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Gender (im)Balances in Local Politics in Norway: Hindrances to Leadership
Unformatted Document Text:  Two definitions Keeping to a gender neutral vocabulary, we introduce two main terms to relate to: gender balance and gender power balance. With the fist one, we refer to the distribution of women and men among elected officers, i.e. participants in elected assemblies (in our research at the local level: municipal and city councils). The gender power balance refers to the distribution of power positions among women and men: the “which group(s) dominates which chairs” question. Usually, we can note a significant decline in gender ratios from representative to power based arenas. While there seem to be sufficient numbers of women and men in the elected assemblies to distribute positions over, the outcome of distributive processes show that council women are not found in equal proportions to council men among those with power position. We may state that gender balance is a necessary, but not sufficient prerequisite for establishing a fair gender power balance, but more is at stake. Gender balance is one type of inclusion in the political arena. Gender power balance is more than a fair distribution of power positions. It is not the final “step” into politics, the ultimate integration of “newcomers” on the arena, as Rokkan describes (we return to that). Gender power balance is about redistribution, it is about power and a specific power relation: gender power. The correct, but rather hopeless terminology would probably be “gender power power balance”, signifying the undervaluing of one category in the political sphere, the discounting of one category’s interests to define and defend their interests and priorities in the polity and the non-acknowledgement of this category’s marginalization and discrimination as a group/category. The fact that some individual women may have obtained access to power positions is often taken as proof that the collective is not discriminated against. The concept of gender power balance points to different opportunity structures, differences in possibilities for women to access representative assemblies (like local councils) and to access power positions; and differences for women and men to get through “the gate” and to get passed the gatekeepers. It may be clarifying to establish a connection between this concept of gender power balance and Fraser’s concept of distribution and redistribution (Fraser, 2003). Power positions are seen as scarce resources (not economic or material ones), resources that need to be distributed more equal, that is: redistributed more just among different groups, i.e. groups and categories with interests different from/conflicting with the dominant category(ies). Local politics is for some a school in democracy, learning to exercise democratic principles; for others it is more a junior high school, i.e. a first step in a political career. Others again see it as the ultimate possibility to influence the immediate living conditions; where are schools to be situated, what kind of schools will be build, how to ensure safe playgrounds and walking areas, where to situate commercial areas etc. Norway has per 1. January 2008 431 local polities; the total number of local councillors is 10 946, of which 4.107 are women after the 2007 local election (SSB, 2008). The polities vary from very small ones with only a few thousand citizens to cities such as Oslo with 560.000 citizens and a 46/54 women/men ratio in the city council and Bergen (43/57) with around 250.000 citizens. In Oslo, Bergen and a few other cities local democracy is instituted in neighbourhood councils. The idea of local democracy and decentralised decision-making has a high stand in Norwegian political culture. 5 5 The reality may often turn out to be quite different, since one of the other high standing principles in Norwegian political culture is ensuring equal living conditions wherever one lives. Such a principle demands a rather centralised government and thus counteracting the principle of local autonomy 6 of 29

Authors: van der Ros, Janneke.
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background image
Two definitions
Keeping to a gender neutral vocabulary, we introduce two main terms to relate to: gender
balance and gender power balance. With the fist one, we refer to the distribution of women
and men among elected officers, i.e. participants in elected assemblies (in our research at the
local level: municipal and city councils).
The gender power balance refers to the distribution of power positions among women and
men: the “which group(s) dominates which chairs” question. Usually, we can note a
significant decline in gender ratios from representative to power based arenas. While there
seem to be sufficient numbers of women and men in the elected assemblies to distribute
positions over, the outcome of distributive processes show that council women are not found
in equal proportions to council men among those with power position.
We may state that gender balance is a necessary, but not sufficient prerequisite for
establishing a fair gender power balance, but more is at stake. Gender balance is one type of
inclusion in the political arena. Gender power balance is more than a fair distribution of
power positions. It is not the final “step” into politics, the ultimate integration of
“newcomers” on the arena, as Rokkan describes (we return to that). Gender power balance is
about redistribution, it is about power and a specific power relation: gender power. The
correct, but rather hopeless terminology would probably be “gender power power balance”,
signifying the undervaluing of one category in the political sphere, the discounting of one
category’s interests to define and defend their interests and priorities in the polity and the non-
acknowledgement of this category’s marginalization and discrimination as a group/category.
The fact that some individual women may have obtained access to power positions is often
taken as proof that the collective is not discriminated against. The concept of gender power
balance points to different opportunity structures, differences in possibilities for women to
access representative assemblies (like local councils) and to access power positions; and
differences for women and men to get through “the gate” and to get passed the gatekeepers. It
may be clarifying to establish a connection between this concept of gender power balance and
Fraser’s concept of distribution and redistribution (Fraser, 2003). Power positions are seen as
scarce resources (not economic or material ones), resources that need to be distributed more
equal, that is: redistributed more just among different groups, i.e. groups and categories with
interests different from/conflicting with the dominant category(ies).
Local politics is for some a school in democracy, learning to exercise democratic principles;
for others it is more a junior high school, i.e. a first step in a political career. Others again see
it as the ultimate possibility to influence the immediate living conditions; where are schools to
be situated, what kind of schools will be build, how to ensure safe playgrounds and walking
areas, where to situate commercial areas etc. Norway has per 1. January 2008 431 local
polities; the total number of local councillors is 10 946, of which 4.107 are women after the
2007 local election (SSB, 2008). The polities vary from very small ones with only a few
thousand citizens to cities such as Oslo with 560.000 citizens and a 46/54 women/men ratio in
the city council and Bergen (43/57) with around 250.000 citizens. In Oslo, Bergen and a few
other cities local democracy is instituted in neighbourhood councils. The idea of local
democracy and decentralised decision-making has a high stand in Norwegian political
culture.
5
The reality may often turn out to be quite different, since one of the other high standing principles in
Norwegian political culture is ensuring equal living conditions wherever one lives. Such a principle demands a
rather centralised government and thus counteracting the principle of local autonomy
6 of 29


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