Norway’s laws and social welfare programs aimed at promoting gender equality continue to attract lots of international interest. The government minister in charge of enforcing the laws says he’s constantly in demand for interviews and speaking engagements.
Audun Lysbakken of the Socialist Left party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) recently returned from a United Nations conference on women’s issues in New York, only to fly back over the Atlantic to speak last weekend at a meeting of the World Bank. It highlighted Norway’s law requiring that corporations appoint women to at least 40 percent of the seats on their boards.
Lybakken and the left-center government of which he’s a part gladly promote the law that forces corporations to put more women on their boards, and he also backs the welfare programs that help women maintain high-level careers in Norway, like state-subsidized day care centers and lengthy, fully paid leave not just for new mothers but for fathers as well. The idea is to more equally share responsibilities for home and job.
The board quota law was actually put in motion, though, by one of Lysbakken’s precessors from the Conservative Party, not the socialist side of Norwegian politics. While some Conservatives opposed the measure introduced by their own business and trade minister, Ansgar Gabrielsen, Lysbakken says controversy around the law has died down in Norway. Most all companies complied with the 40 percent rule immediately and a study of its effects has been commissioned.
“By setting an example, Norway as a small country can have some influence,” Lysbakken told newspaper Aftenposten. “There are a lot of things we’ve succeeded with, like enhancing women’s roles in the workforce, promoting equality within families and getting more women on corporate boards.”
He thinks that can help improve women’s roles in other countries. “Norway is a leader in this,” he said.
And that’s been noticed. Lysbakken says he’s been interviewed recently “by everyone from Canadian TV to Al-Jazeera,” and other media taking contact includes the New York Times, Forbes, Time Magazine, Italian TV Rai Tre and Stern of Germany.
Many ask how Norwegian companies and the country can afford the social welfare programs that allow, for example, parents to have as much of a year on leave at full salary after the birth of a child.
“My answer is that in Norway, we don’t live only off oil but off equality as well,” he said. “It’s given up increased productivity since more people are taking part in the workforce.”