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Women at the top

Women at the top

Jonathan Power of Arab News says he’s seen the future, and it’s Norwegian. Here’s how he hopes women will inherit the earth.

November 1, 2010 2:16 by



I have just returned from a different world — one I would imagine that the British cosmologist Steven Hawkings, has never thought of.
It made me think that if we are making a list of the underdeveloped countries we had better add to that North America and most of Europe and Japan.
I’ve been in Norway, the world’s most advanced country, apart from Iceland, in successfully pursuing the art of making women equal. In a week I’ve met all sorts of women — women in high positions in companies, women working whilst the man stays at home with the baby, senior women civil servants and women doctors, who form a majority in the hospitals. I should add to that schoolgirls and women university students who are away ahead of boys in terms of achievement.

I don’t want to drown you in statistics but here are a handful of the main ones:
• Politics: In the Cabinet 50 percent of ministers are women; in Parliament 40 percent are women.
• Work: 80 percent of women have jobs.
• Company boards: In the public sector 40 percent are women; in the private sector 17 percent.
• In higher education one out of three women are studying compared with one out of four men.

Forty years ago Norway woke up to the fact that nothing much would change women playing second fiddle until there was a push. Bit by bit the frontiers have been edged forward, not without a good deal of male opposition. In 2003, when Parliament passed a law demanding a gender balance on the boards of private companies, many business leaders, according to Arni Hole, the director general of the Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, “argued loudly that able women cannot be found, women will not take on such responsibilities and our firm will go broke and we will have to leave Norway if we are to prosper.”
But there are plenty of women with the requisite skills to serve on company boards. Forced by the law, companies found them among lawyers, academics and former government ministers. Needless to say, these women don’t have too much experience in business but they have shown they are clever enough to learn the ropes quite fast.



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