Norway in Focus

Women over the Tipping Point

Norway is all about the numbers; and the numbers are impressive. This Scandinavian country, home to just under five million people, is often upheld as a leader in promoting women's political participation and upholding women's human rights.

Three quarters of all Norwegian women work outside the home. Each is eligible for a full year's maternity leave, with almost full pay. Norwegian women have had the vote for almost 100 years, and they exercise the privilege, turning up on Election Day in numbers equal to or higher than Norwegian men. Norway elected a female Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, three times, and she filled almost half her cabinet with female ministers.

Perhaps, most importantly, Norway has operated at the "magic" number for nearly three decades. When a small number of women hold office, they risk being pigeonholed as only being concerned with women's issues. But when the number of women in office climbs above the "magic" 30 percent mark, a critical tipping point is reached. Women's issues are then recast as "public" issues. For example, maternity leave becomes "parental" leave.

Another prominent example is Norway's Crisis Center movement. As domestic violence came to be seen as a "public" matter, the government began to fund hotlines and shelters, which became an established part of the Norwegian social landscape.

But, are the results from quotas, mandates and abundant social welfare always good for Norwegian women? Some mothers report that when they return to work after maternity leave, their careers have been irrevocably stalled. Economic recession has seen decreases in funding for social services, severely impacting both women's wages and the benefits they've come to depend on.

While they have gained independence, some critics within Norway say Norwegian women have simply turned their freedom over to the state instead, a state dominated by men. One such critic labels Norway a "patriarchal guardian state" in which the state, rather than women themselves, makes decisions on their behalf.

So, do impressive numbers always add up? Women around the world are eagerly watching Norway to find out.


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Interested in learning everything you can about the quota system and its effectiveness? Want to know the percentage of women in the national parliaments worldwide? Learn this and much more on the International IDEA and Stockholm University's new Web site Global Database of Quotas for Women.