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100th Year of Democracy for Women in Norway

On 11 June 2013
it has been 100 years since Norwegian women gained the right to vote and Norway
became a true democracy. Norway was the first independent country in the world
to introduce universal suffrage, with women and men enjoying equal democratic
rights. The Government has celebrated this centenary locally, nationally and
internationally. We dived into the historical experience of Norwegian women in
politics.

In 1814, in the
wake of the Napoleonic Wars, Norway gained its own constitution and one of the
most democratic electoral systems of the time. That year, the Danish-Norwegian
union was dissolved after almost 400 years, and on 17 May 1814 a group of
elected representatives gathered in Eidsvoll, not far from Oslo, to adopt a new
constitution for the Norwegian state. The constituent assembly at Eidsvoll
based this document on the principle of popular sovereignty, deciding that the
country should be governed by representatives elected by the people. These
founders of modern Norway were inspired by the French constitution of 1791 and
the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and constitution (1787).

Women Do not Belong to Public Sphere

The new
Norwegian constitution granted the vote to men in official positions and to
those with property, of which Norway had a great number due to its tradition of
free landowning farmers. No women could vote; nor could the large numbers of
men without property. When all adult men in Norway gained the right to vote in
1898, it was a major step in the country’s democratic evolution. But not until
women received the vote in 1913 did Norway become a genuine democracy.
Globally, Norway was a universal suffrage pioneer. It is true that three
countries had already introduced universal suffrage – New Zealand in 1893,
Australia in 1902 and Finland in 1906 – but they were not independent states at
the time. Norway was the first sovereign state to extend the vote to all adults.
The right to vote gave women a formal foundation on which to participate in
democratic bodies on an equal footing with men. A cause championed since the
French Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment had finally been won.

Exceptional Rights to Higher Class Women

Liberal
politician Gina Krog was the leading campaigner for women’s suffrage in Norway
from the 1880s. She founded the Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights and
the National Association for Women’s Suffrage to promote this cause. Members of
these organizations were politically well-connected and well organized and in a
few years gradually succeeded in obtaining equal rights for women. Middle class
women could were given the right to vote in municipal elections in 1901 and
parliamentary elections in 1907. Universal suffrage for women in municipal
elections was introduced in 1910, and in 1913 a motion on universal suffrage
for women was adopted unanimously by the Norwegian parliament (Stortinget).
Norway thus became the first independent country to introduce women’s suffrage

 

General
elections in Drammen, and Oslo 1909. Women from the bourgeoisie and middle
class vote for the first time. 

A threat to traditional home life

Speaking after
the vote in 1913, Gina Krog, commented that she and her fellow campaigners had
never doubted they would win, but had never dreamt the victory would be so
complete or perfect. It was then 28 years since Krog had launched the first
association for women’s voting rights, and 23 years since members of the
Storting (The Norwegian parliament) had first considered a proposal to let
women vote – a proposal rejected, 70 to 44.

At the time of
that rejection, a number of Storting members held the view that women’s nature
posed an obstacle to political participation. They argued that the two sexes
each had their natural working domains, and that gender equality was therefore
not desirable. The majority of the Storting’s constitution committee voted
against women’s suffrage on grounds that it would damage family life and
conflict with women’s natural calling. Ultimately, many committee members
thought that giving women the right to vote would destroy traditional home
life.

Mood is Changing in favor of Women

This argument
was most common in church circles, and the most vociferous attacks on
introducing the vote for women came from Bishop J. C. Heuch. “She can’t do the
work of men, and she won’t do the work of women. What does that make her? It
makes her a deformed monstrosity, a thing of no gender,” he argued.

By 1913, the
mood had changed. When the issue arrived in the Storting, all political parties
had suffrage for women on their agendas. No one spoke out against it in the
debate, and all members voted in favor of the proposal. So, women’s struggle to
acquire the vote ended in victory 99 years after Norway had adopted a
constitution establishing that the country should be ruled by its people.

Two terms waiting in line

It was not until
1922, however, that a woman was elected to the Storting. Her name was Karen
Platou, a representative of the Conservative party, or Høyre. In 1981, the
election of Norway’s first woman Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, was an
equally momentous event. Brundtland represented the Labour party,
Arbeiderpartiet, and later became known worldwide for her 1986 “women’s
government”, in which eight of 18 ministers were women. In 1993, Kirsti Kolle
Grøndahl became the first female President of the Storting, the highest
position in Norway after that of the reigning monarch. Since Norway’s most
recent general election, in 2009, women have held around 40 % of the Storting
seats and half of the Government’s ministerial posts.

Women in Parliament today

In the last
parliamentary elections, 67 women were elected, which ranked Norway 11th on the
world scale with 39.64% female representation in Parliament, right after
Iceland (39.7%).. For the first time there is a party in Parliament with 100
percent women representative – Venstre (Left). Marit Nybakk (Labour) was a
member of the Presidency as third vice president of the Parliament. Four of the
seven parties were represented the female party group leaders in Parliament after
the elections in 2009.

In this election,
a total of 1644 women candidates (40.28%) compete for a seat in the Parliament
of Norway. The percentage of women candidates has fallen by 2% compared to last
elections. There are a total of 4081 candidates running for 169 parliamentary
seats.

Milestones of Norwegian
Political History: Women in Politics

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