Norway has enacted legislation against many different types of discrimination – for example, discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, political view, sexual orientation, functionality and age.
“Our research shows that legislation related to gender equality has served as a model for protection against discrimination in other areas. In a number of important areas this protection has been formulated in the same way as for gender equality. Thus both protection against discrimination and the opportunity to practice preferential treatment in certain cases have been strengthened for many groups,” says Mari Teigen.
Dr Teigen is the research director for the areas of gender equality, inclusion and migration at the Institute for Social Research in Oslo. She has headed a project on multidimensional gender equality which investigates different types of equality in various areas of society in relation to each other.
Efforts are now underway in many countries to expand and coordinate the basis on which the right to protection is granted. As legislation has gradually begun to include several different forms of discrimination, it has also become even clearer that several types of inequality may be at play at the same time.
“One example could be when an older woman with a minority background is unfairly passed over in a hiring process. Does this happen because she is a woman, because she is older or because she is a minority? Or is it because the combination of these characteristics conjures up negative associations or stereotypes in the mind of the employer?” asks Dr Teigen.
If it is a combination of several types of discrimination, it is called intersectional discrimination.
Differences in the Nordic countries
Many countries are currently expanding and harmonising their national anti-discrimination legislation, but the laws are not necessarily formulated in the same way across national borders. The Norwegian researchers have studied the reform of anti-discrimination legislation and legal practice in the Nordic countries.
“Our study of the change processes shows in general that while the laws carry on national traditions, they are influenced by international trends. We also see that the changes taking place internationally have strengthened national traditions in the Nordic countries to some degree,” Dr Teigen explains.
Norway has separate laws for the various areas, but the authorities have done a lot to harmonise the legislation using gender equality as the driving force. In Sweden the relevant areas of the law have been consolidated into a single act.
“It can nonetheless be said that the Swedes have done less to harmonise the content of their legislation than we have in Norway. This applies in particular to the duty to promote gender equality proactively. This means that there is less protection against discrimination for some groups in Sweden than there is in Norway.”
“Denmark, however, has the weakest protection of all the Nordic countries. This can be explained by the fact that the Danes in general have a weaker tradition for institutional gender equality policy,” Dr Teigen emphasises.
Strong on legislation – weak on policy
In 2006, there was an important shift in the way discrimination cases in Norway were handled. The office of the gender equality ombud and several other ombudsman positions were consolidated into a new Equality Ombudsman.”
“The consolidation has been a success in many ways. Expertise in the field was gathered under one umbrella, which helped to harmonise the legislation within the framework of separate laws. Not least, it afforded the opportunity for equal treatment and competence-building across various types of equality and in various areas of society,” says Dr Teigen.
However, although Norway is strong on legislation, studies show that attempts to put gender equality policy into practice have come up short.
“The ministries are responsible for implementing gender equality policy in their areas. As it turns out in practice, gender equality must often give way to other considerations.”
“Norway lacks a coordinating authority and a comprehensive approach to ensuring that intentions are put into practice. We also see there is a great need for more knowledge and analysis,” concludes Dr Teigen.
Translated by Connie Stultz / Carol B. Eckmann.
Mari Teigen is research director for gender equality, inclusion and migration at the Institute for Social Research in Oslo.
Her project "Multidimensional equality - Legislative reforms and judicial practices" is funded by the Programme for Gender Research at the Research Council of Norway.