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You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2011 i Gender equality in the Nordic region - vision or reality? i Norwegian women have lost the most power
Norwegian women have lost the most power
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Norwegian women have lost the most power

| Text and graphics: Björn Lindahl

Norway has been the hottest country in the gender equality debate since quotas were made law there in 2008. Publicly listed firms, often major listed companies, must have at least 40 percent of each sex in their boardrooms. Yet at the same time women have lost more positions of power in Norway than in any other Nordic country.

Until four years ago, Gerd-Liv Valla was the leader of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions. She stepped down on 9 March 2007, the day after the International Women's Day, after being accused by one of her own employees for using master suppression techniques. Valla led Norway's largest union for six years, and during that same period of time Randi Bjørgen led the largest vocational union, The Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS), and academics were led by two women - Aud Blankholm for the largest academics' union AF (which no longer exists) and Christl Kvam for The Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations. Today all three unions are led by men.

At the same time Kristin Halvorsen stepped down from her post as finance minister after the 2009 elections, and chose to become Minister of Education. She needed more time to lead her party, the Socialist Left, than her job as finance minister allowed her. This combined with a few other government reshuffles saw the number of women in positions of power greatly reduced.

It seems like a long time since Gro Harlem Brundtland's 1986 'women's government' which was made up of 44 percent women - a world record at the time.

The most powerful woman in Norway today is probably the Minister of Labour,  Hanne Bjurstrøm, with responsibility for a third of Norway's budget. 

Two of the three party leaders in the governing coalition are women, so the weakening of female positions does not register much in the media. In 2010 Norway also got its first female leader of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), Kristen Skogen Lund.

The quota law which came into effect on 1 January 2008 was followed with great interest not only in Norway but in many other countries. In the end all publicly listed companies managed to fill their female boardroom quota. State owned companies had to adhere to a quota as early as 2006. From 2011 the legislation will also apply for all companies that are more than two-thirds owned by municipalities. 

All this makes Norway a clear leader in this area in the Nordic region. The number of women on the boards of public companies increased from nine to 36 percent in five years. It is short of 40 percent because that threshold only applies to companies with ten or more board members. A three-person board only needs for both sexes to be represented, which means 33 percent. 

Marit Hoel from the Center for Corporate Diversity has followed the development over the past years. She has these figures for Nordic companies in 2010 for comparison:

Country Number of board
members
Of whom are 
women
Proportion
Norway 732 229 313
Sweden 1550 339 219
Finland 678 114 168
Denmark 893 109 125 

These figures include not only the core company but all companies in a group. 

There is hardly any research on women and gender in Icelandic public companies. Yet according to Statistics Norway women made up 13 percent of board members in major Icelandic companies in 2008, compared to 8 percent in 2007.

Hanne Bjurstrøm, Minister of Labour

Bjurstom PORTLET

Norway portlet 2011 beskuren Equality curve
Most important female victories
  • Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland 1981
  • Head of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions Gerd-Liv Valla, 2001-2007
A Nordic first:
  • Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland 1981
  • Head of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions Gerd-Liv Valla, 2001-2007
  • Police Commissioner Ingelin Killengren 1994-2011
Norway has never had:
  • A female foreign minister
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