‘International Women’s Day’ – Seems pretty self-explanatory? Well actually, this year in Norway, it’s much more than a, er, international day for women. 8th March 2013 will be will be 100 years since Norway first gave women the right to vote, and established its self as one of the most forward thinking in terms of gender equality across the globe. So men, women, children everywhere, get you’re proverbial feminist hat on and let’s celebrate!
Norway seems to have a lot to celebrate –it on the on the frontier for liberating women in both a social sense and a political sense, and has been celebrating I.W.D since, 1915. Each year the day is given a different theme, and this year it’s ‘The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum’. Perhaps not so relevant for Norway, with its gender equality, but for many places across the globe, Feminism has a big PR problem, and is still seen as ‘man-hating’, ‘unnecessary’ and ‘hysterical’.
But Women’s day combats that, because it shows to the world how untrue those pejoratives are. It’s a day that not only shows how much of a unifying force feminism can be (after all, it is at its most basic, a fight for equality), but also how popular and wide spread it is. To have the organisations like the UN endorsing a day that seeks to say to the world ‘Women were oppressed, but every day we should be a fight to undo the unacceptable mess of global sexism’ is just testament to how far the ‘gender agenda’ has come.
However, the work is not all done. Gender imbalances still exist within Norway, as well outside it’s frosty picturesque borders. Although around 40 per cent of boardroom places are women, only around 2 per cent of Norway’s chief executive officers (the ones with real sway) are women. One in 10 Norwegian women have been raped, the New York Times reported in 2011. Around the world, women are still oppressed, their voices unheard, and it is estimated that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.
But it’s not all upsetting. Norway is the first country in the world to implement legislation requiring balanced gender representation on both boardroom and in cabinet. Politicians also hold these progressive views, something that isn’t always prevalent in a liberal society (See Cameron’s ‘calm down dear’ debacle). Stoltenberg’s keynote speech at the opening of the UN economic and social council enforced that “…the greatest gains countries can achieve…come with empowering women, ensuring equal opportunity, health care, and increasing the ratio of women’s active participation in working life.” Allowing these ideas to permeate not only into wider society, but into the people implementing policies is one of the most beneficial aims of Feminism, and one that Norway has most certainly succeeded in. Many countries are entertaining the idea of quotas in boardrooms for their economic and social benefit, as well as seeing the rise of feminists everywhere with movements like ‘One Billion Rising’, combatting atrocities like abuse and rape.
It’s hard to overlook the depressing facts that women are still at risk in many places, which is why celebrations like International Women’s Day is so important. To have a day that reflects on how successful the modern society is in combating sexism, as well as reflecting on the struggles ahead for a better future, is an effective way to strive for equality. No matter what gender you align yourself with, make sure you‘re reminded of how essential an equal society is, not only for just women or Norwegians, but for everyone.
By Ruby Lott-Lavigna
Written March 2013 for International Women’s Day. Appeared on The Foreigner.