Women in Electoral Politics: Lessons from Norway

Women in Electoral Politics: Lessons from Norway

Women in Electoral Politics: Lessons from Norway

Women in Electoral Politics: Lessons from Norway

Synopsis

Women play a more visible and prominent role in politics and government in contemporary Norway than anywhere else in the world. They hold close to 50 percent of the ruling cabinet positions; are leaders of the three largest parties; constitute close to 40 percent of those who fill public corporate boards, councils, and committees; hold 40 percent of parliamentary and almost 30 percent of local council seats. Upon closer examination, the Norwegian case reveals patterns of gender inequality similar to those found in the United States and other Western countries. The book focuses on what it would mean for women to attain full political equality with men in Norway and in general.

Excerpt

In many respects, the political status of women in Norway is worthy of admiration and even envy by women from other Western democracies. Norwegian women's political representation, especially at the elite levels, is the highest in the world. A government led by a woman prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, contains 47 percent female cabinet ministers, 40 percent of parliamentary seats are filled by women, the three largest political parties are headed by women, and women hold 35 percent of all positions on public corporate committees, boards, and councils. There also is growing evidence that women increasingly are influencing Norwegian political agendas and public policy (Halsaa, 1989; Skjeie, 1992).

Upon closer scrutiny, however, the Norwegian case reveals patterns of gender inequality similar to those found in the United States and other Western countries. Despite their high representation and increasing participation in political decisionmaking processes, women in Norwegian politics continue to function within gendered party and government structures, deeply embedded in an extensive state apparatus that is male-created, -defined and -dominated. Even though Norwegian women may have broken down many of the barriers to political participation, they still share with their female counterparts in other countries the problem of achieving full political equality with men. While there is a strong desire among women in Norwegian politics to participate on their own terms, as women, and not on the same premises as men, it is not clear how this is to be realized in practice. What complicates women's political involvement qua women is the fragmentation among them along feminist ideological lines, and even more importantly, along political party lines. As I will show, the Norwegian case illustrates that political party systems can be independent factors in sustaining patriarchy.

Moreover, despite substantial gains in politics, Norwegian women's workforce integration and participation in the private economic sector have been similar to those experienced by women in most Western countries. Norwegian women tend to be clustered in the service occupations and hold very few top positions within trade unions and private business corporations. Within academic institutions the number . . .

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