The world’s best country – but still not Paradise

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Norway basically always comes out top three in different UN surveys when it comes to equality, development and living conditions. Does that mean we are dealing with a country without social, political, and economic discrimination? And is what we measure relevant enough?

The UN Human Development Report, published by the United Nation’s Environmental Program (UNEP), has been remarkable for having Norway at the very top for several years running. Norway has been seen as a developmental haven when listing parameters such as health, level of education, living standards and gross domestic product per capita. Other studies laud the country’s political and press freedom and relative lack of corruption.


But some people feel discriminated against

But there still are issues of discrimination. Studies show that approximately 50% of immigrants to Norway state that they have experienced some form of discrimination. This applies especially to persons from Somalia, Iraq, and Iran. They report having experienced discrimination in work, housing, entry to restaurants and bars, and educational institutions. Especially young immigrant men report discrimination in the job sector.

There is variation in the proportion who have experienced employment discrimination, running along national lines. Among immigrants from Sri Lanka, one in ten experienced discrimination, while among Somalis, as many as four in ten had negative experiences with their foreign background when applying for work. Among Sri Lankans, two out of three are in work, while among Somalis, only one in three was in gainful employment at the time of the interview.

Immigrants from Iran and Iraq are the two groups that, together with Somalis, experience the most discrimination, with 32 and 29 per cent, respectively. Immigrants from Vietnam and Bosnia-Herzegovina, together with immigrants from Sri Lanka, are the ones who experience the least discrimination.

With a general trend in the West the last twenty years, including Norway, towards more inequality, it should not come as a surprise that researchers report increased poverty amongst immigrant’s children. In 2019, 6 out of 10 children in households with continuous low income have an immigrant background. This is an increase of 39% from 2006. Almost 9 out of 10 children with a Syrian background and nearly 8 out of 10 children with a Somalian background lived in a low-income family in 2019. In comparison, this applies to only 1 out of 10 children with an Indian family background (Source: IMDi – Integrerings- og mangfoldsdirektoratet, 2021).


The situation of the Sami

Official and updated statistics on these issues, including topics of antisemitism in Norway, report discrimination against the Romani-speaking and the historical and actual situation of the Sami minorities.

The Sami, the indigenous population in certain regions, have experienced systematic cultural and social discrimination. Forced assimilation was for several hundred years the name of the game, and not until the 1980s were these trends and tendencies addressed. Since then, the Sami minorities have been able to resurrect parts of their cultural heritage, have been granted equal rights and have their own Sami parliament. For many ethnic minorities abroad, the Sami are now often seen as success stories to look up to and follow.


The state guarantees your rights

That discrimination exists is part of the political debate, and the state has followed up with the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act that came into force on 1 January 2018. It prohibits direct and indirect discrimination based on factors such as ethnicity (including national origin, descent, skin colour and language), religion and belief. The act aims to promote equality, ensure equal opportunities and rights, and prevent discrimination. The act applies in all areas of society but is not enforced in family life and other personal relationships.  We will come back to that.

Employers must make active, targeted, and systematic efforts to promote equality and prevent discrimination in their undertakings. In addition, they must report on implemented and planned equality measures (the activity and reporting duties). Public authorities also have an activity duty in their areas of responsibility. There are also systems put in place for people to air their concern, and an Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud is mandated to promote equality and combat discrimination based on, among other things, gender, ethnicity, religion, belief, disability, sexual orientation and age.


A global champion — but what about the minority cultures themselves?

Norway has also taken on a leading role via various UN agencies that combat discriminations, especially those faced by women, religious minorities, and children. But what about the family and personal spheres at home? There is now an increasing understanding that discrimination is also prevalent among those who themselves might feel discriminated against.

It is a well-known fact that patriarchal cultures often flourish in a new country of residence. This is no different in Norway. Codes of honour, forced marriages, and being “sent home” to various madrassas, known to happen both in the Somali, Kurdish and Pakistani communities. There has been relatively little focus on this within the more traditional Norwegian women’s movement, although more women from ethnic minority communities being increasingly politically active will change this. More girls than boys from these communities take higher education, and some have become prominent social voices and politicians at both a local and national level.

The highly acclaimed film «Hva vil folk si?» (What will the others say?), Iram Haq’s personal story about social control in a Pakistani environment in Oslo, was a huge success and eyeopener in 2017. Discrimination seems to live its ugly life in many forms.


And in comes the question of environment

When you compare countries, though, it is evident that Norway comes out at the very top. The Scandinavian social democracy is inclusive and defends the welfare state. There are strong regulations, and the individual has institutions to turn to when discriminated against. When the Norwegian Prime Minister had too many people come celebrating her birthday during the COVID-pandemic, she was given a heavy fine by the police. The law applies to all.

But there are now new parameters having forced themselves on us, and this might shake Norwegian self-confidence. At its 30-year anniversary edition in December 2020, the UNEP made an additional list of criteria. They call this “the next frontier”, “where human development and the Anthropocene, the man-made era, seen together, offers a thought-provoking, necessary alternative to paralysis in the face of rising poverty and inequalities alongside alarming planetary change. The way forward from Covid-19 will be the journey of a generation. We hope it is one that all people will choose to travel together”.

The Human Development Index thus includes a new (separate) index: Planetary pressures-adjusted HDI (PHDI). The country’s influence on the environment and climate is now part of the picture, and Norway suddenly falls down the list by 16 places!  It is primarily the use of sand, gravel, and stone in building constructions that weigh in on Norway.

Now, this might not be a finetuned analyses, but it makes us reflect. And this new way of measuring our societies should not come as a surprise to Norwegians. The international environmental giant, the WWF, have for many years produced their Living Planet Report. This biannual study of trends in global biodiversity and the planet’s health shows worrying trends for many countries. The same goes for other studies and their measures of national footprint and biocapacity. The Norwegian way of living is too much for the planet to cope with.


Norway at the top – but still not Paradise

My personal conclusion is that Norway, from a political and social point of view, probably is amongst the best countries to live in, also for immigrants, but it is not Paradise. We have, though, through various reports, eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge. It is up to both Norwegians and others to make both Norway and the world a better place.



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