Statement by Tor-Hugne Olsen, CPD50

Economic and Social Council
2017 Session

Commission on Population and Development
Fiftieth Session

5 April 2017

National Voluntary Presentations

Statement by Mr. Tor-Hugne Olsen, Executive Director
International Planned Parenthood Federation, Norway (Sex og Politikk)

Madam Chair,

Let me start by thanking you for this opportunity to give a national voluntary presentation
on this important occasion of the CPDs 50th anniversary. As a representative from a civil
society organisation, we welcome this initiative and particularly the role given to nongovernmental
delegates in these presentations.

In Norway, civil society has a history of playing a central role in fostering critical debate and
knowledge production, through participation, engagement and learning for our members,
citizens and leaders alike. That is vital for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all.

Indeed many of our country’s political leaders, including our two female prime ministers,
Ms. Gro Harlem Brundtland and Ms. Erna Solberg, started their carriers in civil society,
before joining politics. Ms. Brundtland was an activist in the organisation where I work.
This year’s special theme: ‘Changing population age structures and sustainable
development’ concerns all UN member states in different ways and to a varying degree.
Norway is also affected by what we could perhaps call the ageing syndrome, which
characterises most developed countries.

However, because of a relatively high fertility and immigration, the situation so far is less
dramatic in our country than in some other high-income countries. Various policy measures
have been implemented to address this challenge, including a major reform of the pension
system, and we are currently debating the need for increasing the age of retirement.
Norway has a relatively high fertility rate. However, there has been a decrease from 1.98 in
2009 to 1.71 in 2016. What we see is that young women (under 30 years) have their first baby
later than before and that older women (over 30 years) more frequently limit the number of
babies to two. Immigrant women’s fertility is also decreasing.

Our relatively high fertility rate is a by-product of targeted policies for gender equality, such
as parental benefit schemes and full access to good quality day-care centres for children at
acceptable price, that make it possible for women, and families, to combine work and
children. We are however not sure of the reasons for the decline of our fertility rates in the
last years and are working on establishing reasons for this.

As far as migration is concerned, most migrants coming to Norway during the last ten years
have come from other Nordic and Central and East European EU countries. The year 2015
marked an exception because of the refugee crisis in the Middle East. Recently, work-related
migration has decreased markedly and emigration has increased.

Madam Chair, there has never been more young people in the world than now. This is a
great opportunity, which at the same time demands specific attention and targeted policies.
Women’s and youth’s rights and non-discrimination in economic, social and political life is a
fundamental part of ensuring a healthy population and a sustainable development. These
have been crucial elements of Norway’s policies. Ensuring universal access to sexual and
reproductive health and rights and equal opportunities for all, irrespective of age, ethnicity,
disability, gender identity and gender expression, sexual orientation, political, or religious
belief or any other status, is a fundamental part of this.

There is strong evidence about the role comprehensive sexuality education plays in ensuring
equal rights and opportunities. It helps enable people to enjoy a healthy sexual life, make
informed decisions about their relationships, to delay their sexual debut, to avoid unwanted
pregnancies and to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

It contributes to people being knowledgeable and confident in expressing their own identity
and protecting their bodily integrity. In combination with access to youth friendly health
services and modern contraceptives, these are important conditions for realising the promise
of leaving no one behind.

Comprehensive sexuality education is part of the curriculum throughout primary and
secondary school in Norway. There is a close collaboration between civil society actors and
the government in developing curriculum and resources that support the educators’ role in
this important task.

The education needs to be norm critical, to raise awareness of the privileges, power
imbalances and exclusion that exist. Comprehensive sexuality education not only teaches
about the biological aspects of sexuality but also about emotions, respect and integrity and
other issues as part of relationships that contributes to creating a safe and inclusive learning
environment, and is used as an approach to anti-bullying work.

This education addresses the differences in sexual orientations and gender identities that
exists, including among the pupils and students. However, we still see challenges among
youth and children. Therefore, in Norway’s new sexual health strategy, the role of
comprehensive sexuality education is further strengthened and it is anticipated developing
programmes for inclusions of programmes in kindergartens in the near future.

This is also an example of how expertise and knowledge constitutes a resource within
different parts of society. To realise human rights for all require joint efforts of governments,
civil society, academia and people of all ages, the young as well as the elders in society. This
principle is well grounded within the Norwegian governance structures, and as a civil society
actor myself, an open and constructive dialogue and collaboration with authorities and other
stakeholders has been of great benefit to the people that we serve.

Madam Chair, 50 years ago this year, in 1967, the contraceptive-pill was introduced in
Norway. At the same time, the women’s rights movement was growing and became more
active, both within civil society and the political parties, and more women joined the work
force. Looking at the birth rates, we see a plunge in the mid 1970’s , followed by a slow
increase. This shows us how access to contraceptives contribute to the realisation of
women’s rights as well as influence the demographics.

The best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies is by ensuring easy access to modern and
effective contraceptives, and access to information for young people. Youth friendly-services,
an extension of contraceptive services to include midwives, nurses and easy access to
contraceptives for youth between 16-20 years mostly free of charge, have further increased
access and uptake in Norway.

Currently there is a debate on whether young people under 16 already engaging in sexual
activities should get easy access to contraceptives. Health providers, civil society
organisations and youth political parties are calling for changes in the minimum age of
provision of free contraceptive services.

Access to safe and legal abortion is on demand and became available in Norway in 1978. This
policy is well grounded among the political decision-makers and the public. With these
policies, the abortion rate reached an all-time low in 2016, with the highest decline seen
among the young women under 25 years of age.

Madam Chair, to conclude, Norway’s experience is that the importance of women’s and
youth’s rights, of sexual and reproductive rights and equal opportunities that have been at
the core of political priorities have led to important developments in Norway. Norway has
made great strides in the economic and other areas as a result of this approach.

However, we still have challenges and we need to work harder and better to achieve the full
realisation of human rights for all and a future where no one is left behind, both in Norway
and internationally. Therefore, these efforts will continue to be part of our efforts in
implementing the CPD Programme of Action, and in achieving the Sustainable Development

Thank you for your attention.

Tor-Hugne Olsen, Executive Director in Sex og Politikk, 5 April 2017