Official visit to Malaysia: Seminar on gender equality
First of all I would like to thank Minister Sharizat for her kind words. And I wish to congratulate all women present on the international women's day yesterday, and I would also thank my husband for his kind greetings yesterday.
Today’s seminar focuses on an issue that is relevant – not only to women in all parts of the world – but also to men. Equal rights for women and men is a human rights issue. But it is also as mentioned before here a prerequisite to reach the millennium development goals that the international society has agreed on. 2010 is a milestone for equal rights for women: It is 15 years since the UN conference on women’s issues in Beijing – where an action plan was adopted.
The issue will be discussed in national and international forums during 2010 to find out how the UN member states have followed up their obligation to the action plan. Today’s seminar has a particular focus on the representation of women in high level decision making positions. It is about giving women the same possibilities as men to use their experience and competence to benefit society.
The picture of power relations is more or less the same all over the world. A few countries have equal participation of women and men in the Cabinet or in Parliament. But no country has equal representation of women and men in power positions at large. This goal is unfortunately still far away.
In my opinion, how to reach gender balance in power positions is a complex issue. It involves well established attitudes to gender roles and patterns. This often has deep cultural roots – which takes time to change. In the end, it is a question of both women and men balancing work and familiy life.
Women have increased their participation and competence in the economic sector. This should give women an important role to play in the economic development of our countries. We need good role models. More than one of four Senators in Malaysia are women and the Cabinet has two female ministers. Such examples are vital for young women, to inspire them to be bold when thinking about what they can achieve.
Norway’s first woman prime minister, as Mr Trond Giske said, took office in 1981, and women have been well represented in the government since then. I am convinced this has had an impact on my generation’s young women’s way of thinking and participation in our society.
In many countries women and men will have to choose between work and family life. I believe that every human being has a need to fulfil more than one role. We need legislation, systems and attitudes that support working mothers and enable fathers to spend quality time with their family.
We need to change the image of men’s competence as fathers and good care takers. We need good role models for that as well. As a mother of three children, I am very happy for their father’s active role in their upbringing as well as the positive role of their grandfather, the King of Norway, plays in their lives. Some years back, it got a lot of international media attention when the Norwegian male Ministers of Finance and Minister of Foreign Affairs used their right to parental leave to care for their new born babies.
Family friendly policies are a prerequisite for women and men to combine work and family. If we are to meet today’s challenges, women and men must be able to take part in family and working life on an equal footing. Family-friendly policy is vital, both for production and for reproduction.
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.
Why is it important for men to be more involved in care related work and for women to be more involved in the economy and power positions? I think there are at least three reasons:
- Traditional gender roles have a price on the personal level. They are detrimental for women’s and men’s personal and professional development.
- It has its price for the economy, it becomes less vital with talents only from one gender represented.
- And it has its price for the society.
The economic perspective on gender equality was also present when Norway’s Prime Minister Mr Jens Stoltenberg stated in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that “the greatest gains the countries can achieve, economically as well politically, come with empowering women, ensuring equal rights and opportunity, health care, and increasing the ratio of women’s active participation in working life.”
Prime Minister Stoltenberg concluded that those countries which offer women equal opportunities are most competitive and perform better economically.
However, economic arguments should not be the only ones when discussing gender equality. A more balanced division of work responsibilities benefits men, women, children and society at large. And it is a question of human rights and democracy.
This has been of importance when Norway have implemented a law on gender balance - of minimum 40 percent of each sex - in boards in the public limited companies noted at the Stock Exchange and State Owned Companies.
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, for today’s society and for the future, in order to sustain welfare and democracy.
Thank you brty much for your attention.