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

Letters

Russia's Rottweiler or Putin's Poodle?

Sergei Lavrov's misreading of Russian history.

Encounters with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov can be fiery, and Susan Glasser's profile of the diplomat highlights Russia's obstreperous posture on the stage of world politics ("Minister No," May/June 2013). Brash, loud, and demanding, Lavrov is tasked with reasserting his country's position on the world stage in the aftermath of what he views as the disastrous period following the Soviet Union's fall, when Russian President Boris Yeltsin went cap in hand to the West. In this role, Lavrov likens himself to Russia's greatest diplomat, 19th-century Foreign Minister Alexander Gorchakov. Despite his protestations, however, the hard-drinking, chain-smoking Lavrov has emerged as more of a Soviet analogue than he would perhaps like to admit.

Gorchakov was Russia's foreign minister for almost three decades after the Crimean War, a time of crisis out of which he steered his country. When the fighting with Britain and France ended in 1856, it was obvious that the Russian Empire had missed victory because it had fallen behind in the race to modernize. In fact, Russia had yet to enter the race. It needed time to catch up industrially, educationally, and socially; Russia's internal transformation had to become the supreme priority. For most of his career, Gorchakov steered clear of international conflict, making policy comprehensible and predictable to the rest of the world. But he was no pushover in diplomacy. He never accepted the demilitarization of the Black Sea as permanent, and he shrugged off Western complaints about the brutal suppression of the 1863 Polish uprising. Eventually, he predicted, the Russian Empire would rejoin the card game of European politics with a handful of trumps.

It is easy to see why Lavrov might keep a portrait of Gorchakov, a new hero of post-communist Russia, in his office. But he also has former foreign ministers Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrei Gromyko on display -- the same Molotov who signed the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939, the same Gromyko who voted to install SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe and invade Afghanistan. Lavrov is usually reluctant to mention them when abroad, but the choice of the portraiture for his ministry is far from accidental. Despite his Rottweiler manners, Lavrov is President Vladimir Putin's poodle. Putin has always placed an emphasis on state interests, official prestige, and international assertiveness. He stresses the continuity of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the Russian Federation. He has abandoned Yeltsin's silence about the achievements of the Soviet years.

Those continuities with the Soviet Union are altogether too remarkable for comfort. Russia remains perilously dependent on the world market prices for oil, natural gas, diamonds, and timber, and it still needs to diversify its economy. The rule of law has yet to be established, and foreign direct investment is weak. Putin and Lavrov enjoy the plaudits they win with Russian popular opinion whenever they give offense to a U.S. president or secretary of state, and they balk at American efforts to form coalitions promoting a foreign policy based on democratic principles. They point to undesired consequences that flowed from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What they fear above all is that such an operation might one day be applied to Moscow itself.

Putin has wasted the windfall from the rise in energy export revenues since the end of the 1990s. Although he balanced Russia's budget in his first stint as president, he has shirked the task of fundamental modernization. All this is very different from what happened after the Crimean War, in Gorchakov's day and the age of reforms. By the 1880s, Russia had one of Europe's fastest-diversifying economies. Foreigners poured investments into the industrial and transport sectors. Undoubtedly, it was still a country of authoritarian tradition, and the movement toward the rule of law was a tormented one. But several basic reforms were seriously attempted, and Gorchakov was their eager supporter. Lavrov is many things, but, alas, he is no Gorchakov.

ROBERT SERVICE
Professor of Russian History
Oxford University
Oxford, England