to reproductive rights. In Norway we have all these elements in place. The government also provides paid parental leave, child benefits, and full coverage of early child care. In fact, Norway has one of the world's most extensive paid parental-leave schemes -- 49 weeks with 100 percent reimbursement up to a certain level, including 14 weeks reserved specifically for the child's father. I am convinced that the parental-benefit scheme strengthens mothers' ability to remain in the workforce and fathers' ability to care for their kids, which in turn benefits the children. True, women continue to take the main responsibility for family care in Norway. But the number of fathers who have made use of the paternity quota has skyrocketed, from only 2 percent when the option was introduced in 1993 to about 90 percent today. In the long term, hopefully mothers and fathers will share the unpaid work of child care more equally.

The ongoing struggle for gender equality in Norway will no doubt occur in the workplace and the upper echelons of the economy. Norway faces a highly segregated labor market in which women tend to choose professions within health care, teaching, and public service, which pay lower wages than jobs in high-tech industries, for instance. Norwegian women also work more in part-time positions than men do, and among top management positions in the corporate sector, women remain in the minority. Continuing our commitment to gender equality, my government recently submitted to parliament a white paper on the status of gender equality, including a strategy to strengthen cooperation among employees, employers, and public authorities, as well as measures to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces.

Neither women nor men should be "forced" to choose between family life and careers. They should have both, and our policies must facilitate such freedom of choice. 

INGA MARTE THORKILDSEN
Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion
Oslo, Norway

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