In the discourse on multicultural Norway, the situation of racialized minority women is often interpreted in terms of the women’s culture of origin, even though these cultures may no longer have a direct impact on their daily lives in Norway. Can one create trust and feelings of belonging among minorities if they lack access to fundamental rights in the country in which they live?

The struggle for women’s rights has come a long way in Norway. Women have many legal rights; we have a gender equality law, a gender equality ombudsman, and a requirement for 40 percent representation of women in all central government workplaces. However, the reality of racialized minority women is quite different. They often top the unemployment statistics or work in low-wage occupations with heavy manual labor. Many are discriminated against based on their gender and ethnic background. There is very little research on the institutional and structural mechanisms that exclude minorities from equal participation.

The MiRA Center has recently published an essential book, “The shadow side of the Welfare State: Loss of rights for minorities,» written by Professor Emeritus Bente Puntervold Bø and MiRA Center’s adviser Asla Maria Bø Fuglestad, which documents the restriction of rights that has taken place over the past fifteen years. The book documents, among other things, that it has become more difficult for women who have come to Norway through family reunification to apply for divorce. This is because the requirements for permanent residence are constantly being tightened. From 2017, for example, there is a requirement for a higher amount of income or full-time studies and a requirement for passing a language test to obtain a permanent residence permit. From 2020, the need for residence increased from 5 to 7 years for refugees before applying for permanent residence. Without a permanent residence permit, women who have come to Norway through family reunification may risk deportation if they divorce. Thus, the stricter requirements for permanent residence can lead victims of violence to remain in violent relationships for a long time for fear of deportation.

The time has come to spotlight the lack of rights of minority women in Norwegian society. It is essential to see the connection between immigration policy and gender equality policy and make the gap between them visible. The is also discrimination in how EEA citizens are treated compared to people from third countries. For example, there is no requirement for Norwegian language skills or a passed exam in social studies for immigrants covered by the EEA agreement when granted permanent residence. But for refugees, on the other hand, it is required that they have passed the exam in the Norwegian language at A1 level and passed a test in social studies to obtain a permanent residence permit. Discrimination is put in the system when a Somali refugee must master the Norwegian language to be granted permanent residence; in contrast, this is not required of a German immigrant who applies for the same. In addition, unmarried children under the age of 21 from an EEA country may have the right to reside in Norway if their parents settle here. In contrast, only children under 18 are allowed residence permits with their parents for refugees already living in Norway.

Immigrants and refugee women are active members of society but are also vulnerable persons who need protection. Their situation must be treated holistically from an intersectional and long-term perspective. This applies particularly to women exposed to violence and women who need political protection. Their fundamental civil rights, such as permanent residence permit, family reunification, citizenship, and pension rights, must not be restricted to scare others from applying for asylum in Norway. Such an immigration and asylum policy creates differences between the population and prevents women’s equality.