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On this Day: Gro Harlem Brundtland Becomes First Female Prime Minister in Norway

Forty years ago today, on February 4, 1981, Gro Harlem Brundtland became Norway’s first female prime minister (PM). Erna Solberg, Norway’s current PM, became the second woman to serve as PM when she was elected to this role following the 2013 national election.

Norwegian Women’s Suffrage

2019 marked the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States. I wanted to take today as an opportunity to summarize the history of women’s voting rights in Norway. The history of women’s suffrage in Norway (kvinnestemmeretten) dates back to the creation of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814. The proposed Constitution of 1814 did not on its face say that women could not vote, in fact it only stated that any Norwegian citizen (Norsk borger) could vote. However, at that time women had not yet voted in any national or regional election in Norway, and Norway joined a union with Sweden before a national election took place and before the meaning of the term could be interpreted.

Male universal suffrage was achieved in 1898 when all Norwegian male citizens who had attained the age of 25 years gained the right to vote. During the discussion on issue of equal male voting rights, several members of parliament also discussed the issue of women’s right to vote. Specifically, representatives Ullman and Thomesen presented parliament with a proposal, Indst. XIV 1890, which proposed a right to vote for women. The proposal was voted down 77 to 44. The right of women to vote in Parliament was not attained until 1907, after Norway had formally left its union with Sweden in 1905. A few years earlier, in 1901, some women, subject to age and income requirements, were allowed to vote in municipal elections. The right to vote in parliamentary elections was granted as a result of a vote in Parliament, 96 against 25, on June 14, 1907. However, women were only granted the right to vote in parliamentary elections, if they had the same right at the municipal level. On June 11, 1913, in a vote to amend the Constitution, Norwegian women gained the same right to vote as men, after having first gained universal suffrage at the municipal level in 1910. The vote in Parliament was unanimous.

The first woman to serve in the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) was Anna Rogstad, who served as a substitute member of parliament for Jens Bratile (Høyre). Ten years later, in 1921, Karen Platou was elected as an ordinary member of parliament. Currently, there are 74 women out of 169 MPs (43.7%) in the Norwegian Parliament.

Constitution

Today, article 50 of the Norwegian Constitution provides: “Those entitled to vote in elections to the Storting are Norwegian citizens, men and women, who, at the latest in the year when the election is held, have completed their eighteenth year.”

Parliamentary Elections

The most recent parliamentary election was in 2017. Because Norway has a total of nine parties presently represented in parliament, the PM governs with the support of other parties. Erna Solberg’s Høyre party was the second largest party in Parliament following the 2017 election, but she gathered the largest coalition support and currently governs with the support of Fremskrittspartiet and Venstre.

The next parliamentary election is scheduled for September 13, 2021. By law the election must take place in September every four years. (Article 54 of the Norwegian Constitution.) In 2020, the Election Law Commission of the Norwegian parliament recommended an amendment to the Constitution that would allow them to change the date under very special circumstances, such as natural catastrophes or when there was a danger to the health of the voters.

Brundtland

Byste av Gro Harlem Brundtland laget av Kirsten Kokkin [Bust of Gro Harlem Brundtland by Kirsten Kokkin], photo by Flickr user Arbeiderpartiet (Feb. 27, 2012). Used under Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Brundtland became prime minister as a result of being the vice chairperson of the Labour party (Arbeiderpartiet). The sitting prime minister, Odvar Nordli, stepped down cue to health concerns on February 4, 1981, and Brundtland assumed the post. In addition to being the first woman to assume the role of PM, she was also the youngest person in Norway to assume the post at 41 years old.

Along with her party, Brundtland, lost power in the parliamentary election of September, 1981. However, in the election in 1986 her party won and she was confirmed PM again, serving until Ocotber 16, 1989. Her third and final term was from November 3, 1990, to October 25, 1996. Not counting consecutive but total years served as PM, Gro Harlem Brundtland currently ranks as the third longest-serving PM of Norway with 10 years, 1 month and 9 days in office. Prior to becoming PM Brundtland was a physician, and following her time as PM Brundtland served as director-general of the World Health Organisation.

After leaving office, Brundtland also authored several books that are part of the Library of Congress collection:

A selection of In Custodia Legis blog posts on female suffrage around the globe

Additional In Custodia Legis blog posts on voting rights and suffrage can be found here.

 

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