June 11, 1913, the Norwegian Parliament unanimously voted for women’s right to vote. On the exact date 100 years later, the anniversary was celebrated at Eidsvoll’s Plass in Oslo.
Norway was the first sovereign state in the world to introduce universal suffrage for both men and women. The vote was the formal foundation for women to participate in society’s decisions on an equal footing with men. A long battle with roots back to the French Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment was crowned with victory. The anniversary will be celebrated with events across the country.
In 1913, women activist, Gina Krog, stated that, “we never doubted that we would win, but that victory would come so great and perfect, so quiet and beautiful, as it came in this evening, we never dreamt of”. 28 years had passed since she had taken the initiative to found the first association to fight for women’s suffrage in Norway, and 23 years commemorating the first time Parliament heeded a suggestion that women should have the right to vote on equal terms with men. At that time, in 1890, it fell by 44 to 70 votes.
“A Threat to the Home”
1n 1890, several members of Parliament stated that the nature of women was an obstacle to political participation. They argued that the sexes had their own natural field of work and that gender equality was therefore unnatural. The majority of the Constitutional Committee opposed the proposal on the grounds that including women in politics would hurt the family and the natural order of the female role. Opponents argued that men and women were created differently. Men should participate in public life, while women should stick to the private sphere of the home. If they exceeded the natural limits of their gender they would be unhappy, and that would cause a conflict between the sexes. This in turn would break the balance in society. Perhaps the hardest line in the debate came from the Bishop Johan Christian Heuch. With reference to the Holy Scriptures, he believed that it was against God’s order of creation that women should have the right to vote and thus participate in public life. This would eventually lead to the dissolution of the family, the demoralization of the home, and a community out of balance where the woman would become “a deformed freak” (!).
By 1913, the atmosphere had changed. When the matter came up in Parliament, all parties included universal suffrage for women in the program. No one spoke in the debate, and all of the delegates voted for the proposal. Thus, the women’s resistance movement was victorious; 99 years later, Norway had a constitution stating that the country should be governed by the Norwegian people.
Women in Norway today have several earlier pioneers to thank for many privileges. Anna Rogstad was the first woman to sit in Parliament. Rogstad was involved in issues of women’s education and worked to strengthen the education of girls. She was also among the founders of the Norwegian Women’s Rights Association in 1884 and the Association for Women’s Suffrage in 1885. Karin Stoltenberg (1931-2012) has been an essential figure in shaping modern family policy, and women’s right to abortion. Gro Harlem Brundtland is also an important role model for many women. She was Norway’s first female Prime Minister.