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Gender Quota Discourses - The Norwegian Case
Unformatted Document Text:  Gender quota discourses – the Norwegian case Dr. Ingrid Guldvik, associate professor of Political Science, Lillehammer University College

Authors: Guldvik, Ingrid.
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Gender quota discourses – the Norwegian case
Dr. Ingrid Guldvik, associate professor of Political Science, Lillehammer University College
In this paper I will show why the implementation of gender quotas fail in spite of the fact that the
formal regulations are rather strong. I take my point of departure in a social justice perspective and
show how local representations of the formally regulating quota rules often in their turn come to
informally regulate what will actually be done to locally achieve the legislated proportions – in many
cases nothing. The politicians use a number of strategies to discursively represent the law about
quotas as simply illegitimate in their particular local political setting. The strategies range from
presenting quotas as a threat to democracy, as unnecessary or a drawback for the women who
become entered via quotas, to claiming that quotas discriminate against men. Such strategies become
part of a process of discursive regulation: if the law is successfully represented as illegitimate, it will
be logical to represent sabotaging its intentions as legitimate.
Worldwide we see an overwhelming consensus that the under-representation of women in politics
causes a problem for women’s full citizenship (Phillips, 1995). The relatively low representation of
women is seen as a democratic problem, both for women and for society as a whole. Gender quotas
have been used as a means to implement equal political representation in order to change this
systematic under-representation of women and to secure equal results for women and men. The idea
behind gender quota systems is to recruit women into political positions.
Currently, 94 countries apply constitutional, electoral or political party quotas
. However, the use of gender quotas in favour of women remains controversial
(Squires, 1996; Jones, 1998; Bauer, 2000; Htun and Jones, 2000; Weaver, 2000). This is also the case
in Norway. The first gender quota rules were included in the Norwegian Gender Equality Act of
1988, the legislation introduces a precise
aim in
that at least 40 per cent of the members
of publicly appointed committees, governing boards, councils etc. at the national level, are to be drawn
from each sex. To date, several such committees appointed by the Ministries (Defence, Environment,
and Petroleum and Energy, Agriculture and Food, Justice and Police) are still failing to fulfil the 40
per cent quota rule (The Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud 2007).
On the political arena, five out of seven Norwegian political parties have voluntarily adopted gender
quotas for party positions. Norway has also taken the step of passing a law that demand a minimum of
40 per cent of either sex in all local standing committees. In spite of this, the gender composition of
political assemblies is still biased, especially at the local level. When we take a look at Norwegian
municipalities, we see that one out of three local councillors is a woman, as is one out of four chairs of
local standing committees and one out of four mayors. On average women comprise 42 per cent of the
standing municipal committees. But large variations are apparent here, both between municipalities
and committees. In 2003, 70 per cent of the standing committees
more than 40 per cent women
members. Yet 30 per cent of the committees still consist of less than 40 per cent women members.
The Act directed that both sexes should be represented in public committees, but it did not require a minimum
That is to say the main political standing committees at the local level, such as the committee for health and
social care, the committee for school and day care issues, culture and economic development.

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