Ombud Discusses Equality for Women and Men in Norway

--Thoughts on the Tokyo Symposium (September 29, 1996)--

Excerpt from Ikujiren Newsletter (October 26, 1996, #61)
by Masaki Matsuda

Since the inauguration of the Gender Equality Act in 1979, Norway has been practicing a quota system (the Gender Equality Act, Item #21) which requires that women be represented in 40 percent of the workforce. This had advanced Norwegian women's participation in the work place remarkably. Behind the progress toward gender equality, however, is the significant contribution of the current Gender Equality Ombud who has been keeping watch on ensuring the practice of gender equality in the public work place.

The third Gender Equality Ombud, Ms. Anne Lise Ryel, recently visited Japan. We have heard that the Norwegian government acted promptly to send Ms. Ryel to Japan after Mariko Mitsui invited her to visit Japan.

The first half of one-and-a-half-hour symposium was a lecture by Ms. Ryel. Her strong presence was felt by the audience and her speech was interpreted by a Norwegian translator who spoke fluent Japanese. Here are some quotes from her talk:

"The Gender Equality Act is applied not only to workplace but also to politics, education, culture and families. However, religious organizations and private life are excluded from the Act."

"In addition to the Gender Equality Act, we have other related legislation that affects gender equality. This legislation includes, among others, parental leave, anti-sexual harassment, the Marketing Control Act, and the Marriage Act, all of which contribute to gender equality in our society."

"In Norway, men who do not participate in any housework and child care are seen with suspicion by others. The reason why I was able to come to Japan for 8 days is because my husband could take care of our 6-year-old daughter. My translator's husband is also taking care of their 3-year-old and 6-year-old daughters."

"Gender equality means that both women and men are given equal opportunities and possibilities. In order to achieve this goal, we need to change women's as well as men's views. It is very important for men to show greater understanding toward women. In Norway, the father-quota (a month of the parental leave is reserved for the father) came into force in 1993. Now almost 70% of Norwegian fathers take advantage of this law. We call the father-quota system "the persuasive power of love."

"Thirty-nine percent of the political seats of the Norwegian national government is now occupied by women. Sweden exceeds Norway in terms of the number of female politicians. However, Norway's representation of women in politics is still quite high compared to other countries. Our record may, however, be beaten by Japan as a result of the upcoming election."

Her talk included such humorous comments as above.

During the last half of the symposium, three panelists joined Ms. Ryel. Included were Professor Teruko Inoue of Wako University who submitted a proposal to create an Ombud system to Kawasaki City mayor, Attorney Kinko Sato who argued against the quota system because "women gain power naturally as seen by the increase in female lawyers in Japan over the past 100 years thus we will eventually see an increase in the number of female politicians," and Kenji Tajiri of Ikujiren who suggested to call "father-quota system" "father-sharing system" because the former implies a forced action. The panel discussion on the theme of "Is a quota system necessary to achieve gender equality?" was emceed by Mariko Mitsui.

Tajiri tried to push for a more active discussion on a father-quota system which is the central agenda of Ikujiren (a community group for men and women sharing child care). However, other panelists seemed to show little interest in this issue. Because of the time limitations, panelists themselves were allowed to speak only twice or three times and I felt that the time limitation prevented debate from taking place. However, the audience's enthusiasm was certainly felt by Ms. Ryel and other panelists alike.

I was seated in the second row from the back on the first floor, and I heard a few people in the audience questioning Attorney Kinko Sato when she was making her comments on the "natural increase of women in politics in Japan." I, too, disagreed with Sato's comments, thus, made the following comment:

"If we follow Ms. Sato's argument, we will not see a significant increase in the number of female politicians 100 years from now. When Japanese women were first granted voting rights 50 years ago, 10% of the political seats were occupied by women, however, this amount has yet to be surpassed over the past 50 years. It is essential to have a government consisting of an equal number of women and men. Legislation should be approached after the women have a same representation as that of men. It is thus necessary to introduce a quota system. It will be ideal if we can appoint a woman after a man serves in political office such as city and town mayorship, prefectural governor, and party leadership. As Ms. Ryel pointed out, father-quota system is "the persuasive power of love." Therefore, the father-quota system gives more choices to men by providing them with opportunities to reevaluate their families and workplace with their increased family involvement. I think it is quite meaningful if even one man after taking a parental leave as a result of father-quota system decides to take further parental leave and refuses to work overtime because of child care responsibilities."

It is also very important to realize the significant role of Gender Equality Ombud as Ms. Ryel explained to us. My personal dream is for our group (Ikujiren) to form a supportive body committed to assist a future Ombud in Japan.

Approximately 350 people gathered at the Tokyo Women's Plaza to hear Ms. Ryel. Some people were even refused to be admitted because the hall was at full capacity. I am sure all the people who attended this symposium left the place feeling empowered and encouraged by Ms. Ryel's speech. We need to continue to increase our power in order to realize gender equality in Japanese society.

Ms. Ryel's active participation in Japan is shown by her busy schedule indicated below:

September27(Friday) Arrival at Kansai International Airport
28(Saturday) Osaka Symposium
29(Sunday) Tokyo Symposium
30(Monday) Akita Symposium
Octorber 1(Tuesday) Sapporo Symposium
2(Wednesday) Meeting with the Diet politicians
3(Thursday) Appearance on NHK BS channel
4(Friday) Departure from Narita

We want to thank Ms. Ryel for her wonderfully inspiring and motivational talk.

Please take care, Ms. Ryel and thank you very much again.

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