The men’s liberation movement in Norway is underway

During my first six months in Norway I noticed that something very peculiar was going on.

It was before my son had a place in daycare and we used to go out nearly everyday to a playgroup or kiddie center. I got to know a Norwegian named Jeanette and her 6-month-old daughter Agniete. We ran into each other a few times a week and would swap war stories of early parenthood while our kids played.

And that’s when it happened – Jeanette disappeared.

I was at one of our usual playgroups and saw Agniete but her mom was nowhere. Instead Agniete was scooting happily back to a man in his mid-30’s. He was too well-dressed to be a nanny and too doting to be a waif uncle. After running into him several times we finally spoke and it turns out he was Agniete’s dad, Tom.

Tom was on pappa permisjon, or paternity leave. He said that his wife had taken six months of her maternity leave but then went back to work for a few months to get things in order, while he stepped in to take care of Agniete. Three months later Jeanette was back home to finish what was left of her mamma permisjon.

The peculiar thing that I had witnessed was the men’s rights movement in Norway.

By placing equal responsibilities on men and women, traditional gender roles have been progressively redefined.

Today is Father’s Day in Norway which in this part of the world is more than just a celebration of dads who teach kids to throw a football. This morning I made my husband fresh scones to celebrate not only his role as a father, but his rights as a man.

That’s right, I’m celebrating the freedom my husband has as a man living in Norway, which give him the right to:

  • leave the office by 5:30pm to spend time with his family (barring the occasional deadline)
  • adjust his office hours around daycare pickup/dropoff
  • have time to organize family dinners and help with housework

The Norwegian government has socially engineered a society where men and women are expected to have equal domestic and economic responsibilities. Walk around the streets of Oslo on a weekday morning and you’ll see proof: there are dads everywhere. Equipped with babybags, strollers or babycarriers, you’ll find them in coffee shops or at playgroups singing nursery rhymes.

Redistributing familial duties is simple: excellent work-to-life balance and superb parental benefits, which include a quota for fathers.

The Norwegian government spends 16 billion kroner ($2.8 billion) a year on parental benefits for a sparse population of 5 million. Here’s a breakdown of what that buys:

  • Parents share time off which is either 47 weeks off of work with 100% pay or 57 weeks off with 80% pay
  • The first six weeks are just for the mother, for obvious medical reasons
  • Of the total paid time off shared between parents, 14 weeks are reserved exclusively for the father. If he doesn’t claim this both parents lose this share of the parental benefits.

The government very clearly states that the paternity quota, established nearly 20 years ago, is designed to encourage men to share the role of caregiver at home. By placing equal responsibilities on men and women, traditional gender roles have been progressively redefined.

Last year when my then 18-month-old son had the flu, my husband’s boss heard that I was heading to the doctor and insisted that he drop everything and go to the appointment too. I was surprised by this; it was just the flu after all. But his boss appreciated that we were new to Norway and that a little extra support in the early days would go a long way. It was an example of a radically different attitude about employee welfare.

Giving men the right to care for their family is the other side of gender equality. Getting men involved at home gives women more space in the professional world. We can have children knowing that our partners’ careers will share the burden of parental leave after the birth of a child, sick days or school activities.

Father’s Day in Norway is a celebration of men who have come home and taken charge. So to all those dads celebrating today: God farsdag!

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29 thoughts on “The men’s liberation movement in Norway is underway

    • I’m actually not sure how those without kids feel about this, you bring up a really interesting aspect to this and have given me a great idea for a future post! I think a great “homework assignment” is to hangout with some local bachelors/bachelorettes – should be fun!

      • I’m just curious as those people must be the ones who are bearing the work of the others, and paying for it through tax. It’s a touchy enough subject sometimes here in the UK, where the rights are something between the US’s and Norway’s. Let us know. 🙂

      • I know what the sentiment generally is in the UK about these things – I lived there for nearly four years. In Norway I get the impression that people are ok with the idea of contributing to taxes “for the greater good.” Paying high taxes is in some ways similar to paying for insurance – everyone pays taxes, thus paying for certain governmental services they may or may not use.

        As for the burden placed on employees while their colleagues are on parental leave -there are several people on leave at my husband’s office and I’ve asked his colleagues about this. They said it’s manageable. Because the companies are designed around the socialist system, they have found a way to cope with it. I wonder if by digging deeper into this I might uncover some kind of subsidy the government gives to companies for each employee on parental leave. I’ll definitely look into this some more.

    • As someone who works in Norway and don’t have any kids (that I know of), we’re pretty ok with it. The government pays the wage for the short-term hire that covers the position of the person on leave, I think.
      I am going to retire some day. All the alternatives to that are poor. For a while Norway had really poor demographics on population growth. This helps a lot. The more people produced by taxpaying families, the better my pension.

      Also, most people with degrees frequently get their first job as short term replacement for a year for someone on maternity leave. Getting your first job after graduation can be hard, because there is a large number of protections for employed people. That makes employers leery of hiring people with no references.

      So even people without kids benefit at the start and end of our careers.

      • Hi there! I’m so glad you’ve chimed in, I don’t think I know anyone who could have so succinctly explained how singles or folks without kids feel about the local system. I had a hunch that everyone was ok with it because they’re raised to contribute to “the greater good.”

        Thanks for writing!

    • The difference between Norway and the US is the amount of oil Norway has. This is a very rich country with a small population, it can throw a lot of cash toward making people’s lives easier. Unlike Norway, the US welcomes more immigrants and spends more (proportionally) on military. What I want Americans to learn from what I write about Norway is that the concept of “socialism” is not as scary a concept as certain politicians portrayed it to be. It’s something that we should be able to discuss intelligently and not use as a pejorative term.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Actually one of the best kept secrets in the USA except for the people who live in North or South Dakota because we are seeing the influx of people and industry, especially the area of Western, ND. Do a search on Williston, ND and you should hit it. Sorry, I don’t have enough tech savy to know how to link.

      • Well…Norway doesn’t actually spend any of the oil income, that is actually saved up in a sovereign wealth fund for after the oil runs out. Everything is financed in the same way as in other countries.

        As for the military, its not the major spending difference, healthcare is. On the military, Norway spends 2 % of GDP, the US just over 4 %.
        Norway spends 9 % of GDP on healthcare, public and private. The US spends 18 %. Thats what eats up most of the difference.

        And…”socialism”. Thats an economic setup where the government owns the businesses. Like North Korea or Cuba. Norway is quite capitalist. Norway just spends a lot of the money it makes through being capitalist on big social programs. When I talk to Americans, they often get social programs confused with socialism. And therefore think that more social programs mean less capitalism.

        But social programs really have nothing to do with socialism. Socialism is a setup for earning money, social programs is about what you spend it on.

      • A few people have mentioned this theory that Norway is actually capitalist, but I didn’t truly understand it until you’re comment. You’ve found the nuance of Norway and socialism much quicker than I did. I hope to keep hearing from you!

  1. I’m from the Netherlands, but I now live in America. We had a similar set-up in Holland, but a little shorter, I think. Six months for moms and three months for dads, or something like that. I was single and I had no problem with it. After all, I had eight weeks paid vacation PLUS vacation pay to go wherever I liked.

    • I’ve heard that the Netherlands has a pretty good parental benefit scheme. Norway’s seems the best (according to various rankings) but I think most of Europe is very conscious of what parents need after they have a child.

      • Exactly. America may be ahead where women int he workforce are concerned, but it’s far behind in parental leave and just simple understanding.

      • That’s what is so impressive about Norway. People simply understand what it means to be a parent and see parenthood as a very important part of society and our future.

      • It’s also because outside America not everything is about the bottom line in general, and that makes it easier for a boss to say, “Hey, just take some time off.”

      • I’m not sure that being fast-paced is what made it good at technology and such. That’s more innovative thinking. America is below many European countries in productivity, and I think that’s exactly because people have no spare time or vacations or just a nice working environment, so many people hate their jobs and aren’t as productive as they could be.

      • You’re right about feeling overworked – when I got my first job in the US I remember I had 0 vacation days while my boss had so many that he was being forced to take time off. Six months later I was so burned out and remember thinking that if I could have just two days off I would come back refreshed and ready to work hard. Instead I came to work everyday, working very apathetically on some days, until I painstakingly accrued time off.

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