TOP OFFICIAL SPELLS OUT INNOVATIVE STEPS TO PUT MORE WOMEN IN HIGH POSITIONS, AS ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE CONSIDERS NORWAY’S SEVENTH REPORT
TOP OFFICIAL SPELLS OUT INNOVATIVE STEPS TO PUT MORE WOMEN IN HIGH POSITIONS, AS ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE CONSIDERS NORWAY’S SEVENTH REPORT
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
Chamber B, 803rd & 804th Meetings (AM & PM)
top official spells out innovative steps to put more women in high positions,
as anti-discrimination committee considers norway’s seventh report
Addressing the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Arni Hole, Director General of Norway’s Ministry of Children and Equality, shed light today on her country’s innovative steps to end violence against women, put more women in public office and on corporate boards, and protect the rights of immigrant women and girls.
Norwegian legislators had strengthened the Penal Code and were considering an amendment that would criminalize the purchase of sex, the Director General said as she presented her country’s seventh periodic report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Chamber B. The Government had created a Committee on Aggravated Sexual Assaults to report on the current situations of victims of rape and other types of sexual violence. It had also developed inter-ministerial action plans to end violence committed by close relatives, and was funding 50 crisis centres, and 18 centres for incest victims.
Norway had learned that it was necessary to double or triple efforts to combat violence, provide treatment for abusers, and strengthen support for women and children, she said. The enforcement of laws against forced marriage and female genital mutilation was crucial, and the challenge ahead was to educate and train staff in schools, social services, the police and judiciary to prevent and eventually handle cases of forced marriage.
She said Norwegians had also recognized that gender diversity was good for corporate innovation and company culture, adding that 100 per cent of State-owned and 60 per cent of private companies had attained the prescribed quota set in 2003 that guaranteed women a 40 per cent representation on corporate boards. Corporations had reported no trouble in finding qualified women for board positions -- a far cry from their complaints four years ago that it would be impossible to find competent and “willing” women to fill them.
To end discrimination against immigrant girls and women, she said, the Government had passed the Anti-Discrimination Act, merged three institutions dealing with discrimination into the Anti-discrimination and Equality Ombud, and set up a tribunal to act as a Board of Appeals. The Ombud heard complaints about gender-based discrimination, particularly against pregnant women in the workplace, immigrants and disabled women.
Committee members commended Norway’s track record as a global leader in women’s rights and empowerment, praising many of its Government’s gender equality measures, since presenting its last report to the Committee in 2003. However, some experts expressed particular concern over the country’s decision to end affirmative action in academia following a judgement by the European Free Trade Association Court, which found that the practice of earmarking funding for female professorships contravened the European Economic Area Agreement. Experts repeatedly took issue with Norway’s decision to give the Court’s decision and the Agreement precedence over the Women’s Convention. In response, Ms. Hole noted that the Gender Equality Law allowed moderate affirmative action and that the Court did not object to such measures, but only to radical affirmative action.
The Committee will take up the seventh periodic report of New Zealand in Chamber B at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 2 August.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber B this morning to take up the seventh periodic report of Norway (document CEDAW/C/NOR/7), which ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1981.
Headed by Arni Hole, Director General, Ministry of Children and Equality, Norway’s delegation included Petter Wille, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Hilde Bautz-Holter Geving, Senior Adviser, Ministry of Children and Equality; Line Naersnes, Senior Adviser, Ministry of Justice and Police; Nina Mork, Senior Adviser, Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion; Jonas Jolle, First Secretary, Permanent Mission to the United Nations; and Dan Froskeland, Adviser, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The delegation also included experts from the Anti-discrimination and Equality Ombud and the Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo.
Introduction of Report
Ms. HOLE introduced the report, recalling that, during the country’s last appearance in 2003, the Committee had described Norway as a “haven for gender equality”, but expressed concern over inequalities in economic decision-making, violence against women and the needs of immigrant girls and women. Women’s non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders had helped produce the report and had also prepared a “shadow report”.
She said that since 2003, Norway had taken steps to address the question of violence against women, particularly the next of kin. The Ministry of Justice oversaw cross-sectional action plans to deal with violence perpetrated against close relatives. The Penal Code had been strengthened. Fifty crisis centres and 18 centres for incest victims received 80 per cent of their funding from the State. A cross-ministerial group of deputy ministers was developing a new action plan against violence to be launched soon. In 2006, the Cabinet had appointed a Committee on Aggravated Sexual Assaults that would report on the situation of women victims of rape and other types of sexual violence. It would identify factors and strategies early next year. The Director General of Public Prosecutions had conducted an eye-opening study on legally enforceable judgements in rape cases. A working group had recommended steps to further assist rape victims.
Norway had learned that it was necessary to double or triple efforts to combat violence, provide treatment for abusers, and strengthen support for women and children as well prophylactic use, she said. Municipalities must better coordinate their work and train staff in different sectors to detect domestic violence as early as possible. A cross-ministerial appointed to consider a specific law to guarantee free services to all women victims would focus on developing quality services within reasonable proximity to victims’ homes. Five regional centres currently coordinated local efforts to combat violence with the National Centre of Research on Violence and Traumatic Stress, which collected and disseminated knowledge nationwide.
She said the law prohibited forced marriages and female genital mutilation by Norwegian citizens or people with close ties to Norway, within the country and abroad. In June, the Cabinet had launched a well funded action plan against forced marriage. The challenge ahead was to educate and train staff in schools, social service centres, youth service centres, family counselling offices, child-welfare services, police stations and public prosecutors to prevent and eventually handle cases of forced marriage. No culture, tradition or religious practice could be an excuse for forced marriage. In October, the Government planned to launch a new action plan against forced genital mutilation, with greater health sector involvement than in the past. Enforcement of laws against forced marriage and female genital mutilation was crucial. In 2005, a girl’s father and brother had been sentenced to up to two-and-a-half years in prison for forcing her into marriage.
It was puzzling that, in an advanced country like Norway, so few women held high-level posts in the corporate sector, she said, noting that the present and previous Cabinets had adopted strong affirmative action plans to change that. In 2003, Parliament had passed amendments to several company laws to ensure that at least 40 per cent of corporate board members were women. The law governing State-owned and inter-municipal companies had come into force in January 2004 and the law governing the country’s 500 largest firms had entered into force in January 2006. Currently, 100 per cent of State-owned and 60 per cent of private companies had attained the prescribed quota for women’s representation on their boards, saying they had encountered no trouble in finding competent women for the posts. That was a far cry from four years ago, when they had complained that it would be impossible to find competent and “willing” women. It was now recognized that diversity was good for innovation and company culture. The Public Investment Fund had set up training courses for women carrying out strategic board work in recent years, and the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry ran a corporate sector recruitment and training programme for women.
She said that since the Committee had raised concerns in 2003 over gender-based pay discrimination, the Government had developed an information and communications technology measuring tools to detect pay discrimination in the workplace. In 2006, the Cabinet had appointed the Equal Pay Commission, a group of experts, which would submit its findings in March 2008. A strategy would be launched in September to assist boys and girls in their education and job choices, and to help break historical differences between the schooling and career choices made by boys and girls. It also aimed to promote full-time employment among women. At present, 43 per cent of women worked part-time.
Nominating women to public posts remained a challenge, she said, noting that only one out of every six mayors in the country was a woman. The Local Government Act set quotas for the representation of women in political office, stipulating that they must form 40 per cent of the membership on the municipal committees of municipal councils. Still, one third of the country’s political committees had failed to comply with that. Last year, the Ministry of Local Government had funded a campaign to promote more women candidates in local elections, and women now accounted for 42 per cent of nominees.
The Government had taken several steps to end discrimination against immigrant girls and women, including the new Anti-Discrimination Act prohibiting discrimination based on ethnicity or religion, she said. A 2006 parliamentary white paper on social exclusion addressed immigrant women’s concerns, and a National Action Plan to integrate and include them in mainstream life had been implemented. The Government had merged three institutions dealing with discrimination issues into the Anti-discrimination and Equality Ombud and set up a tribunal to act as a Board of Appeals. The Ombud heard complaints about gender-based discrimination, particularly against pregnant women in the workplace, immigrant and disabled women. It met four times a year with the Ministry of Children and Equality to review statistics and strategies.
She said the present Cabinet’s vision for gender equality focused on “the need for redistributing work, power and care between the sexes”. More women should be able to have full-time jobs, work in male-dominated posts, hold senior corporate positions, including boardroom posts, and be able to share household responsibilities with their partners.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that the country report described the Convention’s incorporation into the Gender Equality Act, as well as the significant discussion surrounding that action. The Government had also pledged that it would incorporate the Convention into its Human Rights Act. What was the time frame for that action and what status would the Convention have in domestic law in the future? Why had the Convention so seldom been invoked in the Norwegian courts, some 25 years since the country’s ratification of the treaty?
He asked why the Gender Equality Act did not apply in internal religious matters, adding also that he had been surprised to learn from the country report that the Act had been amended due to requirements under European directives, since the Convention had the same provisions.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, welcomed the presence of experts from the Anti-discrimination and Equality Ombud and Oslo University’s Centre for Human Rights, but expressed concern about the inability of several non-governmental organizations to attend due to a lack of resources. In connection with the Optional Protocol, what were the procedures for its application at the national level, and when had it last been available in cases of alleged discrimination?
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked numerous questions regarding the mandate and functioning of various national institutions pursuing gender equality. What were the scope of their work and the impact of the government policies? Were both vertical and horizontal forms of discrimination taken into account? Had the restructuring of the national machinery increased the visibility of gender issues? Who was in charge for devising and monitoring national gender equality plans and implementing gender mainstreaming?
SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, commended Norway’s excellent role in peace brokering around the world, asking if that model stipulated the criteria for women’s participation, as requested by Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). She also had questions about the incorporation of the gender perspective in Norway’s development assistance programmes, including the Government’s understanding of gender equality and gender non-discrimination as incorporated in those plans. She was also concerned that gender equality could be seen more as a special right than a core one.
Ms. HOLE said Norway was one of the few countries that had incorporated the Convention fully into its domestic legislation. In amending the Gender Equality Act, the Government had taken into account not only European directives, but also the Convention. As for the time frame for incorporating the Convention into the Human Rights Act, that had to be done before 2009, when the current Cabinet’s term expired. Regarding the use of the Convention by the courts, many judges preferred to refer to European human rights instruments, but the Ombudsman and other domestic bodies did refer to it quite often.
On internal religious matters, she said a committee of Cabinet-appointed lawyers had recently set about elaborating a new anti-discrimination law which would be tasked with scrutinizing not only the Gender Equality Act, but also the Employment Act, which was the subject of a similar exception. Norway had no specific procedures under the Optional Protocol, she added.
Regarding the national machinery, she said her Ministry coordinated national gender policy elaboration and implementation, and was also responsible for gender budgeting -– an accomplishment of which she was proud. While receiving State budgets, the offices of the Ombud -– and there were several in the country, including those for Children and Equality -- were completely independent. Horizontal discrimination was very much taken into account, as was double discrimination against women belonging to vulnerable groups. As for the evaluation of efforts to promote gender equality, that was scheduled for next year.
Turning to Norway’s plan of action for development assistance, she said it took into account the need to empower women, invest in their participation and increasing understanding of women’s rights. Among other things, the Government had supported election campaigns in several African countries, and it did not separate human rights as such from women’s rights, as defined under the Convention.
A Foreign Ministry representative addressed the country’s peace-brokering efforts, saying its action plan stipulated that when Norway was a facilitator in bilateral peace negotiations, it must make efforts to increase the proportion of women in such delegations. The country’s own delegations were gender-balanced.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said the Convention identified the social conduct of men and women as an area that State parties must address so as to achieve full gender equality. It was, therefore, commendable that the Government had taken that obligation seriously by adopting some innovative measures in that regard. Among other things, the report spoke about a common research project of the Nordic countries to promote understanding of gender issues. What were the study’s findings, and were there any plans to use them in the Government’s work with younger people? She also asked about men’s role in the family and efforts to combat violence against women.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, praised the Government’s statistics-gathering efforts in relation to violence against women, and asked what result its assessment and investigation had yielded. What was still needed at the national level to prevent the murder of women when the Government already had restraining and protection orders in place? Could a perpetrator be detained for breaching restraining orders?
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked about the report’s references to discrimination against men, adding also that it did not discuss institutional attitudes that led to gender discrimination and encouraged “bad behaviour” by men. What was Norway doing to address that?
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said he was pleased that Norway had taken to heart the Committee’s recommendation in 2003 concerning the trafficking of women and asked whether the delegation could provide statistics on that subject in its next report. Had the Government studied the impact of the “sexhandel.no” website on the facts of prostitution and trafficking? If so, what were the results? Could the delegation elaborate on the law criminalizing persons who bought sex, and had Norway studied Sweden’s success with a similar law? Had it conducted studies on the impact of such a law on prostitution and sex workers, in general?
Ms. HOLE said the findings of the Nordic countries’ research project aimed to promote understanding of gender issues had, in fact, been given to the National Council of Youth, which would study them and suggest a course of action.
She said the Ministry of Children and Equality had challenged the media to increase women’s ownership, step up the recruitment of women, and change the way they portrayed gender issues. It was also financing programmes to sensitize men on gender equality. There was a hotline for men in distress that was widely used by ordinary men suffering from drug abuse or childhood sexual abuse. Alternative to Violence, a men’s non-governmental organization, worked closely with the hotline and other projects for men. It was financed by several ministries and was doing excellent work in providing counselling and psychological treatment for perpetrators of sexual violence.
While the Government had reliable data on assaults and murders, she said, information on assessments and results was not immediately available. Concerning discrimination against men, Norwegian officials were looking into parental leave schemes. The law governing parental rights and alimony had been revised to give men fair treatment in custody cases. In the past, men could not start new families because they were solely responsible for supporting children from previous marriages. Under the new rules, the former wife’s income was also taken into account when assessing alimony payments.
A very open-minded white paper on "Men, Masculinity and Gender Equality" would be sent to Parliament in order to change old-fashioned rules about men’s and women’s roles in the household, she said, noting the importance of institutional attitudes and the need to sensitize boys and men to gender equality. That was being done in connection with action plans to combat violence against women and next of kin. Concerning victims of human trafficking seeking asylum in Norway, five people had been granted temporary work permits this year for a period of six months. Such persons must be presumed to be victims of human trafficking and be willing to accept the work and terms offered. When gathering statistics on human trafficking, it had been very difficult to identify which cases resulted from sex trafficking and which were a result of voluntary prostitution. Eleven people had applied for asylum on the basis of human trafficking.
She said a proposal to amend the Penal Code to prohibit and criminalize the purchase of sex would be sent to Parliament later this year.
In a round of follow-up questions, FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, welcomed the Cabinet’s decision to ban the purchase of sexual services and asked about the discussions within the Government that had preceded that action. She also asked whether the Government intended to introduce a specific anti-violence law, and about government efforts to stop trafficking in people. Did it have data on the children who disappeared?
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, said, with regard to participation by non-governmental organizations in producing country reports, that it was the State party’s responsibility to produce reports, but the Committee encouraged non-governmental organizations to present their point of view, as well. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) were now helping developing-world organizations to present shadow reports, and it was to be hoped that, in the future, the Government of Norway would find it possible to provide resources to allow Norwegian non-governmental organizations to attend sessions of the Committee.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, reiterated his concern that the Convention -- while incorporated into Norway’s Gender Equality Act -- was still not integrated into human rights legislation. Would the Convention prevail if current statutory provisions were found to contravene its provisions?
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, returned to the question of development cooperation, saying Norway was seen as a model for the rest of the world in that regard and its new development assistance plan focused on certain thematic issues. Would the Government provide technical and legal assistance for the broad implementation of the Convention in developing countries and would it help them understand the concepts of equality and gender discrimination?
Ms. HOLE said the Government had been discussing Sweden’s experience of banning prostitution and was awaiting that country’s evaluation of that policy. Prostitution seemed to have gone underground, which made it more difficult to combat trafficking in people, for example. When Norway had made a similar decision, it had emphasized, in addition to banning prostitution, the need to extend social services, promote education and set up working places for women.
Responding to another question, she said Norway was not considering a specific law on domestic violence, but it was reviewing the Penal Code. In 2006, teaching materials on human trafficking had been prepared with a particular focus on children travelling alone. Such children were now under the custody of children’s welfare authorities.
She said she appreciated the role of non-governmental organizations in preparing the report and would take back the experts’ comments on the need to provide funding for their participation in Committee meetings.
On Norway’s role as “a model to other countries of the world”, she said the country was a big donor to the World Bank, UNFPA and UNIFEM, and had provided funding for legal projects in several countries, including Afghanistan. Training on gender equality issues could be provided to the developing countries, as well.
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, said the Nordic countries enjoyed a high level of women’s participation in the political sphere, but lacked equal participation so far. The report also recognized that there had been stagnation in the rates of electing women. What was being done to address that? While quotas were not obligatory, and some parties performed better than others, should quotas be made obligatory? What instruments were envisaged to improve the situation in the future? According to shadow reports by non-governmental organizations, some changes in the country’s electoral laws had made women’s participation more difficult. Had those changes been assessed from the gender point of view?
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said she had seen first-hand what Norway was doing to promote development in many parts of the world and wondered about the reasons for the recent stagnation in the participation of women within its own borders. An additional effort should be made to identify the reasons for women’s reluctance to participate in local elections. At the same time, the country’s success in increasing the number of women elected to Parliament should be studied in order to promote best practices in that regard.
Ms. HOLE said she would be reluctant to call the current situation “stagnation”. Almost 20 years ago, “a women’s coup” had taken place in the country and, since then, financial support had been provided for campaigns to promote women’s participation. There were 36 per cent women in municipalities around the country -- the same number as in Parliament. However, it was important to devote attention to women’s participation in local democracy. A recent study had shown that it was more difficult to engage young people in the work of local authorities. They complained about long hours and late meetings, and perceived municipal as “not important” because most decisions were made at the level of the Central Government. Discussions on how to engage people in local politics were focusing on what could be done through schools and media.
The country did not have a parity law, but it did have voluntary quotas for political parties, she continued. Now, 42 per cent of candidates nominated for elections were women. Recently, the system of correcting party lists had been changed, and new rules were now being evaluated. A recent “Showroom for women in local politics” was among the projects that had been highly successful.
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked whether non-Norwegian citizens could vote in local elections, and if any immigrants had ever been elected.
Ms. HOLE said immigrants could vote in local elections after they had lived legally in the country for three years. Norwegian citizenship was required to vote in national elections, and it usually took seven years to become a citizen.
Another delegate said surveys before the 2003 election had revealed that 77 per cent of the candidates were men, compared to 70 per cent today. Out of thousands of candidates, only 92 had non-Norwegian ethnic backgrounds.
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, noting that women filled only 16 per cent of university professorships, asked how the Government planned to increase that percentage. Had academic research been used to develop the white paper on male roles and masculinity, and how was it used to address that concern? Had Norway conducted research on equal parenting and on high-school students’ preferences in terms of education and careers?
XIAOQIAO ZOU, expert from China, asked why women’s average pay was 85 per cent that of men and why that pay gap had not changed in the past 20 years. Was it because men tended to have higher-paying jobs than women? What was the Ministry on Children and Equality doing to implement the Gender Equality Law? Why were so many women working only part-time, and what government measures were in place to encourage them to hold full-time jobs? How many immigrant women worked part time as compared to full time?
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked for disaggregated data on women in various occupations. Did the delegation have a breakdown of women in leadership positions in the health and education fields? What percentage of women without children worked part-time and why?
Ms. HOLE said she found it difficult to explain why the number of female professors was not increasing faster. More women were now starting and completing their higher education than men, and the number of women with PhDs was increasing. Educational research revealed that girls and women were now choosing from among a far-wider range of careers than they had in the past, and that such traditionally male-dominated fields of study as medical and veterinary programmes were attracting a steadily increasing number of women. Plans were in place to promote interest in mathematics, science and technology among girls and women. The Directorate of Education monitored the statistics in that regard.
On another aspect, she said Denmark had found that secondary school advisers tended to be old-fashioned. Measures had been taken to improve the quality of the advice given to young people on educational choices. Norway must emulate those efforts.
The Government was trying to attract women to research projects, she continued. An independent Norwegian committee on colleges and universities -- now being reappointed for another term of three years -- provided advice to the Government in that regard, as well. The Research Council of Norway was looking at the gender balance in big research programmes and gender perspective in science. The new five-year school strategy currently being elaborated by the Ministry of Education and Research would seek to promote gender equality, with all people having the opportunity to live according to their abilities and interests, irrespective of gender expectations.
On the labour market, she said that, while it was not perfect, in an open democratic society, the State did not govern it. However, the Government could introduce supportive measures to make the labour market “more perfect”.
Regarding gender-based pay gap, she said that, on average, the percentage of women’s hourly pay was 16 per cent lower than for men, through there was no pay gap in professional and high-level government jobs. The State and municipalities played an important role in setting public-sector salaries, of course. An Equal Pay Commission had been appointed by the Government, while a special tool had been developed to measure salaries in private enterprises. The Ombud was handling complaints about equal pay. In cases where equal pay laws violated the laws on equal pay, women could take the issue to court.
Part-time jobs were not a sin in themselves, she said. To be able to reconcile family and work life, 42 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men chose that kind of employment. The Government sought to promote women’s full-time employment, but Government was not prepared to dictate such actions to them. However, it could advise women on the fact that part-time workers received lower pensions, for example. Under one of the programmes in that regard, the Government was paying for education of employees within health and social care if the municipalities could offer them full-time work instead of part-time employment. The National Authority for Work and Welfare had been instructed to promote full-time work and provide assistance to part-time workers.
On sexual harassment in the workplace, she said the offence was covered by the Gender Equality Act, but she did not have the exact statistics on the number of cases handled by the courts.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said she was somewhat disappointed not to have found any information on HIV/AIDS in the report. What were the prevalence rates for HIV, AIDS and STDs, as well as factors that increased women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS? It was particularly important to look into those issues in view of rising migration into the country. What measures were available to people living with HIV/AIDS and pregnant women affected by the disease? Did migrant women and sex workers have access to HIV/AIDS treatment?
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, welcomed Norway’s development of the women’s health strategy and asked whether the Government had used the Committee’s general recommendation 24 on women’s health in developing its plans.
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, noted from the report that the country’s Alloidial Act treated men and women equally, but that did not apply to persons born or adopted before 1965. Given that a committee had been asked to consider the effect of the Act on the situation of women in agriculture, what was the situation of women born or adopted before 1965? Were there any plans to revise the Act to include those women?
Among other things, she also asked about the results from the activities of the working group established by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food to consider gender equality in that industry and the status of revisions to the Reindeer Husbandry Act. Given their poor representation in fishery and agriculture, what were the results from the work of the group established to study the barriers preventing them women from participating in that important industry? How many women had benefited from the project to study the representation of women and men in the petroleum and energy industry?
Ms. HOLE said that, according to statistics, most HIV-infected immigrant women in Norway were from Africa and few had been diagnosed after having arrived or while living in the country. The Government had set up networks to help HIV-positive women and the Government had set up health centres to provide guaranteed care for immigrant women and asylum seekers. However, it was often difficult to reach out to them. Norway had approximately 2,500 sex workers, 2 per cent of whom were infected with HIV in 2005. HIV-infected women were given a lot of assistance, but challenges still remained.
Concerning article 14, she said the Government’s new strategic plan for equality in the agriculture sector and the food processing industry was very comprehensive and involved agricultural, forestry, non-governmental and women’s organizations. It was important to achieve gender equality in the agricultural sector. Norway was the only country in the world that still had an Allodial Act, which called for equal treatment of men and women, but it did not apply to people born before 1965.
The new Animal Husbandry Act had become effective in July and aimed to increase people’s participation in the animal husbandry sector and ensure equal rights and work conditions for both women and men, she said. Regarding reindeer husbandry, women and men were now allowed to maintain private ownership of their own plots instead of having to merge them when they married. Seventy per cent of plots were owned by women and 30 per cent of reindeer units were owned by both spouses. On 17 August, a working group would present to the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs a new strategic plan for gender equality in fisheries and agriculture since few businesses in the fish processing industry and in agriculture were owned by women. The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy was studying women’s representation and influence in that sector.
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked why the norms set by the Convention concerning the appointment of women to academic posts did not prevail over European Free Trade Area decisions.
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked why the Allodial Act placed women on an equal footing with men in terms of property rights, but did not apply to people born before 1965.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked if “undesired” part-time work meant the same thing as “forced” part-time work. Did women in part-time jobs realize that it would mean a lower pension? Did the fact that more women were in part-time jobs reflect the fact that women took their roles as caregivers more seriously than men? Was that not why there were fewer female than male professors?
Ms. HOLE said the Government had indeed carried out gender assessments of the labour market for many years. The National Authority of Labour and Welfare had many training programmes for women’s empowerment and female entrepreneurship. Women were indeed informed about the implications of part-time work for their pensions, long-term careers possibilities and pay scales. The Ministry itself employed many young people who worked only 80 per cent of the work week. The Government would not take that away from people, but it would make them aware that part-time work could impact one’s career and pay rates in the long term.
“Forced” and “undesirable” part-time work meant the same thing, she said, noting that it was hard to provide full-time work to everyone in small communities. As for the case of women’s professorships, Norway had lost the court case -- as had Sweden -- and it must honour that decision.
Regarding efforts to promote more full-time work for part-time female workers, she said the labour market was in great need of workers. There was a need to pull part-time female workers into the full-time labour force.
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, asked about child support following marital breakdown, noting that child custody and support was split between the parents. While it was important to encourage the economic independence of women, there were still wage gaps. How did Norway deal with that dilemma? Did the courts take into consideration the different work opportunities for women as opposed to men?
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about government measures against forced marriage, which were mainly a problem in immigrant communities. In which specific communities did the practice exist, and how many people were charged in connection with it? What awareness-raising and education programmes had been initiated in immigrant communities regarding child visitation laws? According to the report, children of unmarried parents who did not live together were the sole responsibility of the mother, which appeared to be “an unbalanced state of affairs”.
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted that while the legal marriage age was 18, judges could grant exceptions for girls to be married at an earlier age.
Ms. HOLE said child maintenance was governed by a private law, under which both parents had an obligation to support the children, each according to his or her ability. Following a change in the custody laws and the introduction of mandatory mediation, there had been “less quarrelling between the parents” and, in many cases, parents had been able to agree on how to care for the children on their own. If they did go to the public authorities, however, the parents received significant assistance in evaluating their share according to their ability. Maintenance payments were calculated on the basis of the costs of supporting a child. While there were some difficult cases, “we are quite optimistic as to the ability of parents to sort out these issues”, she said.
Turning to forced marriages, she said an action plan had been launched at the end of June to address the issue. It would focus mostly on enabling the relevant authorities to work together in detecting such cases and preventing damage before it could be inflicted. Police were trained to identify such cases and assist victims. Secure housing was provided for young people threatened with forced marriage and a special team had been established to deal with the problem. Child-welfare services had received training, and parents belonging to various communities were being educated as to what it meant to be a good parent under Norwegian law.
For the authorities, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between arranged and forced marriages, she remarked. In 2005, child-welfare offices had registered 45 clearly defined cases involving children subjected to forced marriage. The parents of half of those children had come from Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia. Those cases had been treated as violence within the family.
Responding to a round of follow-up questions, she said the age of marriage had been set at 18 years, and exemptions were granted only for very strong reasons. To prevent forced marriages, a new amendment had just been introduced under which the country would not recognize under-18 marriages performed outside the country. As for non-married couples, if the father was not living with the mother but acknowledged his paternal responsibility, he paid child support. Last year’s amendment allowed the father to acknowledge the child even without the mother’s participation.
Regarding the judgement by the European Free Trade Association Court on the practice of earmarking funding for female professors, which had been found to contravene the European Economic Area Agreement, she said that following that decision, radical affirmative actions were no longer allowed in Norway. After the judgement, Norwegian higher education institutions had stopped reserving posts for the underrepresented gender and the Higher Education Act recognizing that practice had been changed. Moderate affirmative actions were allowed under the Gender Equality Law, and the European Free Trade Association Court had nothing against them. As for the hierarchy of international agreements, the Convention had been incorporated into domestic legislation, but the European Economic Area Agreement had precedence over it.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked whether the European Free Trade Area Court decision took Norway’s obligations under the Convention into account. On what grounds had it concluded that its decision had precedence over the Convention? Was it a step forward that, under the new Family Law, a man cohabitating with a woman could recognize her child without her agreement? What happened if the mother objected? Some women would not accept such recognition if the man was not the child’s biological father.
Ms. HOLE said the European Free Trade Area Court viewed affirmative action to earmark jobs for women as positive discrimination that could not be allowed, adding that the European Economic Area Agreement took precedence over the Convention.
As for fatherhood rights, she said the previous Parliament had asked the Government to look into fatherhood and cohabitation, and it had been decided that it was not fair that a cohabitating father must seek a written, signed statement from the child’s mother granting him those rights.
* *** *