The new head of Norway’s largest trade union federation (LO) is being accused of “bullying” women in Norway who choose to work part-time. Gerd Kristiansen claims that mothers who work part-time are “using the mother’s role as an excuse” to stay at home, and that’s “not good for the country.”
Kristiansen, who launched into working life herself as a single mother on board fishing boats in Norway’s cold northern waters, was elected as the powerful LO boss earlier this month. One of her top priorities is to get more workers into full-time positions in Norway, and her campaign got off to a controversial start on Thursday when she told newspaper Aftenposten that many women are using “the mother role” (morsrollen) as a way of “protecting territory” that should be split equally between parents.
Kristiansen claims that a full-time job, which amounts to 37.5 hours a week in Norway, still leaves lots of time to spend with children, and that arguments about the “motherly instinct” to spend more time with their children are a hindrance to sexual equality.
Kristiansen’s provocative comments set off an immediate storm of protest, even in Norway where it is the norm for many parents of young children to both work full-time. Only one-third of mothers with young children work part-time and even fewer are full-time moms.
Knut Arild Hareide, leader of the family-friendly Christian Democrats party (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Kristiansen has “a frightening view of society” and that she was bullying and patronizing mothers. In LO’s world, he said, Norwegian workers are “production units” rather than people.
“It’s a strange form of women’s liberation to downgrade the role of mothers, instead of signalling that it is legitimate to work less (outside the home) while children are young,” he wrote on his party’s own website. Hareide, who became a father himself just a few months ago, surprised many recently when he said he would be willing to prioritize family life over his work.
The Conservative Party (Høyre) also criticized Kristiansen’s comments. Conservative MP Linda Hofstad Helleland said that those men and women who want to work less while their children are young are making a “legitimate choice, which we as politicians should respect.” She argues that it is only a problem when they are not working part-time out of choice.
Kristiansen accuses the Conservatives of trying to get women “back to the kitchen sink.” “Are they going to sit in position (government) and bring in the kind of politics where half of the population will choose to stay away from the workplace?” she said. LO traditionally has close ties with the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet), and she has previously said that she will do whatever she can to retain Stoltenberg as Norway’s prime minister. Kristiansen is also battling employers’ organization NHO, which wants to be able to offer part-time jobs instead of full-time “to maintain flexibility.”
Many women have recently come forward in the media and defended the right to work part-time, or not at all outside the home, when they have young children, to avoid the stressful “time-squeeze” when both parents work full-time. In an Aftenposten feature in March, one writer claimed that the right to stay at home had become this generation’s struggle for women’s liberation. “We are as sexually equal as it is possible to be. Now we can take back the time with our children!” she wrote.
Of Norway’s 2.5 million employees, around 450,000 are working part-time , according to Statistics Norway (SSB). Of these, just 67,000 would rather to be working full-time. Around 40 percent of women work part-time, as opposed to only 10 percent of men, which is one reason why it has become a central issue in the debate on sexual equality (likestilling).
Inga Marte Thorkildsen, the government minister for family and equality issues from the Socialist Left party (SV), welcomed the LO leader’s linking of the part-time issue to sexual equality, stressing that it’s important for women to full-time to be economically independent. Thorkildsen herself also attracted controversy when she claimed in Aftenposten in March that it was less valuable for women to be at home with their children than it was to be working outside the home. She also argued that to defend the right to be at home with children is a “privileged discussion,” since few women in Norway “can afford to be full-time mothers.”
Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay
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