Royal respects for Karin Stoltenberg

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UPDATED: King Harald and Queen Sonja were among the many who gathered at a chapel in west Oslo on Tuesday to pay their last respects to Karin Stoltenberg, a pioneering women’s rights activist in Norway whose son went on to become prime minister. She died on October 17 at the age of 80.

The late Karin Stoltenberg with her son Jens, Norway’s prime minister. He often said that his mother was among those he admired most. PHOTO: Facebook

A solid portion of the “official Norway,” including several government ministers and the king’s sister Princess Astrid, set aside their normal duties to honour a woman who played a critical if relatively low-profile role in forming many of Norway’s landmark equality measures and social welfare programs.

She was, most agreed, much more than the mother of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Torild Skard, another leading women’s rights activists in Norway, said Stoltenberg “meant a lot for all women in Norway.”

She meant a lot to her family, too. “It’s correct, as many have said, that Karin was tops in all areas,” said her husband and former Norwegian foreign minister Thorvald Stoltenberg. “I’ve read many places how the two of us filled each other out. I’ve wondered many times what I offered, because she was perfect,” he added, to laughter from those assembled.

Her son, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, said he was always secure about his mother’s affection. “And that’s despite the fact that she wasn’t one to lavish praise or displays of affection on us,” he said in his eulogy. “But then I knew even more that when she did give me praise or recognition, it came from the heart.”

Architect of equality policies
Karin Stoltenberg was widely credited for being the main architect of the new and often radical family policies formed in the 1970s that paved the way for women’s rights in the workplace, state subsidized day care for children, laws on domestic partnerships and women’s right to choose an abortion. It was Stoltenberg’s initiatives that led to Norway’s current laws guaranteeing lengthy maternity leave at full pay, the right to paid leave when a child is ill and subsidized after-school programs for children. All were aimed at making it easier for women to combine careers with family, and prompt couples to more equitably share responsibility at home.

“She was an independent thinker, and a powerful force for women’s equality,” Lucy Smith, a former head of the University of Oslo and a close friend of Stoltenberg, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “She really put her mark on Norwegian society.”

Among those attending her non-religious funeral at the cemetery Vestre gravlund Tuesday afternoon were Justice Minister Grete Faremo, Labour Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen and Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen, all of whom arguably owe their positions to Karin Stoltenberg’s barrier-breaking law proposals created while she worked in such government ministries as those involving trade and business. She also worked for foreign aid agency Norad and the Red Cross, and was active in promoting improvements for women in developing countries.

Stayed out of the spotlight
She married Thorvald Stoltenberg after ending an earlier brief marriage while studying and working in Canada in the 1950s, wrote Dagsavisen. She intended to study genetics and conduct research, but switched to political science when her new husband went to work at Norway’s foreign ministry and various diplomatic postings took them abroad. Both Thorvald and Karin were active in the Labour Party but unlike her husband, who later became Norway’s foreign minister in a Labour government, and her son Jens, who later came to lead the Labour Party, Karin Stoltenberg preferred being a bureaucrat to being a politician. She was also a far more private person than her husband and son, and once said that she needed “stillness” and preferred the shadow to the spotlight.

Her funeral ceremony was led by the singer and former Labour Party minister of culture Åse Kleveland, and included several musical interludes. Her granddaughter Catharina, daughter of Jens and his wife Ingrid Schulerud, sang and her husband and all three children, Camilla, Jens and Nini, spoke. Jens Stoltenberg cancelled or pared back much of his official program early this week, but still planned to travel to Asia shortly after his mother’s funeral for several meetings including the opening of a new joint Norwegian-Danish embassy in Myanmar this weekend.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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