Towards a solution in the earmarking case

The Ministry of Education and Research is requesting the KiF Committee to prepare models ensuring women employment in academic positions in male dominated fields. This autumn, the Ministry will announce the measures the various institutions can make use of.

February 29, 2008

Since the autumn of 2007, the question of earmarking research positions for women has been a key issue in the debate on gender equality in the research sector. However, this measure was dropped in 2003, when the EFTA Court decided that earmarking of professorships for women was in breach of the EEA Agreement.

But last year, central players such as The National Union of Students in Norway (NSU), the rectors of all the universities in Norway, the Committee for Mainstreaming - Women in Science (the KiF Committee) and the national council Socialist Left Party of Norway (SV) requested a new evaluation of the measure, as the EU rules in this respect have been changed since 2003.

At the same time, it has appeared that several EU member states use recruitment measures for female scientists by using various forms of earmarking.

Waiting for a solution

As early as in 2006, Øystein Djupedal from SV, then minister of the Ministry of Education and Research, told the Norwegian Parliament that the ministry considered various means for taking affirmative action for the underrepresented gender.

In the research sector, many people are impatient for a solution, and are waiting for the ‘green light’ and for instructions from the Ministry of Education and Research as to which measures one may adopt in Norway. And now it might look as if the issue will be resolved politically. In the end of January, the Ministry of Education and Research, together with the Ministry of Children and Equality, summoned key players to a hearing in the ‘earmarking case’. During the hearing, it was announced that the Ministry of Education and Research has asked the KiF Committee to come up with specific, goal-oriented measures which can strengthen women’s possibilities for advancement as researchers, and which comply with the current EEA rules.

“Tora Aasland has explicitly stated that she is positive to the use of measures strengthening women’s possibilities for advancement in scientific positions, but that she wishes to comply with EEA rules. The ministry is now working to find effective measures which are not at variance with EEA legislation. The request to the KiF Committee is part of this study,” says Toril Johansson, director general of the Ministry of Education and Research, to the Resource Bank for Gender Mainstreaming.

A political decision

Recommending measures which are not at variance with EEA legislation might become something of a challenge for the committee. There are many opinions as to how the body of rules is to be construed, and one of the questions is which weight to attach to the incorporation of the UN Treaty for the Rights of Women into the legislation of Norway and the EU.

“Can this case be resolved in a purely legal way? The understanding of the legislation on which the decision eventually is based will be a political decision, will it not?”

“The limitation created by EEA legislation has not been unequivocally clarified with regard to measures entailing earmarking of positions, or financial incentives. There is little case law in this respect, but in other EU countries, there are several measures which can be useful models for Norway. Based on the propositions from the KiF Committee, the ministry will study how these measures will hold up against EEA legislation, and the cabinet minister will, on this background, decide which measures she wishes to introduce,” says Johansson.

The KiF Committee will have its study ready by 1 May and the Ministry of Education and Research aims at reaching a clarification during the autumn of 2008.

Translated by Ragnhild Ruud

Background information:

  • In January 2003, the EFTA Court decided that earmarking of academic positions for women was at variance with the EEA Agreement and the arrangement was discontinued.
  • On 30 August 2007, The National Union of Students in Norway (NSU) urged the Ministry of Education and Research to reapply this instrument, arguing that changes in the EU legislation made this possible. On 11 September 2007, NSU was supported by the rectors of the universities in Bergen and Oslo.
  • On 14 September 2007, the Committee for Mainstreaming - Women in Science sent a letter to the Ministry of Education and Research, requesting a clarification in the case. This week, the Committee for Mainstreaming - Women in Science was asked by the Ministry of Education and Research to work out models which would ensure that women were employed in academic positions in male dominated fields, and which are not at variance with the EEA Agreement.

New rules

Article 4 of the UN Treaty for the Rights of Women (or, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) reads as follows:

Adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved.”

It is the incorporation of this convention into the EU legislation which may have created a new situation in respect of the issue regarding earmarking of positions for women.