Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers report of Norway

Committee on the Elimination of
Discrimination against Women

16 February 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the eighth periodic report of Norway on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Audun Lysbakken, Minister of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion, said that although Norway was considered a frontrunner in gender equality, challenges remained. Real gender equality and prevention of discrimination were top priorities for the Government. Action was focused on eradication of gender-based violence, equal representation of men and women in politics, equal economic power and gender mainstreaming and the development of gender equality machinery. The Action Plan on Gender Equality 2014 contained political goals, detailed the challenges in achieving gender equality and the Government's new initiatives in nine different areas, including gender stereotypes, gender and education, parenthood, and family and work life.

Also introducing the report, Arni Hole, Director General at the Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, said the Norwegian Crisis Centre Act of 2010 was a milestone in helping victims of violence. Norway had also signed the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the first legally binding instrument in the world creating comprehensive legal framework to prevent violence, protect victims and end impunity for perpetrators. The rate of women working full time had increased over the last five years, but that more women worked part time work than men. Measures were being taken to secure job possibilities for persons with disabilities and immigrant women. The Government had recently drafted a Bill to counter discrimination against lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender women

Questions and issues raised by Experts during the discussion included introduction of specific legal provisions to increase the protection of women suffering from multiple discrimination, the national gender machinery, and about increasing the competence at a local level. Experts asked about the numbers of women working in academia, teaching gender equality in schools and changes to the criminal definition of rape to include “lack of consent”. Violence against women, measures to prevent and eradicate domestic violence, spousal violence and violence suffered by immigrant women, trafficking in persons and prostitution were also discussed.
In concluding remarks, Audun Lysbakken, Minister of Children Equality and Social Inclusion, thanked the Committee for an interesting and intensive dialogue and said the delegation would provide written follow-up answers to any questions it had been unable to answer today. Norway valued the process and the constructive dialogue as it provided input for Norway to learn more, improve and move on to new challenges.
The delegation of Norway consisted of the representatives of Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labour and the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on 17 February when it will consider the seventh periodic report of Brazil (CEDAW/ BRA/Q/7).

Report

The eighth periodic report of Norway can be read here: (CEDAW/C/NOR/8).

Presentation of the Report

AUDUN LYSBAKKEN, Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, introduced the report and said that even though Norway was considered a frontrunner in gender equality, challenges remained. Real gender equality and prevention of discrimination were top priorities for the Government. The first issue was gender-based violence, as domestic violence didn't make headlines and when happened was often seen as a family tragedy and not the brutal and severe crime it actually was. The second priority was equal representation of men and women in politics; the Government aimed to stimulate a sufficient gender balance in all elected bodies and in particular increase representation of women among mayors. The third priority was economic power. Even though there had been a positive trend over the past 30 years towards equality, women in Norway still made less money than men. On a fourth issue, gender mainstreaming, the Government was currently undertaking a comprehensive review of its policies with the overall aim of a clear and comprehensive road map on gender equality. The fifth issue of interest was the national gender equality machinery and the lack of incentives for municipal bodies to actively work towards gender equality, which were being addressed through different legislative proposals. The Action Plan on Gender Equality 2014, launched last year, consisted of political goals, description of challenges for gender equality and the Government's new initiatives in nine different areas, including gender stereotypes, gender and education, parenthood, family and work life and others. It also included a set of statistical indicators in each of the areas to enable its monitoring in a long term perspective.

ARNI HOLE, Director General at the Norwegian Ministry of Children Equality and Social Inclusion, also introducing the report, said that the Government had developed different measures to protect the victims of gender-based violence, from criminalization and strong law enforcement measures, to strategies to protect and empower the victims. The Norwegian Crisis Centre Act of 2010 was a milestone in helping victims of violence. It provides a legal duty to public authorities to provide shelter services to victims. The most recent developments in Norway concerning gender-based violence were the signing in July 2011 of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, which was the first legally binding instrument in the world to create a comprehensive legal framework to prevent violence, protect victims and end impunity for perpetrators. Turning to women in the labour market, Ms. Hole said that the rate of women working full time had increased over the last five years, but that more women worked part time work than men. Persons with an immigrant background formed around 12 per cent of the population in Norway, and had lower labour market participation than the majority. That was particularly the case for immigrant women, and measures were in place to increase required qualifications and language and professional skills necessary for employment or further education. Initiatives were in place to secure job possibilities for persons with disabilities, particularly those under 30 years of age, who find it harder to enter the labour market. Finally, the Government had drafted a Bill to counter discrimination against lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender women through expansion of their legal rights and legal protection. The draft Bill would be presented to the Parliament in 2013.

Questions by Experts

Several Experts expressed their appreciation for the integration of the provision of the Convention in the national legislation and asked about further integration, for example if Norway intended to incorporate the definition of gender equality in its legislation as per the Convention, and what specific legal provisions would be introduced in the legislation to increase protection of women suffering from multiple discrimination.

The delegation was asked about the public procurement system and equal treatment, as it seemed that Norway didn't use that system to promote gender equality. Another Expert commended Norway for assessing their gender mainstreaming and gender equality policies and asked about the organizational structure within the Ministry in charge of gender equality, how institutional coordination worked, for example on the issue of violence, and what budgetary resources were available for activities on local and municipal levels.

Norway was a pioneer in gender work, using both soft measures and legal provisions to ensure gender equality throughout society. What temporary special measures were being used to combat discrimination against women, as defined in various articles of the Convention?

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that the Convention was fully integrated in the Norwegian legislation and since 2009 also in the Human Rights Act. Even though the provisions of the Convention were not incorporated in the Constitution, the Convention had primacy in case of conflict with any other Norwegian law, which guaranteed full protection from gender-based discrimination. The Convention was indeed rarely referred to in Norwegian courts, which might be due to very low number of gender discrimination cases handled by courts. Those cases were handled by the Office of the Ombudsman.

On national structures for gender equality, the delegation agreed with Committee Experts that there was a need to build stronger structures, and not only on local levels, and a Commission had recommended creation of a separate directorate for gender equality in the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion. On gender-based prosecution, the proposal had been recently submitted to change the way Norway handled requests for asylum by lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender persons who were persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Norway recognized the importance of gender budgeting and explained that the budgeting process started with requests from Ministries, which since 2005 were obliged to examine their budgets for gender sensitivity and equality. An assessment of the process showed an improvement in measures and programmes undertaken to address gender equality, but the progress among Ministries was unequal and some found it harder than others to implement that measure.

National gender equality machinery was not as able as one would wish to set standards and support local communities to increase their competency. That system was going to be an important topic in the White Paper that the Ministry was preparing to present in 2013. It was still early to say whether that Paper would also include a change in strategy to combat discrimination.

On the root causes of discrimination against women, Norway said it was hard to point at only one factor: inequality was a result of a confluence of several factors. Inequality was difficult to address legally and Norway was trying to create commercial pressure to address the structural issues in employment market and in the economy, and to eradicate violence.

There were three regional centres for equality and diversity, mandated to follow-up local and municipal authorities, provide expertise and technical capacity and to promote compliance on reporting on the Gender Equality Act. The 2010 evaluation of those centres showed a regional level need for information and guidance on mainstreaming gender issues. On the national gender institutional architecture, each of the 17 ministries had a focal point who met in a high level group headed by the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion. That group examined their gender budgets, the Convention, international obligations and other legal measures.

Questions by Experts

In follow up questions and comments, Experts asked for more information on the role of the Ombudsmen in Norway and in particular the implementation of their legally non-binding decisions.

On the incorporation of the Convention into national legislation, experts asked if Norway had a definition of discrimination against women in the legislation as defined by Article 1 of the Convention and if it intended to enshrine in the legislation the non discrimination principle. Which part of the legislation prohibited discrimination? The delegation was asked to provide information about its national human rights institution.

Response by Delegation

On the future status of the Ombudsman, Norway said it was an important debate and the possibility of the strengthening the office and tribunals had been already raised, together with some proposals to address the implementation of legally non-binding decisions. The Ombudsman's competence in cases of sexual harassment would be looked into under the new anti-discrimination law.

On the issue of discrimination, the first Article of the Gender Equality Act specified the need for men and women to have same opportunities in a number of areas including work and education. The proposal from the Parliamentary Committee was to have a general provision on non-discrimination in the Constitution, rather than a very specific provision. Norway aimed to harmonize various acts of discrimination and at the same time believed there was a need for separate acts, such as act on Gender Discrimination or act on disabilities, but there was no act on sexual orientation and related discrimination as yet.

The National Human Rights Institution had been granted status A in 2006 and was subject to a review in 2012, which would assess the need to change mandate or organizational set up.

Questions from Experts

An Expert commended Norway for their work on domestic violence and asked how articles on protection from mental abuse were implemented, and about the effectiveness of the restraining orders scheme. The current definition of rape in the legislation was not in line with the international standards: were there plans to change the definition in the criminal law to include the element of “lack of consent”.

Violence against women was a serious problem in Norway, an expert said and added that the legislation and Government action on that issue showed disconnect between violence and discrimination against women, even though those phenomena were connected. Norway didn't recognise that violence against women was a result of inequalities in society: what research had been conducted by the Government into that phenomenon, including into root causes of violence.

Norway was a destination country for human trafficking and prostitution, but the report didn't reflect that issue. Did legislation take into account terminology of the Palermo Protocol that Norway had signed? Could the delegation provide more information about the legal prohibition of purchase of sexual services, its implementation, result and impact on women?

Response from the Delegation

Norway was concerned about the high numbers of spousal killings and would soon conduct a study about causes, possible prevention and protection measures. Violence against women in asylum centres was another issue of concern. Particularly vulnerable groups, such as minors, were accommodated in separate centres, while men and women were kept separately in the same buildings.

The definition of rape was laid down in the Penal Code: it was a criminal offence. On victims of human trafficking, Norway said that destination countries had a specific responsibility in preventing the phenomenon since they in a way created the market. The criminalization of the purchase of sexual services was a measure to address human trafficking and even though it was still early to see its full impact, there was a potential for it to be a measure to combat human trafficking.

On the Council of Europe Convention, Norway fulfilled the requirements laid down by the text and would examine its legislation for compliance with its provisions before it proceeded with the ratification.

Questions from Experts

In follow up questions, Experts asked what measures were taken to protect women of migrant background from spousal violence when their husbands held residence permits. How did Norway ensure the safety of people who testified in cases of human trafficking?

Could the Ministry of Justice consider training on gender sensitivity of lay judges and juries to ensure appropriate sentencing? Statistical data provided with the report was not sufficiently gender disaggregated, which impeded assessments. Had the psycho-social centre for traumatized refugees re-opened?

An Expert commended Norway on the participation of women in political life and asked how the Government intended to increase the number of women in judiciary and in the executive branch. What measures would the Government undertake to ensure the political participation of minority women in political and public life, particularly non-Western immigrant and Roma women? Another Expert said that Norwegian Government was the first to launch an action plan on the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, peace and security, but despite the good intentions there was no clear way of measuring the impact.

Response from the Delegation

On violence against women where the spouse held a residence permit, Norway had implemented the special provisions of the “three-year rule” which ensured that women victims of domestic violence didn't remain in abusive relationship because of the residence permit. Persons subjected to domestic violence would have their residence permits renewed even if family ties were broken.

Turning to questions related to human trafficking, Norway said that it could issue witnesses with asylum, pending judicial proceeding. Funding for the Crisis Centre Act and shelter and support services was the responsibility of local authorities and paid out of non-earmarked grants from the State.

Concerning the pilot project on electronic monitoring of offenders, Norway was allowed to use the monitoring only as a part of a sentence. There were difficulties in finding technical solutions in line with standards and the police were working to resolve the issue. The spousal assault risk assessment would soon be tested in two police districts and would be implemented in all districts if evaluation proved positive.

There were issues with human rights of women in Norway and many changes still needed to be made to achieve full gender equality. Visibility of ethnic minorities in Norwegian policy was an important issue and progress had been made in their integration in politics, but there was still a long way to go to ensure full participation. There had been interesting developments in the participation of minorities in local level elections, where their numbers were increasing. A discussion on implementing a quota system for the participation of women and minorities in political life was ongoing, and political parties would take a large responsibility in that as they could set their own rules of membership.

Much effort had been made promoting United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, peace and security, nationally and internationally and considerable support included support to civil society, including their funding. It was also a part of a wider discussion on the role of Norway in post-conflict contexts, and the inclusion of women and gender perspectives in international operations in which Norway was involved. The main priority for Norway in the peace-building context was the inclusion of women in decision-making bodies and processes and Norway encouraged women to participate. On capacity building for minorities, the delegation said there were a number of such programmes targeted at enabling people to enter and remain in the labour market rather then enabling their political participation.

Questions by Experts

What was Norway doing in terms of integrating gender equality into school curricula, both formal and hidden ones and in private and public school, the delegation was asked. Given that the numbers of girls and women in higher education was increasing in Norway but only 18 per cent of professors in the academia were women, an Expert asked if there was structural resistance to promotion of women in academia.

On the subject of gender and employment, Experts asked about pay gaps, part time work, pregnancy-related discrimination and minority unemployment, what legislature measures would be taken in 2013, and whether recommendations by the Ombudsmen would be taken into account. How was Norway addressing specific female migrant unemployment and how did it intended to increase the number of disabled women in employment? Referring to the introduction of the new system of social security, an Expert asked whether there was a risk for gender discrimination and particularly for women with minority background. What specific measures would be applied to protect women with disabilities from violence?

Was there any law prohibiting minority women from employment in judiciary or police or it was a question of discrimination, an Expert asked. Did any mechanisms monitor the performance of programmes aimed at addressing low labour market participation by minority women? An Expert asked questions about the distribution of property for intangible assets, protection of women's cohabitation rights and custody for children in cases of divorce or the end of cohabitation.

Response by Delegation

The gender pay gap was still substantial in Norway, and it was closing too slowly. A number of Bills were before the Parliament at the moment, which would introduce an obligation to report on pay statistics to Government and unions, a duty for the employer to give information on salaries, measures to increase protection of people on parental leave and measures to better combine family and working life. The right to work part time was important to many women, as it meant that they could take part in employment market, the delegation said, adding that the number of women working involuntarily part time had decreased.

The Government put great emphasis on preventing pregnancy-related discrimination and it was absolutely forbidden to ask about pregnancies and intended pregnancies during job interviews. Daycare centres were important to change traditional ways of thinking about gender, but they were not good enough.

The percentage of women in academic positions was a great paradox: more women entered higher education but their numbers were lower in the higher levels of the system. That would be structurally changed in the near future by the sheer number of women completing higher education, but more political action was needed as well. The national pension system was a subject of public debate for several years and a complex issue. Some groups of women were better off with the old system and some with the new system. It would take several years to discover what impact the new system would have on women.

On minority women in the labour market, the delegation said there was an introduction programme for newly arrived minority women, which included substantial language training to prepare them for education and work, and other programmes which were all closely monitored. Data showed there was a lower participation of women then men in those programmes.

The law on married couples defined division of property, and contained provisions enabling parties to get compensation for intangible property. In cases of cohabitation, parties could sign a non-compulsory contract regulating property issues. There was indeed a need for more guidance on the division of property for cohabiting partners. On custody issues, the delegation said that Norway was well aware of the negative consequences of custody rights being awarded to a violent parent. It was important to secure the rights of both children and fathers, and Norway was examining the question of safeguards to ensure the best interest of children.

Concluding remarks

AUDUN LYSBAKKEN, Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, thanked the Committee for an interesting and intensive dialogue. There were some questions the delegation was unable to answer, so it would provide written follow up answers. Norway valued the process and the constructive dialogue as it provided input for Norway to learn more, improve and move on to new challenges.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue.

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