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Official visit to Korea: Seminar on work and family life

Speech given by HRH Crown Princess Mette-Marit at the opening of a seminar on the reconciliation of work and family life, during official visit to the Republic of Korea, May 2007.

Mr Prime Minister,
Your Excellencies,
distinguished guests

Today’s seminar focuses on an issue that is relevant to all of us – whether we are women or men, mothers or fathers, young or not so young.

Many countries face an ageing population and decreasing birth rates. Women and men need to be enabled to take part in family and working life on an equal footing if we are to meet these challenges. Family-friendly policy is vital, both for production and for reproduction.

Gender equality has many facets. Today, we will be considering how to balance work and family life. As a mother of three, I know from first-hand experience that this is no easy task.

In my opinion, this complex issue must be addressed at three main levels: at the individual level, at community level and at the global level.

I believe that every human being has a need to fulfil more than one role. Women need to be more than mothers and carers, men need to be more than the family breadwinner. We need legislation, systems and attitudes that support working mothers and enable fathers to spend quality time with their children.

The global importance of this issue is reflected in Millennium Development Goal number three, which calls for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Globally, women are still losing out in terms of access to education, leading positions, income and property. As a result, they have less freedom of choice.

However, as Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women), stated last November: “The issue is not anymore lack of good practice or effective strategies. We know how change happens. The issue is how to implement strategies on a scale that is large enough to turn the tide for gender equality and women’s rights – and achieve national development goals”.

Like Korea, the European Union is experiencing decreasing birth rates. It has therefore published a book called: Confronting demographic change: a new solidarity between generations. The book concludes that the key is finding the right balance between work and family life. Only then will having children continue to be regarded as a natural, enriching part of life for all.

In Norway, my generation expects women and men to participate on equal terms in all sectors of society – in education, working life, politics and at home. Such expectations are a constant challenge not only for individuals, but also for governments, corporations and employers. In our country, nine out of ten fathers with the right to six weeks of paid parental leave stay at home with their new baby. At the same time, 76 per cent of mothers with children aged below three are employed and earn an independent income.

We still have a way to go in relation to gender equality in all parts of Norwegian society, but my generation has had good help from role models to come as far as it has. Norway’s first woman prime minister took office in 1981, and women have been well represented in government since then. The Republic of Korea has also had a woman prime minister, and 13 per cent of its government ministers are women. Such examples are vital for young women, to inspire them to be bold in thinking about what they can reach for and what they can achieve.

I am convinced that sharing responsibility between women and men in relation to income, family life and children’s upbringing is not only good for us. It is also the best thing we can do for our children.

My congratulations to you, Minister Rhyu, and you, Secretary General Park of the Presidential Committee, for having convened this joint seminar. I am also very pleased that you, Prime Minister Han, have taken time from your very busy schedule to be here today.

Thank you.


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