Women’s participation in labour market is more important than oil for Norway - Grete Lochen

16 April 2014 04:06 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A A A

A wide-ranging interview with Grete Lochen, Ambassador for Norway in Sri Lanka on women’s contribution to national development and political participation, engagement in peace processes and the United Nations


Q: The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo recently celebrated Norway’s 100th year anniversary of women’s enfranchisement in politics at an event to coincide with International Women’s Day 2014. The role of women in national development and growth together with a remarkable representation of political participation and contribution in the labour force that Norway has achieved are worthy of consideration. What are your perspectives on the subject given that you are a female ambassador of a country that is now seeking to increase the number of women ambassadors in the Norwegian Foreign Service?
The Norwegian experience must be traced back to where we began. In the 1970s we had a very low participation of women in the labour force but today we have one of the highest - if not the highest - in Europe, amounting to 70% of women in between the ages of 16-70 participating in the workforce. Therefore, it is apparent that the past 40 years have been a crucial time for the country.



Q: What does such an achievement and statistics mean in practical terms?
In practical terms, it means that the contribution of women has been recognised and proven as paramount to economic growth and development. Research shows that if the labour participation of Norwegian women had been the same as the average participation of women in OECD countries that would equal the income from the oil sector. In other words, women’s participation in the labour market is more important than the oil for Norway. Thus, I would like to urge all countries to consider the role of women to national economies and development by realising that the converse would be a lost opportunity of untapped potential.



Q: What would you say is the secret of this success story which can be studied by other countries too?
It must be said that the Norwegian experience on women’s emancipation is not a unique one. It has been a fight and it continues to be a struggle. It has benefited from the modern women’s movement, affirmative policies and laws and intense lobbying and awareness-raising of both men and women.



The Norwegian experience on women’s emancipation is not a unique one. It has been a fight and it continues to be a struggle. It has benefited from the modern women’s movement, affirmative policies and laws and intense lobbying and awareness-raising of both men and women



Q:Moving on from the aspect of women’s contribution to national development and the economy, how has the significant and meaningful participation of women in politics in Norway been achieved, particularly the commendable 50 per cent representation of women in the Norwegian Cabinet?
The political movement came of age in Norway when it realised that excluding women from political parties was a weakness of the party, both in perception and reality. Hence, in the 1970s and 1980s all the major political parties themselves came to adopt a quota for female candidates. What is remarkable is that this resolve was not made as a consequence of a national law or associated legal penalties but borne solely out of conviction.

Today, five of the six major Norwegian political parties apply a quota system on a voluntary basis in the electoral lists, ensuring that representation is 50/50 on the lists.  These voluntarily applied quotas do not however, necessarily lead to a 50/50 representation in politics, neither on a national nor on a local level, but women have become entrenched in the system to an extent that now if not followed, receives instantaneous criticism in the public space. It has simply become the norm. In addition to the 50 per cent in Cabinet that you very rightly pointed out, the current Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Finance Minister are women. You will see by the key positions held by women that the political participation has not been mere tokenism but rather a meaningful experience.



Q:Despite the resounding political participation and contribution to the national economy as discussed above the representation of women in corporate boards in the Norwegian private sector corporations seem to be lagging behind. What is the reason for the dichotomy?
You’re right. This used to be the case but it all changed in 2005 when Norway introduced a law which stated that 40% of board members in all limited liability companies must be women. The law has been so successful that it has been taken up as an initiative in Spain as well as in France, and is now under discussion on the EU level in order to crack the glass ceiling which prevents women in the EU from reaching the top.  

The World Bank concept of ‘smart economics’ is worth recalling at this juncture. The case of Rwanda is striking. With 63 per cent elected women in the Parliament and currently being the World Bank’s ninth fastest-expanding country as according to the World Bank, it shows that countries with more gender justice have better economic growth.  It is however important to remember that it is not just about sending women into the work force but rather creating enabling conditions like laws and roles in society that will foster changing attitudes towards women.



Q: What are your impressions of the women’s movement in Sri Lanka?
From what I see, Sri Lanka has many strong women who operate effectively individually but organisationally there is fragmentation and probably lack of coordination. Thus the visibility as an organised movement is not forthcoming. Moreover, the movement could benefit from engaging more men in speaking out on the subject of women’s empowerment.


In addition to the 50 per cent in Cabinet, the current Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Finance Minister are women. You will see by the key positions held by women that the political participation has not been mere tokenism but rather a meaningful experience



Q: Norway and Sri Lanka have a common denominator when it comes to international relations - both being small-countries. In your opinion, has the approach to international relations by both countries been similar?
In an interlinked world, having a strong United Nations is not only important but extremely beneficial and useful to small countries. Therefore, Norway is one of the top donors to the UN system. In 2012 the total contribution amounted to USD 1.2 billion.  A key priority of the Norwegian foreign policy has been to strengthen the UN, in order to ensure the world is run by rule of law, not rule of force. We cannot act out of might but out of right regulated in multilateral bodies such as the UN. Respect for international norms and regulations are the best protection for small nations. A clear example in the Norwegian context is where the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has helped to secure our maritime borders and natural resources in our waters.



Q: Norway has been engaged in peace efforts internationally. Sri Lanka is an example. What are your impressions of the role that Norway played in the Sri Lankan peace process?
Norway has always seen a well-organised world as being in our national interest. Therefore much of our international peace and security efforts are channelled through the UN system. As mentioned earlier, contributions to strengthening the role and functioning of the United Nations is a key strategy for engagement in peace efforts. As a principle, Norway has not joined any international peace operation without it being UN-led or having a UN mandate. For instance, Norway has contributed with troops to the ISAF operation in Afghanistan because it is mandated by the Security Council but refrained from sending troops to Iraq because it lacked a UN  mandate, the latter being a coalition of the willing instead.

Moving onto direct bilateral engagement in peace processes, it must be stated that Norway does not seek with eagerness to get involved as facilitators. In the cases that Norway has been involved, it has always been on the basis of requests by both or all parties to a conflict. This is the case even in Sri Lanka.  Norway was invited by both parties to the conflict and did not seek to impose solutions of any form.

A second basis for involvement has been when we believe that we can play a useful and productive role through facilitation. There have been numerous instances where Norway has turned down requests to facilitate. In today’s context of multi-party conflicts, the situation is even more complex. Norway has thus become wearier of a direct role in peace processes and prefers extending support instead through regional bodies that can play a more constructive function as has been the case with African countries through the good offices of the African Union.

Presently, Norway is performing a facilitating role with Cuba in Columbia between the Columbian government and rebels to find solutions to existing conflicts. Here again, the involvement is based upon the request of both the Columbian government and the rebels.



Q: The chief criticism that was levelled against Norway during the peace process in Sri Lanka was its conflicting role as both facilitator and monitor. Do you agree?
An external evaluation was commissioned by the Norwegian government following its role in Sri Lanka’s peace process to help with Norway’s future work in peace processes. The evaluation team was headed by Gunnar Sørbø from the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) and Jonathan Goodhand from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). It tells the story of the peace process in Sri Lanka and draws lessons from the process that can be used in other peace processes.  Norway was one of the first countries to evaluate its own efforts in a peace process in another country. The evaluation gave a pass mark for the work that was done, while at the same time a number of points were highlighted for Norway to learn from.

Both the evaluation report and the LLRC report criticised the Norwegian dual role as facilitators and head of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM). It was the parties themselves who asked Norway to take on this double role but for the future I think we all agree that another solution would have been desirable. Ultimately, the responsibility to find a peaceful solution to a conflict and to invest in a peace process lies with the parties to the conflict but it’s important to keep in mind that the international community is still genuinely interested in assisting Sri Lanka in finding a national political solution and promote reconciliation.

The decision to abrogate the ceasefire agreement was the decision of the parties and in no way the prerogative of Norway. The importance of inclusivity in the peace process was highlighted in the report. Further, on the specific aspect of a conflict of interests as facilitator and monitor, the report concluded that such was not a viable solution to be adopted and was a key learning from the Sri Lankan experience.




Q: What are Norway’s current interests in Sri Lanka at the level of peace and reconciliation and other engagements?
Sri Lanka has been a significant partner for Norwegian development cooperation since the 1970s. Over the years we have supported rural development in the South, peace-building activities, improvement of living standards in the plantation areas, vocational training around the country, the chambers of commerce and a range of other projects .Our role in the peace process in many ways came into being based on the close cooperation we had in the development field. Since the war ended, we have given priority to supporting de-mining activities, resettlement of people who lost everything during the war and reconciliation and recovery efforts in the conflict affected areas. Norway is still very much committed to contributing to positive development in Sri Lanka. However, with the growth of the economy, impressive progress in infrastructure, resettlement and recovery and Sri Lanka moving into the middle income country category, our traditional development cooperation is decreasing. Gradually, it is being replaced by focus on areas of mutual interest like technical cooperation within fisheries and disaster management, livelihood and economic development targeting vulnerable groups, cultural cooperation by bringing people from different parts of the country together through music, such as the Galle and Jaffna Music Festivals.  In addition we see great potential in enhancing business cooperation.

salmayusuf@gmail.com
See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

 

  Comments - 0

See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

 

 

Add comment

Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.

Reply To:

Name - Reply Comment




Credentials of official raise controversy

Amila Ishan Kankanamge, the Government appointed non-Executive Director to Mo

How the SLAF killed the LTTE’s “Smiling Cobra” in an air strike

More than eleven years have passed since the war between the Sri Lankan Armed

Sri Lanka in CT Level 3, health experts

As Sri Lanka witnessed the highest number of deaths in a single day and with

How Covid-19 is further marginalising the vulnerable

Although the COVID-19 pandemic was initially described by many as a “great

See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.