Friday, March 13, 2009

Norwegian society

Norwegian values are rooted in egalitarian ideals. At the beginning of the 20th century, we began enacting fairly radical welfare laws, culminating in the post-war years' sweeping reforms that turned Norway into the progressive welfare state it is today. The welfare state is still the ideal for most Norwegians, not least because it seems to be doing quite well.

Norway undoubtedly has one of the best welfare systems in the world, making sure that people who are sick and unable to work, or who are unemployed for whatever reason are not left out in the cold, but are given support so that they are able to live with dignity. this, coupled with a strong public education system and public health care system, has lead to a society in which it is easier to bounce back from a bad start in life, or a bad year.

We like to think that it is these ideals, and not just our monetary wealth, that has made the United Nations consistently rank Norway as the best country in which to live in recent years.

Egality and equality
The egalitarian values which are at the root of the welfare state also manifest themselves throughout Norwegian society in many ways - for instance in the field of gender equality. The novel idea that women are equal to men and should therefore have an equal say in running society did take some time to catch hold in most of the world, but Norway was in the lead: it was one of the first nations to give women the right to vote. Norway was also among the first countries in the world to elect a female prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was elected prime minister of Norway in 1981 (and had eight women in her cabinet, an incredible number at the time), and who later served in that position for most of the late eighties and the first half of the nineties.

Because of this, and active government support of gender equality, women have been steadily climbing in standing over the past fifty years. Still, the goal of total equality remains a long way off: while forty percent of the representatives in Parliament are female, only one in every ten company directors are women. Gender equality has certainly changed the Norwegian male’s role as a father.

Norway has a paternity leave quota, so that fathers can also take extended time off to be with their children. This has helped make the mixing of careers and family a lot easier.

New cultures arrive
Norway is still new at multiculturalism. From being a mostly ethnically homogenous society, Norway has gone to being a globalised, culturally diverse nation with massive immigrant communities, and has done so in just 35 years. Forty years ago, most Norwegians had never seen anyone with dark skin, and today nearly a quarter of the citizens of the capital city, Oslo, are immigrants, as is a little over 8% of the total population of Norway.

The transition process has not been easy or painless, but while there is still some cultural tension between immigrants and ethnic Norwegians, Norway seems to be learning fast. Most people, particularly in cities, view multi-ethnicity as a natural part of their everyday life.


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