Christian Benoni interviews AUDUN LYSBAKKEN, Norway’s first male minister for Gender Equality
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 (IPS/TerraViva) Gender equality in all its aspects has been the primary issue on the minds of delegates attending the two-week U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. And one factor that has emerged clearly is the need for involvement of men in this fight.
Audun Lysbakken, Norway’s first male minister for Gender Equality and Children’s Affairs, is the epitome of this fight. The 32-year-old deputy leader of the Socialist left party has sought to revitalise the gender equality debate in Norway, where he is involved in a spirited campaign to raise men’s awareness about the importance of women empowerment.
He has successfully advocated for mandated paternity leave, one of the most extensive parental leave schemes in the world – 46 weeks, with 10 weeks for the father – fully paid. He is a firm believer in men staying at home to help in the upbringing of their children.
Lysbakken speaks candidly with Terraviva’s Christian Benoni about his campaign. ¬†¬†
TV: How do you feel being the first male minister for a ministry that has in most instances been headed by women?
AL: I am very proud to be a minister of gender equality and children, and I believe it is important that men know and understand the necessity of gender equality. My point here is that if we are to have development, if we are to have economic recovery, equality is extremely important. If we continue to sideline half of the world’s population ‚Äď women – then we will not see development. We see that the countries that invest in women and girls are improving and developing, whereas the countries that do not are lagging behind; they are slowing down their development.¬†¬† ¬†¬†
TV: What is the role of men in gender empowerment; and are they performing it?
AL: Overall, men today are not performing that role, but we are trying to encourage men in Norway to do it. I think more and more men are beginning to build an interest in gender equality and are realising it is a common good for our society. It means that our economic performance will do better, we will have more welfare if we use the resources of women as well.
But then I believe also, for a lot of men in our country, the right to choose to be at home with children when they are small, to be fathers the same way that women are mothers, is something more and more men are beginning to embrace.
Then lastly I believe men need to mobilise other men to change their culture and attitude when it comes to issues about violence against women, because all men have a responsibility to do something about this problem. As long as violence against women persists, we can never reach full gender equality.
TV: You are an advocate for mandated paternity leave. How has the response been in your country, and what lesson does it carry for developing nations?
AL: The response has been tremendous in my country. It means that it is possible for women to combine careers and having children, and it is even easier with the support of men who also stay at home for some time helping with taking care of the children. This creates more room for women in working life. I believe this is an important investment for countries.
Norway did not invest in paternity leave schemes after it got prosperous. We are prosperous because we invested in gender equality and it is important that all nations see that equality is a prerequisite for development, not the other way round.
¬†TV: How practical is this in the developing world considering the issue of affordability?
¬†AL: Of course there will always be a relation between what you can achieve and the economic situation. My point is that we must not see equality as something that we should create after a nation has become prosperous because equality is important to make a nation prosperous. This means that if we do not invest in the female population, a lot of problems will persist.
For instance, education for the girl child is probably one most effective investment for development. Over the last 15 years since we adopted the Beijing Platform for action, more girls across the world have access to education. But there are other areas where little progress has been made.
TV: Like which ones?
AL: In many parts of the world, the most dangerous thing a woman can do is to give birth. There has been practically no progress at all in reducing maternal mortality since Beijing. The same political will that has seen investment in education should be applied to addressing maternal mortality so that women have access to basic health services.
We need to ensure the right policy change, and back such change with adequate funding. If we neglect this, we will be treating women as second-class citizens despite all the international treaties and resolutions we have solemnly adopted.