When Norway debates gender equality people in other countries often listen keenly. Several Norwegian equality measures have spread across the borders. But the situation is not so rosy as it might appear in the celebratory speeches:
“We often hear we’re living in the country of gender equality. And the history of equality has many examples of Norwegian innovation. The world’s first equality ombud, the world’s first gender equal government, the partnership law, daddy leave and female quotas in boardrooms,” said Hege Skjeie when she presented the report ‘Policy for Gender Equality’.
“Yet in important social institutions the distance between gender equality as a value to be highlighted and gender equality in practice is still large.”
Gender segregated labour marked
Norway still has a gender segregated labour market with more than 80 percent female representation in many occupations like pre-school teacher, nurse and secretary, while other jobs like builder, mechanic and chauffeur are held nearly exclusively by men.
Three in four bosses are still men. Out of ten sectors, from defence and the economic sector to culture and education, only two fall marginally within the aim of having at least 40 percent of each gender as leaders.
The imbalance between the sexes manifests itself in two ways - partly in the development of female and male jobs, partly in the fact that women are paid less than men for doing the same job.
But today’s equality politics must address more than gender issues. People are discriminated against for other reasons, like ethnicity, sexual preference, age and disabilities. The report refers to studies from the USA which show black women’s life situations can be more marginalised than what could be expected if you only looked at gender and ethnicity.
The man is not always more powerful
Yet the report also shows that men are not always more powerful than women: a white, Norwegian middle class woman is more powerful in most situations than a male asylum seeker who has no access to the labour market.
So which are the measures the report recommends in order to increase equality?
- The report recommends the establishment of a new directorate for equality. Today there are no checks to see whether the equality targets are actually being met.
- The report also recommends a tri-partite equality agreement between the government and the social partners. The parties would negotiate equality goals and businesses willing to sign the deal would get access to funding, similar to what is being done through the agreement on an including working life.
One of the report’s most innovative statements is that in order to reduce gender segregation in the labour market, there must be measures in place to target people already at the stage when they are choosing their education. That is why the report recommends the introduction of a special equality grant. Those who choose to study for non-traditional occupations should have one third of their student loan subsidised. This would apply for boys and girls.
In Norway 85,000 out of 228,000 students in upper secondary education attend courses where one gender makes up 80 percent of all students. 17,000 students would have to change courses for that representation to climb above 20 percent across all courses. This also gives an indication of how many equality grants would be needed. The cost is estimated at 100 million kroner (€13.5m) and represents no more than a small percentage of what the report recommends should be set aside to promote equality.
“We haven’t looked into whether subsidising student loans with 30 precent is enough to make students switch studies,” says Hege Skjeie. Subsidising one single student would cost 8,000 kroner (€1,080) a year for upper secondary education and nearly 17,000 kroner (€2,290) a year for higher education.