Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Gender Research in Norway

Gender Specific Actions

Persistent inequalities require the implementation of gender specific actions. Traditionally such actions focused on women, due to their under privileged status in most areas of society. Today in Norway, gender specific measures that focus on correcting the imbalances between the sexes can be targeted at men too. These specific measures are used in almost all areas within Norwegian society, and they can be more or less radically designed.

The gender specific action strategy began as a corrective measure for injustices against women. The realisation that gender equality legislation alone, does not create de facto equality, led to international recognition of the need for direct measures. The United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) explicitly recognises and promotes the use of such direct measures in Article 4 (1): "Adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved."

Gender specific actions make it possible to tailor systems according to women’s and men’s circumstances. In order to target action either toward women or men, or both at the same time, knowledge is needed of the gender perspectives in the actual policy area. Additionally, an assessment can be made if there is an intersectional perspective. Undertaking this latter exercise is still quite rare in Norway.

Gender specific measures are reactive interventions. Norway uses a wide range of different gender specific measures because there are inequalities between women and men in many areas. There has been a shift from the notion of women’s rights to the concept of gender equality in Norway, and there has been a shift from the creation of specific measures only for women, to ones for both women and men.

Some specific actions are more radical than others, for instance the use of positive discrimination to increase the proportion of women in power and decision-making processes. An employer is allowed, according to the gender equality act, to choose a female over a male applicant, if she is almost as well qualified as the best male applicant. Such action is seldom taken in Norway. It is also possible to prioritize a man in occupations related to child care, where men are underrepresented, if he is at least as competent as the best qualified woman. Less controversial gender specific tools in working life are capacity training for women seeking promotion and the encouragement of women to apply for vacancies.

Specific measures are also used in the field of education. Public programmes to motivate girls and boys to choose non-traditional subjects are examples of uncontroversial measures. More controversial was the earmarking of positions for women within academia. This positive measure was rejected by the EFTA court in 2003 as illegal. The last controversial gender specific measure was the parliament’s introduction of gender quotas on public and private organisations’ executive boards. The quotas are gender neutral. The underrepresented sex could be both men and women. The case is currently scrutinised by the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA).

Gender specific measures are employed not only in relation to work and education, but in almost all areas of Norwegian society. For instance, Norway has introduced a father’s quota within parental leave, for the exclusive use of the male parent. Men are to take at least six weeks of the total parental leave. If a man does not take this leave the total parent leave allowance due to the family will be reduced accordingly. Many specific measures are also taken to ensure women freedom from violence. Measures to prevent men’s violence against women are an example of targeting men in order to achieve the goal of gender equality. Last but not least specific actions such as gender quotas in many political parties have been essential for increasing women’s participation and influence in politics.

The more radical measures have also caused a great deal of debate in Norway. This is primarily about the positive discrimination measures. Many people claim that one should not combat discrimination with discrimination. Despite controversies Norway is probably one of the countries in the world that employs radical measures the most.

The strategy of positive measures cannot be used alone; it has to go hand in hand with the strategy of gender mainstreaming. Focusing exclusively on specific measures makes gender equality solely a women’s issue. Previous strategies have looked on women as needing special attention, but the gender mainstreaming strategy makes men change too, because it focuses on transforming systems.