The hearing note on Norway’s seventh periodic report on the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women 2002–2005 from the MiRA Resources centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugees Women in Norway.

The MiRA Resource Centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women aims to promote gender and racial equality for the ethnic minority women in Norway. We try to increase awareness about the specific conditions that often determine the life quality of minority women. Through well established legal and social services, information and networking, The MiRA Centre tries to strengthen minority women’s position in Norwegian society. The MiRA Centre is a place for self organisation and through the active participation of minority women themselves, the centre has created a space where we can define our own realities and name our own problems and strengths.

The MiRA Centre is very happy to receive the draft report on Norway’s seventh periodic report on the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women 2002 – 2005 for hearing. As our main goal is to empower minority women living in Norway and to provide them a forum for their own growth, the following hearing note is based on our experiences from working with the issues directly, on everyday bases. We feel that despite a high level of gender equality in Norway, the situation of minority women lag behind the usual gender equality situation. In order to strengthen gender equality for minority women, the multiple forms of discrimination such as ethnicity, race, religion and so on has to be taken into consideration while making the policies.

Due to various resource factors we have selected only a few Articles to comment in this hearing note.

Article 6. On Violence, Traffic in Women, and Prostitution

– The MiRA Centre welcomes the changes in the law of 20. May 2005 nr. 28 to protect the victims of violence against multiple forms of threats and other forms of harassment. These laws provide the necessary tools for the law enforcement agencies such as the police to act in a more effective way. However, we are worried about the police’s handling of the cases filed by the minority women. Our experience at the MiRA Centre shows that the police often overlook the multiple forms of violence when it comes to the minority communities and most of the cases of racial harassment are not even investigated. The diverse forms of family violence is also given less priority because such violence is considered being a part of minority communities’ cultures by the police.

– The MiRA Centre has also experienced that a number of black and minority women who are victims of rape have been discouraged by the police to file a case against the culprits. The main reason given by the registering police officers has been that the women lack evidence which prove that it was rape. As we know that it takes a lot of courage from a woman to file a case against her rapist. But when these cases are not taken seriously by the police, it discourages other women to report a rape and sexual harassment.

– A number of minority women have reported that the cases filed by them against the perpetrators are often not followed up by the police. After an inquiry by the MiRA Centre, the department of gender equality is now trying to collect some statistics on the issue. A couple of students have been hired by the department to gather data about the police’s handling of the cases filed by black and minority women. We hope that there will be a serious effort to secure and protect women from being double discriminated and their rights violated.

– The women who do not have permanent residence permit in Norway are another vulnerable group when it comes to gender equality. Times and again the Norwegian government has been made aware of the violation of gender equality laws in relation to immigration legislation. Particularly the three years rule, before a woman can get independent legal status, is clearly a hindrance in gender equality. Although the government has assured that women who are the victims of violence would get residence permits even if their stay is shorter than three years, the practice is very different. The migrant and refugee women have to prove that the physical violence within the marital relationships has taken place and they have to document this claim. More than often the medical reports are not considered adequate. There are many male spouses who know that using physical violence might leads to the criminal charges against them. Instead of direct physical violence, we are witnessing more and more cases of psychological violence. Most of the women find it very difficult to prove psychological violence and other forms of harassments which do not leave the blue marks on their bodies. This form of violence is affecting a larger number of immigrants and refugee women in a very destructive way. We urge the Norwegian government to eliminate the obstacles from the immigration legislations in order to have gender equality for immigrant and refugee women who come to Norway through family reunion.

– The MiRA Centre is also worried about the amendments in the immigration legislation (jf. Ot.prp. nr. 19 2005 – 2006), where the application of residence permit from a woman could be refused on the grounds that she might be abused in a married relationship. According to the government, the law is meant to protect women and eventual children from coming to Norway and living with a violent man. We do not understand the logic of this legal amendment. Does this mean that a violent Norwegian man can marry a foreign woman and abuse her in her own country but she would not be allowed to come to Norway and built her life here? Norway does not have bilateral agreements with many countries on marriage issues. Therefore, even if the Norwegian government shall have the knowledge of the history of violence about a particular person, they would not be able to protect a woman in another country who does not have that knowledge. We feel that refusing the residence permit to these women will be a form of victimisation of these women by the Norwegian state and leaving them on the mercy of a violent Norwegian male. In other words pushing the problem outside Norwegian borders.

– There has been lots of focus on trafficking in women and prostitution which is positive. The Norwegian government has taken many important measures to document the problem. We are however concerned about the legal security of the women who are the victims of trafficking and prostitution. In their seventh report to the United Nations on the elimination of all forms of gender discrimination the Norwegian government shows its commitment to continually engage itself to prevent human trafficking, but we do not find a stronger commitment from the government to give legal security in the form of permanent residence permit, to the women who are trafficked into Norway. The government shows its concern, that its promise not to deport women immediately from the country and give them 45 days of reflection period during which they will provide the information about their traffickers, is not very successful. In our view when the women are not given legal protection, it would be dangerous for them and their families back home to expose their traffickers. The MiRA Centre recommends that women who are victims of trafficking and prostitution should be given permanent residence permit in Norway. We feel that for the sake of gender equality and to protect women from violence and abuse, the security of women should be the main concern of the governments rather than having restricted immigration policies and let these women be the victim of these policies.

Article 9. Nationality

– The new law of 10. 06. 05 nr. 51 are intended to be functional from the autumn 2006. There are certain aspects of this law which will make it difficult for the minority women to seek Norwegian citizenship:

– One of the conditions to be eligible for the Norwegian nationality is that a person has completed the Norwegian language course or Norwegian language test. It would make it difficult for many migrant and refugee women who came to Norway in the Sixties and early Seventies to be qualified for the citizenship as many of them might not have taken a language course. The language courses were not easily available at that time and the language test was not obligatory. There are many women refugees who have come to Norway in an older age, are uneducated and have a problem with language learning. We are afraid that these women will also fallout from becoming the Norwegian citizens.

– The persons who want to become Norwegian citizens have to take an oath that they should be faithful to the country’s laws, its democracy, human rights and to the Norwegian Society. In our view, as far as it concerns to be loyal to the constitution of the state, which is based on democratic and human rights principles, there is no problem to pledge the commitment while becoming a citizen. But a society as a whole is usually built on many complex ideologies and there is no one set of rules which constitute its cultural and normative makeup. In a democratic society, using their rights to freedom of speech and expression, the individuals negotiate and contest the norms and the values of that society all the time. Demanding from the immigrants that they should be loyal to the majority society’s normative and value system would be like demanding from them to give up their own rights to freedom of expression and freedom of having their own views, ideas and meanings as individuals. There is a growing racism and anti-immigrant sentiments in Norway and the extreme right political parties are gaining power among the populations. We are afraid that if the immigrants would not conform to the racist value systems, they would be considered as disloyal to the Norwegian Society by the nationalist groups. This kind of mistrust could discourage the minority groups to participate in the social debates and will limit their contribution to make the society more inclusive, culturally diverse and humanistic. The MiRA Centre urge the Norwegian government to formulate its conditions for citizenship carefully so that they should not restrict the minority groups to practice their civil rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

Article 10. Education

– The recent research, documented in the Norwegian seventh report to the U.N. shows that a family’s social and economical background as well as the educational level of parents plays a central role for girls and boys to choose the field of studies. A significant number of minority communities fall into the low income households. There is a concentration of black and immigrant communities in certain areas of the cities. Despite the fact that some schools have over 60 percent of the pupils with other than Norwegian language, as their first language, the mother tongue teaching is not facilitated in these schools. We recommend that the government must consider the possibilities to introduce mother tongue teaching in order to strengthen the self identity of the minority pupils and to promote inclusion within the Norwegian society.

– The introduction courses for newly arrived refugees are positive contribution from the government towards the integration of minority communities within the Norwegian society. These courses are obligatory and include 300 hours of Norwegian language learning as well as the basic knowledge about the Norwegian customs. The MiRA Centre thinks it’s a positive initiative but we are also worried about the conditions attached to it. The participants in these courses are given an economic allowance equal to social help from the national security funds. The allowances can be withdrawn, if the participation is low in the courses. In order to get a permanent residence permanent and Norwegian nationality one has to document that one has participated in these courses and has a satisfactory language competence. We urge the government to provide language and vocational training programmes for the minority women without such conditions and facilitate their participation in the labour market.

– Another greater problem faced by the minority women is that the Norwegian government and educational institutions do not except automatically the previous qualifications and working experiences of the minorities which they bring with them from their countries of origin. We urge the Norwegian government to make the procedures for acceptance of previous qualifications easier so that minority women can seek further education which could give them job opportunities in Norway.

Article 11. Working Life

– The seventh report from Norway to the United Nations on the elimination of all forms of gender discrimination shows that there is a very little difference from the previous reports when it comes to the rate of employment of non-Western immigrant and refugee women or the minority women in general, within the labour market. Minority women are still on the top of unemployment statistics. Gender discrimination together with racial and ethnic discrimination within the labour market makes it difficult for the minority women to access gainful employment.

– The young women with the minority background who are born and brought up in Norway are also facing the problems of unemployment due to gender and racial discrimination. They are challenging the gender equality institutions to include the aspect of racism when considering the situation of gender discrimination at the labour market.

– In the seventh report to the United Nations, the Norwegian government reports that the immigrant women face multiple barriers, both from their own cultural backgrounds as well as the institutional hindrances in Norway. The MiRA Centre has pointed out this fact all those years we have been working with the issues of minority women in Norway. We hope that the government takes some radical steps to change the present situation.

Article 11. 1e. The Question of Pensions

– The proposed new pension reform in Norway is directly discriminatory against immigrants, but it will affect immigrant women more seriously. The official report by the government and the pension commission on the question of pensions does not mention anything about the condition of a large number of immigrant and refugee women who will not be eligible for the pension if the new reforms are set into practice. The MiRA Resource Centre is also worried about the silent behaviour from the institutions and organisations who are working for gender equality on this particular issue.

– The right to be eligible for full pension from the national security pension funds in Norway is based on performance and length – of – service systems. According to the new reforms a person has to be living in Norway for minimum 40 years and be in the service for 40 years in order to be eligible for full pension. Historically, a large number of immigrant women came to Norway through family reunification and this pattern of migration is still valid for most of the immigrant and refugee families. The first years of their stay in Norway, many women try to take care of their families and stay at home. Due to the lack of social networks, language barriers and other difficulties they might not be able to join the labour market soon after their arrival in the country.

– Many of them try to learn the language and working skills and make acquaintance with the society’s norms and values. A large number of immigrant and refugee women are struggling to get recognition for their previous qualifications and work experience which can give them better opportunities to seek gainful employment. It is also documented that a large number of immigrant and refugee women work part-time jobs, usually within the low-paid service sector.

– The refugees or the immigrants who come to Norway when they are over 40, by the age of 67 ( the pension age) they would not have lived in Norway for 40 years to be eligible for full pension although they might have been an active workforce during the years of their stay in the country.

– There are many serious consequences for the immigrant and refugee women who are ageing in Norway in relation to economic security. We cannot give details about the proposed pension reforms in this note but we urge the Norwegian government to look at it seriously because it’s discriminating women in particular. We are worried that among the growing poor classes in Norway, the immigrant and refugee women are exceeding in number. The supplementary economic help is not going to be enough and the conditions attached to it would be so difficult to fulfil that many women with the ethnic minority backgrounds would end up as poor in Norway.

Article 15. Gender Equality and the Legal Apparatus

– In the past few years the Norwegian government has made a number of changes in various laws, for example the immigration legislation and the marriage act, which directly affect the situation of minority women in Norway. Even though the laws are gender neutral, their implication directly affect, in most cases negatively, the immigrant and refugee women who enter the country in order to join their families. The MiRA Centre is worried that the intentions behind these legal changes are to restrict immigration rather than promoting gender equality as the authorities often claim. In our views if the intentions behind these legal changes would have been to promote gender equality, the authorities could have removed three years rule before a woman can get independent residence permit. The first three years on the arrival in a new country are very crucial for integration, building networks, establishing women’s own security networks and getting orientation about the new society. However, for many women, these first three years usually become a nightmare if their spouse is a violent person or if they find out that they are not compatible as married couple. Due to their dependent legal status, many women are afraid to break away from the abusive relationships. Many women and children are afraid to return to their countries of origin where they may face discrimination and even persecution from their families and communities. In many cases poverty within their families, or traditional values and beliefs about marriage and divorce means that most women have nowhere to return. They had to battle for their rights to stay in Norway and establish their independent lives.

– During the past couple of years the Norwegian authorities have been focusing a lot on trafficking in women, forced marriages and female genital mutilation. The government has taken initiative to introduce many preventive measures in these problem areas which are functioning according to the intentions. We are however critical to the legal initiatives which are made in the name of preventive actions. we can mention only a few here:

– The new reforms in the marriage act § 23. a, demands that the women from the Muslim countries have to sign a document when they are getting married, which gives them the right to divorce. This document would also be a decisive factor for women to get Norwegian visa for family reunion. Since the government could not make the legal text directly discriminatory towards the Muslim community they have formulated it religiously neutral. But in the circular, they explain how this legal reform has to be implemented. Although the Catholic, the Hindu or the Jewish women have the same restrictions on getting divorce, the government has chosen to discriminate the Muslim community in this respect. This kind of discrimination weakens the minority communities’ trust in the Norwegian legal system. The MiRA Centre is worried that this kind of discrimination gives a wrong signal to other faith groups that they can continue with the gender discrimination according to their religious beliefs.

– In the new immigration legislation, the Commission recommends that in order to prevent forced marriages, the age limit for marriage for the minority youth has to be raised from 18 years (which is the accepted age limit for everyone) to 21 years. If the couple is married abroad, the person who is residing in Norway should have enough finances to support the spouse. The experience from other countries such as Denmark shows that these kind of legal restrictions have not had any effect on forced marriages. Nevertheless, these restrictions have functioned as immigration control rather than preventive actions against forced marriages. Such legal restrictions create many complications for the couples who are genuinely married and want to establish their lives together in Norway.

The MiRA Centre believes that there are fundamental principles of human rights issues at stake in the way in which the institutional racism and gender discrimination operates in Norway. The immigration laws attack the rights of all people to have secure family life and to determine the kind of lifestyle they want to lead. Discrimination at the labour market, housing and other spheres of life limits the opportunities for minority women to make use of their full potential as the citizens of the Norwegian society.

We urge the Norwegian government to sign the United Nations Convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families, adopted by the general assembly at its 45th session on 18 December 1990, in order to protect the rights of migrant and refugee women. We hope that the Norwegian government takes into consideration our hearing notes and we hope also that the United Nations instruments to promote gender equality could be translated into practice while implementing the national policies for gender equality.

We also urge the United Nations bodies like CEDAW to notice the legally vulnerable situation of minority women living in Norway and support their struggle against the multiple forms of discrimination and for gender equality.