Why We Care.org

Long before I became prime minister of Norway, back to my earliest years, I was rooted in the ideals and attitudes of social activism. My mother, Inga, was a radical socialist who dreamed of a coming era of justice and equality. Her mother, Margareta, was a politically active radical who became the first female lawyer ever to hold public office in the city of Stockholm. The bookshelves at our home were lined with tomes about the workers’ movement and social democracy, Karl Evang’s Sexual Education alongside The Worker’s Lexicon. I was also very influenced by the political debate in our household, and the fact that my father, a member of the Labour Party, was appointed minister of health and social affairs, and later defense minister of the Norwegian government. Around the dinner table, getting ready for school, playing in the garden – there was always political chatter going on, which fascinated me.

Women will not become empowered merely because we want them to be, but through legislative changes, increased information, and redirection of resources.

I remember being told about the matchstick  workers’ strike of 1887 in Christiana – the first working-class women to organize in Norway; learning of this event made a deep impression on me. All of these workers were women, exploited and suffering from terrible health problems – yet they had the courage and strength to make a difference.

And gender equality was simply the norm in many areas of my young life. My mom participated in heated political discussions, taught herself to drive the car, and thought it the most natural thing in the world to carry a yoke with a three-gallon bucket of water hanging off each end. I was taught that women can achieve the same things in the world as men.

These early years influenced me and created in me a fierce passion for justice, equity, health, and the greater world. The rights of women – and my own role as a woman in politics – played out when I became the youngest and first female prime minister of Norway. In that capacity, I appointed eight women out of a total of eighteen positions in my cabinet – a first in the world. And during these years, I learned all too well what it means to be a woman in a leadership position. I faced difficulties in terms of sexism and patronizing, and in efforts to demean me and weaken my impact.