Norway demands churches to be gender-inclusive


Northern Europe


Norway wants churches to be gender-inclusive. Photo EPA, Gorm Kallestad

There is unease in religious communities in Norway about the gender demands of the new coalition government. The Labour-Centre government is on the course to only subsidise religious groups that have at least the 60-40 balance of men and women on the board.

The Norwegian daily Vart Land points out that the government wants churches and other faith groups to be a positive instrument for integration. In Norway, it has always been usual for the state to give a lot of subsidies to the church. But the new government wants to connect this money to a condition of gender equality.

Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre leads the new government. After the elections of September 13th, he was able to build a minority coalition in less than four weeks with the SP Centre Party. This is a change to the left after eight years under the Conservative Party. The gender balance in religious and philosophical communities is part of the coalition agreement. As long as the Storting, the Norwegian parliament, has not voted for this, it is no official policy yet.

Reporting by Vart Land gives the impression that the churches that receive funding at present already have an equal representation. "We do not demand that all religious and philosophical communities follow this, but those who want to apply for state support must do so", according to Labour's politician Kari Henriksen.

Churches with female majority

The Co-operation Council for Religious and Philosophical Societies (STL) sees a problem, according to Ingrid Rosendorf Joys in Vart Land. "I can point out a Buddhist congregation with 90 [per cent] women in the membership, and where one can ask oneself how democratically it becomes that one should have at least 40 per cent men."

The is said about some rural parishes of the Church of Norway, where the majority of the (board) membership consists of women. Erhard Hermansen of the Norwegian Christian Council (NKR) says that his group "positively supports" equality. "But making demands becomes difficult."

Also, the Muslim communities that get subsidies are already positive about gender representation. "But we want a change from the inside", says Senaid Kobilica from Muslim Dialogue Network (MDN). "A top-down approach is not a good Norwegian value."

Demands could lead to pressure

It is unclear what the policy will be regarding the Roman Catholic Church, however very small in Norway. The theological teaching of the Catholic Church is that offices are only for men. And the government of the church is in the hands of bishops and not boards.

The supervisor of the (independent) Evangelical Lutheran Church Society (DELK), Bertil Andersson, raises another concern against the financial pressure. "To link government subsidies to specific requirements for gender balance, I think, is unfortunate. It can also create uncertainty that there may be similar demands related to other issues both in the church debate and in society", he says.

Protestant groups in Norway with only men in offices and boards for Biblical reasons are usually small and financially independent.



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