Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Gender Research in Norway

Campaigning for increased female representation
The Norwegian Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud has launched a campaign to increase the number of women who participate in local politics. They've got three months to make it happen.
Gangaas, Beate
Beate Gangaas, Norwegian Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud (Photo: Ida von Hanno Bast)

Guldvik, Ingrid
Ingrid Guldvik, researcher at the Eastern Norway Research Institute (Photo: Beret Bråten)
Norwegian law requires that both genders are represented with at least 40 per cent of the members of all official committees, boards, councils, delegations, etc. Although the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud advises that this piece of legislation does not apply to democratically elected organs, the goal of a gender balance is the same. But we are far from reaching this goal: Statistics show that a disappointing 17% of the country’s mayors are women. Also, female representation on local councils is low, at a mere 36%. Now, the Ombud has called for action in order to change these gender differences. 

“The lack of gender equality in power positions is a democratic problem", states ombudsperson, Beate Gangås.

According to investigations recently carried out by the Ombud, the current gender imbalance looks to be more or less sustained in the nomination lists for next year’s local elections. Thus, the Ombud encourages the political parties to mobilize on behalf of their women. But they’re in a hurry: The deadline for submitting nomination lists is 31 March 2007, less than three months from today.  

The Ombud’s campaign comprises a competition between the political parties, in which the winner is the party with the highest female representation in each county’s nomination lists. Only the first and second positions on each list count in the competition. In this way, the Ombud hopes to influence the final stages of the nomination process, so as to increase the number of women who are nominated to key power positions. In addition to the competition, the campaign will launch its own website, which will function as inspiration and a tool for local governments and for individuals to make an effort on this issue. If the campaign succeeds in increasing the numbers of women nominated, it will then pursue its objective throughout the election campaign to try to make sure these women are actually elected.

The campaign is receiving wide support throughout Norwegian society – from political parties as well as a number of women’s groups and other organizations. Several members of the government have also stated their support, among them the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Åslaug Haga. "The gender balance in local politics is the responsibility of the political parties", she says. "If the 2007 election doesn’t provide significant improvements in these figures, we shall have to consider gender quotas."  

This is not an unlikely scenario, as the increase in female representation in local politics is steady, but very slow. Norway has two decentralized political levels, the local and the regional levels. The latter is one step ahead of the local level, which is worst in the class. According to Statistics Norway, the proportion of female representatives in local government has risen from 31.2% in 1987 to 35.8% in 2003. Sixteen years and 5 elections have earned us only a 4.6% increase. Speeding up this development might be the only way to get the job done. 

Several recent initiatives have addressed this problem, in addition to the campaign now launched by the Ombud. One such scheme is a research project called Selvsagt [Of course] organized by The Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS), in cooperation with Norwegian political parties. The aim of the research project is to increase the number of women in key positions in local government. Also, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development has organized a project, in which selected municipalities are to test a variety of measures to increase female representation, throughout the next election period.

Political scientist Ingrid Guldvik at The Eastern Norway Research Institute (ENRI) has written her doctoral thesis on gender quotas. Guldvik says that there are two main opinions on why the pattern of inequality remains. One view is that voters tend to favour candidates with long experience, who are visible in politics in general, and especially during election campaigns. The majority of such candidates are men. However, some claim that the political parties are the ones to blame. There is a shortage of women on the nomination lists, and they’re placed far down on them. One can argue that the party nomination process, in itself, serves to marginalize women even before the voters can make their choices.