The information in this fact sheet is based on official, Norwegian statistics, most of which is published by Statistics Norway (SSB), an independent institution under the Ministry of Finance.

In this document, we have used the official terminologies from SSB, such as first and second generation immigrants. The available, official data on the living conditions for black, immigrant and refugee women in Norway is extremely insufficient. The available information does, however, show that minority women are disadvantaged in most areas of society. The current situation, as presented by the numbers and the available, official data, and of course as experienced by minority women is far less than satisfying. Daily, black, immigrant and refugee women experience racism, discrimination and xenophobia in the Norwegian society.
There is a strong need to collect data on the living conditions of black, immigrant and refugee women in Norway. All data should be broken down by sex and age, and information collected should include issues of multiple discrimination, which influences the living quality of minority women. Such statistical data may be complemented by public opinion surveys and also targeted surveys to ascertain the experience and perception of discrimination and racism from the point of view of potential complainants.  


The immigrant population in Norway numbered by January 1, 2000 282.500 people, or 6% of the population [1] . Statistics Norway (SSB) defines 238.500 of the immigrant population as first generation, i.e. people who are born abroad, and 44.000 as second generation, i.e. people who are born in Norway with two foreign born parents.
Including both first and second generation, people from Sweden constitute the largest immigrant community in Norway, followed by Pakistan and Denmark. During the past ten years, the immigrant population has increased by 114.100, out of which 84,1% is from non-Western countries. This constitutes 46% of the total population increase. One of five immigrants is from another Nordic country. There are around 70.000 immigrant women living in Norway today. Only 1⁄4 are of non-European origin.

The 10 Largest Immigration Groups in Norway
by January 1, 2000
First Generation Immigrants   Second Generation Immigrants
1. Sweden 22.375   1.Pakistan 9.604
2. Denmark 17.551   2. Vietnam 4.284
3. Yugoslavia 13.402   3. Turkey 3.236
4. Pakistan 13.227   4. Sri Lanka 2.698
5. Bosnia-Herzegovina 11.587   5. Yugoslavia 2.064
6. Vietnam 11.106   6. India 1.957
7. Great Britain 10.576   7. Somalia 1.874
8. Iran 9.151   8. Morocco 1.710
9. Germany 8.621   9. Denmark 1.312
10.USA 7.323   10. Iran 1.203

People with a non-Western background now constitutes 2/3 of the immigrant population and 4,2% of the total population.
The percentage of women and men in the immigrant population is fairly equal, but from some countries, there is a surplus of women. From Thailand, 83% are women, from the Philippines, 73% are women, and from Russia, 70% are women.
Norwegian citizenship
Around 42% of the immigrant population had obtained Norwegian citizenship by the start of 2000. Most of those have a long period of residence in Norway. As many as 84% from Vietnam and 82% from Hungary now have a Norwegian citizenship, while a majority of people from Pakistan have not obtained citizenship. 

One third of the immigrant population now live in Oslo. The immigrant population in Oslo amounts to 18,7% of the inhabitants. A majority of these have a background from Pakistan.

Each year, a survey is done by Statistics Norway (SSB), which presents people’s attitudes to immigrants and Norwegian immigration policies. A group of people, representative for the entire population, are asked four different questions to clarify their attitudes. They are asked for their views on the following statements: ”Norway should grant residence permits to refugees and asylum seekers to the same degree as today”, ”Immigrants have too easy an access to social benefits”, ”Immigrants are more criminal than Norwegians” and ”Immigrants should have the same opportunities to work as Norwegians”.
Compared to 1999, only the first statement showed significant differences in opinion in 2000. This year, 64% feel Norway should admit as many refugees and asylum seekers as today, while 29% disagree. In 1999, 71% agreed, while 20% disagreed. As to the other statements, the differences are insignificant. 53% agree to the statement ”Immigrants have too easy an access to social benefits”, and 50% agree that immigrants are more criminal than Norwegians. 90% feel that immigrants should have the same opportunities to work as Norwegians.
The opinions found in these surveys are often influenced by the current debate in society. A lot of asylum seekers arrived in Norway in 1998, and even more in 1999. During the summer of 2000, a lot of people were looking into the fact that the waiting period for a decision on an application for residence permit was far too long, and that the average vacancy in refugee centres is also too long.
In 1999, people declared their support to the government’s decision to grant temporary refuge to 6.000 Cosovo-Albanians. The decline in the number of people who are positive to the amount of refugees admitted into Norway must therefore be seen in connection with the particularly high number of positive replies in 1999.
Statistics Norway (SSB) claims that even if the surveys show only minor changes each year, people’s attitudes to immigrants and Norwegian immigrant policies have become more positive during the 1990’s. The tables for people’s attitudes in 2000 are as follows:
”Norway should grant residence permits to refugees and asylum seekers to the same degree as today”

Year Agree Disagree
1999 71% 20%
2000 64% 29%

”Immigrants have too easy an access to social benefits”
53% agree.

”Immigrants are more criminal than Norwegians”
50% agree.

”Immigrants should have the same opportunities to work as Norwegians”
90% agree.


Non-Western immigrants make an average of 20% less than Norwegians with the exact same education, shows a new survey from the University of Oslo. The survey was made interviewing graduates in physics, social classes and engineers. Only in medical professions do immigrants get the same wages as Norwegians. This is probably due to the lack of qualified medical professionals and the good working conditions for doctors.
The average income statistics for families show that the average wage for the population as a whole is 380.000 kroner a year. The family of Norwegian male – Norwegian female has an average income of 382.800, and is thus the family with the highest income average. A family of immigrant male – immigrant female has the lowest average income with 295.500. Second generation immigrants have a higher average income than their parents.
Comparing the income level of different immigrant families and Norwegian families may present a non-correct picture of the actual living conditions due to the differences in family size. The average family size of Norwegian families is 2,3 people, while immigrants from non-Western families usually have larger families. When adjusting for different family size, the difference in income for immigrant and Norwegian families is 50%.


Young women of minority and migrant background meet discrimination and disadvantage in many areas of society, especially in schools and education systems, and in housing and employment markets.
The largest group of minority speaking pupils have Urdu as their mother tongue. The following languages are English, Vietnamese, Spanish and Arabic. The immigrant populations’ participation in high school education has increased over the past years, but is still lower than that of Norwegians. Women aged 19-24 years have a higher degree of participation in higher education (universities and college) than men, both in the population as a whole and for second-generation immigrants. First generation female immigrants have a participation rate 5% less than first generation male immigrants. In the age group 24-29 years, there has been a decrease in the number of first and second-generation students between 1994-1997, while the number has increased for the population as a whole. Minority youth are underrepresented in higher education and are not backed by the society on an equal basis with the ethnic majority, thus making them vulnerable to negative socialisation.
Immigrant and refugee women also face severe difficulties in having their former education approved and qualified upon arrival in Norway. Despite the fairly large number of immigrants from non-Western countries, Norway has made little or no efforts to classify and judge foreign education, so that immigrants can get credit for their former education. This is yet another obstacle for immigrant and refugee women in Norway who seek employment in the formal sector.
The government proposed in November 2000 to start compulsory Norwegian education for all immigrants. This proposal is to be presented to Stortinget in December. Norwegian education for immigrants has been voluntary until now, but the government has now made it obligatory, and economic sanctions can be made in the future against those who do not participate. This is ironically worsening the situation for black, immigrant and refugee women who are currently on the waiting list for Norwegian language courses. There is a large number of women who have not been able to learn Norwegian because the learning institutions for foreign speakers lack the necessary funding to provide sufficient classes.
Educational institutions need to implement a policy on equal opportunities and antiracism, which is regularly reviewed with those working in the school, parents and pupils or students. Such policy should also aim to tackle the interaction between racist and sexist prejudice and stereotypes, including promoting the active involvement of girls from targeted groups in all equal opportunities activities. Pupils should be given information about how to deal with racist incidents in schools. Innovative measures, such as pupils acting as peer mediators to address issues of racial violence, should be examined.


Some individuals and groups are the primary victims of discrimination owing to the interplay of discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin, and discrimination based on other grounds such as gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, language, political or other opinion, birth or other status. Black, immigrant and refugee women experience severe discrimination not only because of their racial or cultural origin, but also due to the unequal gender relations in society in general. The awareness about their specific situation and the shortcomings of gender equality law in relation to ethnic minority women has increased lately but there is still a long way to go. There is now a broader agreement within the European governments to look at the integration of ethnic minority women. This is not only a descriptive concept but also a normative one. It is important to make concrete efforts to remove the obstacles to their economic, social and political participation in society.
Looking at the entire working population in Norway as a whole, we find that 2,9% are fully unemployed (August 2000). First generation immigrants have seen an increase in the number of unemployed, to 8,1%. The unemployment rate is the highest for immigrants from Africa, at 15,2%. For immigrants from Asia, the unemployment rate is 11,3%.
Immigrants with a residence period of 4-6 years have the highest unemployment rate, compared to those with a longer or shorter period of residence.
There has been a slight decrease in the unemployment rate for women with an immigrant background, but it is still at 7,5% (August 2000). Looking at the entire female population as a whole, the unemployment rate is 2,9%.

These numbers underlines the importance of integrating a gender perspective in all actions and policies against racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance, of empowering women belonging to targeted groups to demand respect for their rights in all spheres of public and private life and play an active role in the design and implementation of policies and measures which affect their lives.

Unemployed women after country of origin, percentage
(Persons between 16–74 years)
Fully unemployed  2,9
First generation total 7,5
Africa  14,0
Asia incl. Turkey 11,0
Eastern Europe 11,1
Latin America 8,4
North America and Oceania 4,1
Western Europe 3,0
Nordic countries 2,6

Comparing the situation in Norway with other countries, we see that black, immigrant and refugee women meet the same barriers all over the world. For instance, U.S surveys show that on of the largest obstacles for immigrant women’s participation in the labour market is the lack of language proficiency. A survey done by Human Rights Advocates [2] shows that the majority of women in the survey (from Vietnam and Mexico) replied that they would like a job. The women answered, that in addition to the lack of language skills, the largest obstacles for employments were the lack of childcare and sufficient means of transport.
Norway should effectively keep and use disaggregated statistics (i.e. data broken down by race, sex, age, etc) to assess the complexities of modern migration patterns (e.g. the difference between rights protection for women in low-paid domestic service and professionals in the computer industry or other high-tech fields) in order to allocate resources accordingly.


International efforts must be made to combat the exploitation of black, immigrant and refugee women. Their legal position must be strengthened by international law particularly in the areas of illegal sex trafficking, violence against women and protection against discriminatory cultural practices, such as female circumcision and forced marriages.
In 1998, near 70% of the women seeking refuge at the Oslo Crisis Centre had immigrant background. The previous years, the percentage of immigrant women has been around 50%. The previous manager of the Oslo Crisis Centre said in a statement that she sees no particular cause for the substantial increase, and she feels there is no basis to say that violence and abuse are more common in immigrant communities than in Norwegian communities. There is further no reason to think that the violence inimmigrant communities is increasing. Also black, immigrant and refugee women married to Norwegian men who are victims of marital abuse are staying at the crisis centres in Norway.
One of the reasons why more women seek shelter at Oslo Crisis Centre is that the centre has improved its information activities towards immigrant communities in Norway during recent years. Oslo Crisis Centre is the largest in the Nordic countries, and had over 12.000 residence periods (24 hours) in 1998, which averages 33 women and children every day. This number has remained unchanged for several years. There are several reasons why the percentage of black, immigrant and refugee women is as high. The increase from previous years can in part be accounted for by the public debate on forced marriages and female circumcision, which has made more black, immigrant and refugee women seek refuge at the crisis centre. Also, women with an immigrant or refugee background have a smaller personal network than Norwegian women and therefore fewer options when moving out of their homes. Another factor, which can explain the large percentage, is the fact that Norwegian women are more economically independent, and thus freer to seek shelter elsewhere and start over on their own accord.
The picture changes when looking at telephone calls made to Oslo Crisis Centre. Most callers are Norwegian women, but they seem less in need of a place to stay than immigrant women.


Upon arrival in Norway, either as asylum seekers or by family reunification, a women’s status is dependent on her husband’s position. When seeking asylum, women’s applications are judged based on their husband’s situation. If their husbands are considered to be at risk, and the authorities feel that they do not suffer from enough persecution or other threats in their home country, women are denied asylum or residence permits.
Women, who come to Norway for family reunification, are not given permanent residence permits until after three years. These three years they have to stay married, or their temporary residence permits will be revoked. This leads to a number of women enduring mental and physical abuse from their husbands in up to three years, out of fear of being deported or become ineligible for a permanent residence permit. Immigrant and refugee women often stay in abusive marriages because they fear having to return to their home country if the marriage is dissolved if they demand a divorce.
The Three-year Rule and Abused Women
The Norwegian government has eased the rules so that women who are abused during marriage can obtain a residence permit before three years have passed. This, however, is a seldom event, as the Norwegian authorities apply very strict rules in regards to evidence of abuse and to justification of possible social and cultural difficulties in the home country upon return. To obtain a permanent residence permit before three years has passed, a woman has to prove beyond doubt she has been severely mentally or physically abused, or present evidence that she will suffer from extreme social or cultural disadvantages and difficulties in her home country, should she return.
In our experience, many women feel violated by the authorities’ rigid attitude and disbelief. This is in our opinion yet another maltreatment of a group of women in Norway being continuously deprived of their basic human rights. Not only is it often hard for women to prove they have been severely abused by their husbands, but also proving an adequately difficult social situation in the home country is often hopeless, as experience shows that the Norwegian authorities tend to disbelieve witnesses testifying for the battered wife. Some countries are physically unsafe for divorced women, and a return can present a direct threat to their lives.
MiRA Resource Centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women has the past few years seen an increase in the number of women who contact us for help in legal matters. The women face a number of challenges regarding immigrant laws and legal rights. Some issues are solved simply by improving women’s knowledge of the legal system, while other cases demand far more involvement on the part of the MiRA Centre.
Family reunification has a positive effect on integration and states should facilitate family reunion, with due regard to the need for an independent status on the part of family members. In the first ten months of 2000, the MiRA Centre saw an increase in the number of crisis cases that needed additional follow-up from our counsellors in comparison to the first ten months of 1999. Cases regarding asylum, residence permits, family reunification and the three-year rule numbers nearly 2/3 of the total.

The number of cases presenting a need for additional involvement by the MiRA Centre is as follows:

Cases with a need for additional involvement 1999
Family reunification/residence permits 21 18
Women’s rights/Divorce/Abuse/
Three-year Rule
24 54
Family conflicts/Forced marriages 23 33
Social difficulties/Housing/Work/Education 15 8
Total 83 113

Norway should facilitate the right of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers to seek effective remedies for human rights violations (including police abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence) without fear of detention and summary deportation. It should also facilitate entry for purposes of family reunion and integrity and ensure that once admitted, family members enjoy secure and independent residence status, including the full enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights. It is also of the utmost importance to recognise the precarious situation of migrant women and grant them their own independent status in all immigration matters.
Important issues to improve black, immigrant and refugee women’s status are:

  • Granting of independent legal status to women migrants and refugees, also when their residence permits are initially granted on the basis of marriage.
  • Legal protection of women in the labour market who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation as servants and housemaids. Their status is low, underpaid and invisible, and they very seldom get the possibility to speak up for themselves.
  • Protection against expulsion. Women are on occasion smuggled into the country by their “employers” and held as captives knowing that if they turn to the police they themselves will be expelled. The scale and extent of this problem must be subject to fact-finding research, and remedies of protection must be established.
  • Gender specific reasons for seeking asylum and political participation must be recognised and respected. Female refugees and asylum seekers have often suffered forms of oppression or are persecuted for activities that are linked to gender, such as rape and sexual harassment aimed at intimidating and harassing families and ethnic groups. In addition their ways of being politically active are often different from those of men, and their activities must be recognised as political, and not private and as such dismissed as reasons for asylum. Women leaving their countries fearing female genital mutilation must be granted protection.


Numbers from 1987 [3] indicate a higher rate of child births among immigrant and refugee women than with Norwegian women. The difference is 2,2 children for immigrant and refugee women and 1,7 children for Norwegian women. Immigrant and refugee women in Norway has a lower birth rate than women in their home countries.
A committee set up by the government presented in 1999 a report called Women’s Health in Norway [4]. The report, which amounts to around 600 pages, discusses black, immigrant and refugee women’s health in three of those pages. The committee realizes the need to avoid categorisation of immigrant women, but rather than suggest effective measures to better be able to examine black, immigrant and refugee women’s living conditions, it states that qualitative studies are hindered by the diversity in immigrant women’s background, education, country of origin. The report points to the fact that several conditions affect immigrant women’s health, such as cultural background, whether they have children or not, period of residence in Norway etc. The committee claims that because immigrant and refugee women are a diverse, complex group, a reliable quantitative analysis of immigrant and refugee women’s health is virtually impossible. The committee has no suggestions as to thorough research in immigrant and refugee women’s living conditions, or to possible improvement of their situation.
The living conditions of black, immigrant and refugee women in Norway are of major importance to their health situation. Minority youth often experience that their parents’ cultures are scapegoated as causes of problems that in reality stem from marginalising, racism and impoverishment. This hinders open discussions about socialisation, upbringing and the relationship between generations that are necessary in a positive integration process. Attention is consequently diverted from causes connected to the majority society, which as a result will not be addressed. In addition, those who do not have citizenship in the state where they reside may face threats of expulsion or statelessness.


The images of black, immigrant and refugee women in the media as passive creatures perpetuate stereotypes and stigmatise them as a group. The diversity of their realities must be promoted in the media as parallel to the images of majority women. Special attention should be paid to the gender dimension of information, communication and media technology.
Migrant women’s publications must be strengthened and women with ethnic minority backgrounds must be recruited actively into the mainstream media. Children and youth of minority background are particularly vulnerable to negative exposure in the media, and efforts should be made to introduce nuances into the presentations in the media.

  • Minority youth should themselves be given a chance to relate their own stories.
  • Technological development moves quickly, both in regard to the Internet and other communications technology. It is important to ensure that minority youth has a chance to partake in this development through adequate training.
  • Minority youth should have sufficient access to the Internet and to other media, they should be taught how to express themselves in the media and taught how to produce pamphlets/prints and home pages on the Internet.

Norway should recognise the importance of community media, which give a voice to men and women from minority backgrounds, and provide adequate funding to those local grassroots media. There is a need for assessing compliance of media receiving public funding with professional norms on responsible journalism and promote the involvement of men and women with a minority background in all stages of production and to cut the funding of media which promote racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, including anti-Semitism and islamophobia and all forms of religious intolerance, or refuse to employ men and women with a minority background. It is important to promote the recruitment of journalists for print and broadcast media from groups targeted or potential targets of racism, as a reflection of multicultural society in mainstream media, and also to recognise the importance of equal representation of women of ethnic minority background in the media and in the media profession.


[1] All numbers from Statistics Norway (SSB)

[2] The report Hands that Shape the World, NNIRR, USA

[3] NOU 1999:13 Kvinners helse i Norge (Women’s health in Norway)

[4] NOU 1999:13 Kvinners helse i Norge (Women’s health in Norway)