The newly elected government that assembled in front of the Norwegian royal palace on May 9, 1986, shattered the glass ceiling of the executive power and changed Norwegian politics forever. The government led by Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway’s first female prime minister, was truly unique. Eight out of 18 ministers were women. The “Women’s government” made it to the frontpages all over the world. “The day mountains moved” is the inscription on a monument at Sakai School for Girls in Osaka, Japan. Next to this inscription, the names of the Norwegian female ministers are inscribed.
Female political participation is the key to a more egalitarian society. There is a red thread from the suffragettes to the battle for abortion rights, from “the Women’s government” to recruiting more female representatives in company boards of directors. Today, Norwegian women have the fortune of having the world’s most equal rights to men. Still, we need more female leaders in the private sector, universities and court systems. We need more female politicians and mayors. The more women get involved in all sectors of society, the bigger the chance is that women can participate on equal terms, that our perspectives will count as much as those of men, and that we will win future battles for full gender equality.
Women’s participation in politics is still too low, yet it makes a big difference all over the world, every single day. Women’s political participation boosts new politics, and puts issues different from those of men on the agenda. As more women entered the political arena in Norway, issues like child day-care centres and maternity leave gained momentum.
The examples of Norwegian gender equality are precisely why we need to support female activists and women involved in politics in countries where political participation comes at a cost. In many countries, women are met with skepticism, harassment and even assault when they engage in politics. They pay a price that I did not have to pay when I decided to enter Norwegian politics. Yet, female politicians in exposed countries raise their voices and push women’s rights to the fore, especially in times of war and conflict. They fight for their rights, through civil society organisations, from NGO’s, from government offices and through demonstrations. Women like Tawakkol Karman, one of last year’s winners of the Nobel peace prize, played a crucial role in the Arab spring. The democratic movement of the Arab World is the fall of the Berlin wall of our time. Fighting for democracy and the freedom of speech in an authoritarian regime like Yemen requires great courage and vigour as a man, and even greater courage and vigour as a woman.
I am a feminist. That does not imply that I want women and men to be the same. Feminism is a matter of equal opportunities. We have a long way to go before we get there. Gender inequality is not only an issue in countries like Yemen. We do not have to look any further than to Southern Europe to find immense differences between the sexes. Insufficient social security systems make it difficult for women to have a career and at the same time be a mother. The share of women in positions of power is still remarkably poor in many countries in Southern Europe. In many countries, women are miles away from full representation in political forums. The majority of the world’s poor are women, and women are consistently deprived of their fair share of basic commodities, like food, clean water and health care.
Yet, I am optimistic. I hope for, and firmly believe, that my daughters will grow up in a world that is different from that of my mother and my grandmother, a world that is more gender equal. There are bright spots. Women like Tawakkol Karman is one of them. Women like her remind me of the words of the female Japanese author Akiko Yosan; “The day mountains will move”. Last year, another glass ceiling was shattered when Hadia Tajik, a 29 year old woman with a minority background, was appointed Norwegian minister of culture. Tajik is a new and forceful image of women’s political participation. We may not be there yet, but one thing is for certain; more mountains will move, towards a more fair distribution of positions in politics, in working life and at home.