Oslo in gender policy battle

April 12, 2002

The University of Oslo is facing an international legal challenge to positive-discrimination policies that reserve postdoctorate and teaching posts for female candidates.

A case is being brought at the court of the European Free Trade Area, whose surveillance authority claims that the Norwegian government has a legal duty to stop the policy.

As Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (a constitutional halfway house linking Efta with the European Union), many EU laws are in force in the country, notably directive 76/ 207EEC on "equal treatment for men and women regarding access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions".

The authority polices these laws and has asked the Efta court to force Norway to comply.

A complaint was lodged in 2000 against the university's reservation of 20 postdoctoral positions for women "to favour the recruitment of women to permanent scholarly positions". Under the university's equality plan for 2000-04, ten more postdoctoral positions and 12 permanent academic positions were reserved for women.

Oslo's policies are in line with Norwegian legislation of 1995, which required the national government to achieve better gender balance in academic positions at the university in fields where women were under-represented. It considered the situation to be in conformity with EEA law.

The surveillance authority disagreed and argued that positive-discrimination policies were legal under European law only if they did "not automatically and unconditionally give priority to women when women and men are equally qualified".

It concluded: "A rule such as the Norwegian one, whereby applications from men are not even taken into consideration, goes beyond these conditions."

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