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Equality between the sexes

What is gender equality?

©Hallgeir Vågenes/Scanpix©Hallgeir Vågenes/Scanpix

Gender equality means men and women having the same rights and obligations, and everyone having the same opportunities in society. Gender equality is also about justice and about sharing responsibilities, both in the family and society. If gender prevents us from seeing the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, this can lead to discrimination and limited opportunities for the individual.


The Norwegian Gender Equality Act was passed in 1978. It is intended to ensure that men and women are treated equally. The act is important for both sexes, though it is the position of women that is in particular focus.

Women fought for equality for many years before the Norwegian Gender Equality Act was passed. Women won inheritance rights equal to men’s in 1854, and unmarried women won the right to be considered independent adults in 1864. Married women did not win this right until 1888. This meant they now had control over what was done with their own assets.

The Norwegian Association for Women's Rights was founded in 1884. Its members were both women and men.

©Universitetsbiblioteket i Bergen©Universitetsbiblioteket i Bergen

Towards the end of the 1800s, women won new opportunities in education and their choice of professions. Women won the right to work as teachers in 1870. Society was changing quickly at this time and there was a big demand for new labour. Many women started to work in telegraph services or telephone switchboards. Both of these were workplaces based on new technology. Many of the new women’s professions required training. The new opportunities were primarily of importance to middle class women.

Working class women had long worked in factories. Around 1/3 of all women of working age were in paid work by the end of the 1800s. Most of them were young and unmarried.

Important years in the history of gender equality in Norway

  • 1910 Women won the right to vote in local authority elections
  • 1911 First female deputy member in the Storting (Anna Rogstad)
  • 1913 Women won the universal right to vote on the same terms as men.
  • 1922 First female member of the Storting (Karen Platou)
  • 1945 First female cabinet minister (Kirsten Hansteen)
  • 1961 First female vicar (Ingrid Bjerkås)
  • 1968 First female Supreme Court judge (Lilly Bølviken)
  • 1974 First female chief administrative officer of a county (Ebba Lodden)
  • 1978 First female gender equality ombud (Eva Kolstad)
  • 1981 First female prime minister (Gro Harlem Brundtland)
Gro Harlem Brundtland (of the Labour Party) formed a government in 1981. She was prime minister for many years. ©Helge Mikalsen/ScanpixGro Harlem Brundtland (of the Labour Party) formed a government in 1981. She was prime minister for many years. ©Helge Mikalsen/Scanpix

If you want to read more about gender equality you can visit the The Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud’s website.

What do you see in Norway that shows that Norway is an equal society?

Discuss the struggle for gender equality from the end of the 1800s and thereafter.

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