Gender Equality in the Agder region municipalities

Summary by Liss Schanke, KS, 3.10.2008


The project “Gender Equality and Working Life in the Agder Region” was initiated in 2002, based on the bottom scores of the Agder Region in the Norwegian National Gender Index. The index combines scores for different indicators that are perceived as relevant to gender equality:
- Kindergarten coverage
- Percentage of women in the population
- Percentage of women in the elected municipal councils
- Salaries of women
- Educational level of women
- Percentage of women in the labour force.

The project has so far lead to four studies, all done by the Agder Research Institute, which is presently a part of the Agder University, all funded by the Agder Regional Council and the two counties in the region.

Regional knowledge base
The projects constitute a unique regional knowledge base on the development of municipal gender initiatives one Norwegian region and has definitely lead to an increased focus on the importance of gender equality as a precondition for the full utilisation of the local human resource potential and thereby for a positive regional economic development.

Need for specific initiatives and cultural change processes
The regional knowledge base is a joint advantage for all local actors within Agder region, the public sector, private enterprises, politics and civil society. The specific regional knowledge is important as any initiatives have to be adapted to the local context. Generally speaking, initiatives that facilitate women’s participation in working life and access to good and cheap kindergartens will have a positive influence on women’s participation in working life. However, the importance of cultural factors imply that facilitation of working life and childcare alone will only be able to fulfil part of the unused potential of the women in the region. Cultural change processes affecting targeting individual and collective attitudes are time consuming and must be seen in a long term perspective. Local actors within public administration, private enterprises, media, politics and civil society may contribute to change processes by creating discussions on attitudes regarding the participation of men and women on different arenas.

The role of the research institution
Generally speaking, the role of the Agder Research in the projects has been to assist the municipalities in their work for gender equality, to facilitate the contact between the participating municipalities, and to disseminate processes and initiatives. The Agder Research participation in the development work of the project is based on their own research regarding gender equality. Both the municipalities and Agder Research sees the cooperation between municipalities and a research institution as positive.


The project focuses on the participation of women in the working life, as this is seen as the entrance ticket to important welfare benefits, i.e. economic benefits during sick leave and unemployment as well as pensions. In addition, it is likely that a formal salary may have a positive impact on women’s influence on domestic economic decisions, as well as in the local community and society in general.

Combination of factors
The study shows that the relatively low participation of Agder vomen in working life is due to a combination of different factors:
- Gender Equality focus or initiatives are absent in many of the Agder municipalities, and the local variation re. women’s participation in working life do not seem to be due to municipal variation.
- The Agder Region has relatively few women with higher education, a high percentage of persons retired for health reasons and of them, a high percentage of women. In addition, there are many persons employed in the secondary sector – combined with a tendency to gender traditional choices with regard to professions and gender roles.

The municipalities that achieve the highest score when it comes to women’s participation in working life are those that show the following characteristics:
- a high number of jobs, and a labour market that is well adapted to women, i.e. public sector and services
- a strong municipal economy and a high kindergarten coverage
- without strong traditional gender attitudes, e.g. expecting women to spend the major part of their time at home with their children.

In addition, the highest score is achieved for municipalities that are situated far from the cost. The municipalities with status as towns have a low score when it comes to female working life participation even if they have many jobs for women. This may be linked to cultural factors as the Norwegian religious strong holds are generally situated along the coast.

Traditional gender roles
In spite of the importance of jobs and kindergartens, the cultural factors seem to be very important for explaining the relatively low work life participation of women in the Agder region. The region is marked by a general perception that it is good for children to have their mother at home a large part of the time, and local norms make mothers the responsible for achieving this. To be a good mother is understood as adapting to the needs of others and not working “too much”. The most family oriented mothers are the carriers of these ideals and “sanction” other mothers. The fathers also play a role in the decision of the women by assuming a gender based division between work outside and within the house.


This project studies the situation for women in management positions or with management ambitions in the Agder Region that were part of the “Female Future Program”. The main question for the study has been
- the importance of the gender element in the assessment of how the women have reached leadership positions and how they experience being in the positions.

- which elements of the Female Future program and the participants may contribute to promoting changes in the Agder region with regard to work life, private enterprises and - included the changes that the participants themselves have experienced during the program.

Importance of the gender element
Based on individual interviews and group interviews, the report concludes that the gender element is not experienced as important when it comes to taking an education, working and taking on a management career. Nevertheless, the gender element represents an important category when it comes to describing and explaining the experiences, mainly the experiences linked to work life and the management role. In addition, one implication of the experiences with the Female Future programme seems to be that the program networking and thereby the implied social capital, may contribute to the development of working life, private enterprises and public life in the Agder region.

Reached high positions for various reasons
The study shows that the women have reached management positions for various reasons:
- it was always supposed that she would take higher education and work outside her home
- she has always been competent in the positions she has had
- her competence has been noticed and she has been exposed to new challenges
- she has been supported by her close family and friends when it comes to their attitudes and practical assistance
- she has experienced living and working in other places than the Agder region.

Comfortable in their roles
The study shows that the participants are comfortable in their management roles. They seem to be focusing more on the fact that the management role as it is generally presented and perceived seem to be felt as more “natural” for men than for women, than on the fact that men and women implement the management role differently. The participants do not seem to be preoccupied with whether they are working in a male dominated enterprise or at a level that is dominated by men. Nevertheless, the participants have experiences that are related to gender, e.g. with regard to pregnancy leave or the challenges of being taken seriously when you are both a woman and younger than the male employees.

Some of the participants say that participating in the Female Future program has increased their awareness on gender issues, realizing that the lack of gender balance in working life is not necessarily and only linked to men possessing competence and experience and are thereby more qualified than women, but also to cultural attitudes implying that this statement is perceived as a truth.

The importance of networks
The most important change after participating in the Female Future program seems to be related its network of women. The network is making women visible to themselves and to others, and this may be important for further recruiting and promoting of women in the Agder Region.


Agder Research performed a mapping of the work related to gender equality in the municipalities in the Agder region in 2004-2005. The result was depressing. Very many of the
municipalities had no understanding of the problems related to lacking gender equality, and many of these had not developed plans or initiatives on the issue. Only few of the municipalities in the region were working systematically with gender equality.

In spring 2007, The Agder regional office of the Norwegian Association for Local and Regional Authorities did a mapping of the gender equality work in the Agder muncipalities on whether gender equality was mentioned in their municipal and county plans. The answers showed that approximately 30% have now done so.

The objective of the Agder Research initiative was to collect additional information on the gender equality focus of the planning process: background, participation of different groups and evaluation of the processes.

Fee municipalities have worked systematically
The study shows that only very few of the municipalities in the region have worked systematically on gender equality issues through including participants beyond the municipal council and administration. This indicates that most of the municipalities do not see themselves as development actors for gender equality.

The study also shows that many of the municipalities have not integrated gender equality in their plans. Both the lack of plans and the lack of initiatives must be seen as problematic if the objective is to improve the low gender equality scores in the region.

Three successful municipalities
The most successful municipalities in this area are the three municipalities Farsund, Kvinesdal and Lindesnes, and for those the understanding of the problems related to gender equality has definitely increased, when it comes to reasons as well as consequences. For those three municipalities it has been positive to start with the development of specific gender equality initiatives and later integrate these into the municipal plans. In addition to the general local interest, it has been important to have some local contact persons who were deeply committed as well as focusing on actual implementation.


The report describes processes and initiatives in the work for increased gender equality in selected municipalities in the Agder region. The municipalities have been cooperating with Agder Research on elaboration and implementation of gender equality initiatives in a development project 2006-2007 called “Gender Equality in the Municipalities in the Agder region”, funded by the Agder Regional Council and the 2 county municipalities in the region.

Five pilot municipalities
The objective of the project has been to contribute to increased work for gender equality in the 5 pilot municipalities, and document their work in such a way that it may inspire others for similar work. The 5 pilot municipalities were Arendal, Farsund, Gjerstad, Kvinesdal and Lindesnes, selected because they showed an active interest in the subject. .

Different focus areas
The actual focus areas were selected by the municipalities themselves and include the following:
- women’s political participation in the council
- women’s role in development of local economy and local enterprises
- gender equality in schools and kindergartens
- the municipal gender policies towards staff
- full time versus part time jobs for women
This development project represents an action oriented continuation of he first study regarding choices and priorities of mothers in the Agder region. This project showed that some of the municipalities in the Agder region stated that they were not interested in gender equality and was relative indifferent to the subject. A few others was beginning to understand the importance of participation and real democracy for long run development and thereby had an increase understanding of gender equality. This project wanted to initiate a cooperation with the municipalities that had reached this level and give them the knowledge they needed to create a thorough understanding of the problem and implement gender equality initiatives.


Unfortunately, the reports mentioned above are only available in Norwegian.
Agder Research: R&D report 5/2005
Work in and outside the home: The choices and priorities of mothers in the Agder region
Report from the project “Gender equality and working life in Agder”
May-Linda Magnussen, Trond Stalsberg Mydland and Gro Kvale

Agder Research: R&D report 2/2006
Management-oriented women in Agder
The experiences regarding the Agder professional and public life of the participants in the project “Female Future”
Gro Kvåle, May-Linda Magnussen, Liv Mari Nesje, Trond Stalsberg Mydland

Agder Research: Project report 4/2007
Gender equality in municipal and county plans in Agder
May-Linda Magnussen

Agder Research: Project report 5/2007
Gender equality work
Processes and initiatives
Initiatives for increased gender equality in selected municipalities in Agder
May-Linda Magnussen

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