This report is based on the aims and strategies for the Ombud as stated in St. prp. No. 1 (2005-2006). The following aims have been taken into account:
- Ensuring that Norwegian court and administration practice is in accordance with the obligations Norway has regarding the UN Women's Convention and the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
- Taking care of promotion and guidance tasks that will contribute to increased equality and equal opportunities in areas within the scope of the Ombud's function
- Carrying out public information work and providing support and guidance to public, private and voluntary bodies that work for equality and against discrimination
- Supervising the nature and extent of discrimination, contributing to developing competence and spreading knowledge about equality
- Intensifying efforts in the discrimination and equality field. Increased force and visibility.
- A low-threshold opportunity with fast case handling
- Marketing the Ombud to the user groups
The year 2006 has been influenced by the recent establishment of the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud. In addition to the merger of three previous bodies, the Centre against Ethnic Discrimination, the Gender Equality Ombud and the Centre for Equality, the organisation has acquired knowledge about three new discrimination areas: reduced functional ability, age and sexual orientation. Norway has not had an Ombud for ethnic minorities, language and religion before, so this was also new. In 2006, the Ombud spent a lot of time in the media and on establishing a dialogue with users and target groups through meetings, events, lectures and stands all over the country.
The combination of being an active promoter in addition to having a follow-up enforcement role is important and vital for the Ombud in order to be able to contribute to preventing discrimination and ensuring that we may have a society where everyone have the same opportunities. One of the tools the Ombud has used in its promotional work, is the knowledge that individual cases on discrimination can offer us. There are complex reasons behind the difference between men and women's salaries. Specific knowledge about involuntary part-time work for Norwegian midwives, or the different practices of the regulations regarding clothing supplements for female laundry staff, adds an extra practical dimension to the promotional work.
Documentation work that will be displayed in a discrimination barometer each year is another important promotion task. The same goes for guidance for individuals, public authorities, partners in working life, educational establishments etc. The Ombud has spent the first year on pioneering work by handling multiple discriminations. A number of links have been identified between grounds that will have importance for future promotional work.
Ensuring that Norwegian court and administration practice is in accordance with the obligations Norway has regarding the UN Women's Convention and Racial Discrimination Convention
In 2006, the Ombud dealt with ongoing cases that affected the two UN conventions. Some of these may be emphasised: the Biotechnology Act - egg and semen donation, the approval regulations for doctors outside the EEA area, protection against racial abuse - § 135 a of the General Civil Penal Code, conditions for right to expectancy benefit - regulations pursuant to the Labour Market Act.
The Ombud has written a consultative statement regarding the government's CEDAW report and took part in the examination of Norway at CERD in Geneva. The organisation of the Ombud's further work in relation to our role will be assessed on the basis of these experiences.
There has been extensive international interest in the new Ombud regulations and many foreign delegations have shown particular interest in Norwegian work with gender equality. An important contribution to making Norwegian gender equality known abroad has been the Ombud's contribution to developing the website ”Gender in Norway – Gender.no.”
Taking care of promotion and guidance tasks that will contribute to increased equality and equal opportunities in areas within the scope of the Ombud's function
Among the important legal promotional activities that the Ombud has been involved with, the following deserve special mention:
- Unified legal discrimination protection
- New law banning discrimination on the grounds of reduced ability and adaptations
- Recruitment agencies' responsibilities in relation to the Working Environment Act's ban on discrimination on the grounds of age
- Change in regulations in the Civil Service Act, § 10
- The rules about temporary positions and continuous service in the Working Environment Act, § 14-9 (5)
- Loss of unemployment benefits for self-employed people
The Ombud has also been involved in questions relating to gender-neutral rules for earning and withdrawing of parental leave, child benefits etc.
The Ombud has picked up several cases of general interest within the Ombud's mandate in 2006. Some examples: interpretation within the legal system, registering hate crimes, post-graduate medical internship and parental leave, clothes supplements for municipal laundry staff, police checks on foreigners and the requirement to use both language standards in government offices.
Some of the Ombud's promotional work was attended to by carrying out and completing large projects: the nomination campaign Election 2007 – more women at the top of the lists, Age Discrimination Week 2006 – information initiatives on the ban of age discrimination at work, Fostering Caring Masculinities - how companies may help fathers to achieve a better balance between work and family, full equality and active participation for people with reduced ability, Common Measures - improving documentation about discrimination.
The Ombud has started to collect national and international material aimed at guiding employers in relation to ethnicity. This material has been adapted to Norwegian conditions and will be added to the Ombud's web page in Spring 2007. The starting point of the Ombud's material will be our particular competence when it comes to discrimination issues.
Carrying out public information work
The most important target groups and channels for making the Ombud better known have been vital public authorities, partners in working life, associations, interest groups and other smaller participants, in addition to the media.
In addition to separate launch events both in Oslo and elsewhere in the country, the Ombud has also made an impact at other events. In this connection, a general leaflet about discrimination was produced in ten languages. The web pages are another important information channel for the public. A new publishing solution was ordered towards the end of the year in order to produce more comprehensive and interactive Internet pages.
In total, the Ombud gave around 110 lectures in 2006. These span the whole spectrum of the mandate, with the main focus on discrimination and equality at work. The Ombud received and processed more than 400 press enquiries that, in addition to the Ombud's own initiatives, resulted in 1352 entries in various media (not counting the broadcasting media). In addition, 45 articles and chronicles were written during the year. The Ombud has a regular column in several papers and Internet magazines.
Providing support and guidance to public, private and voluntary bodies that work for equality and against discrimination
The Ombud has assisted a number of employers who want to adjust their practices in accordance with the requirements of the law. A couple of examples: assistance with ensuring the language quality of medical personnel and other staff whose mother tongue is not Norwegian at Ullevål hospital; guidance with a number of action plans at local authority level. These have mainly related to gender equality.
In March, the Ombud started a project to clarify aims and activities for a collective guidance service that could meet the requirements of both the Gender Equality Act and the Anti-Discrimination Act with regards to the duty of activity and guidance in relation to ethnic diversity. In addition, the guidance service should take care of the Ombud's duty to inform about equal opp0rtunities across the various discrimination grounds, as mentioned in the equal opportunities section in the Working Environment Act. The aim for further work will be to use the knowledge we obtain with regards to the duty of activity and evaluation. We will also collect the experiences we obtain that are related to the duty of guidance and the other grounds in more unified work that spans all relevant grounds. The results from this project will be put into practice in 2007.
The NORAD 'Strategy for Women' was presented in 2006. Throughout the process, the Ombud has contributed to the evaluation of this strategy by means of the development cooperation that was completed at the beginning of 2006. The work was started before 2006, and has raised the competence level on equality strategies in NORAD's work.
In November the Ombud arranged a meeting with gender researchers in Norway. Scientists from institutions in Tromsø, Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger took part. The Ombud also contributed to preparations for the Milestone Conference in 2006 and 2007.
In a hearing statement about guidance for the Working Environment Act, § 3-5 "Employer's duty to complete training in health, environment and safety", the Ombud stated that work with non-discrimination has to be part of this training. For the Ombud, it is important to find opportunities to spread knowledge about equality and anti-discrimination amongst those staff that have a duty and an opportunity to handle these issues on a daily basis.
Supervising the nature and extent of discrimination
The Ombud commenced work in 2006 on creating an equality and anti-discrimination barometer. Cases involving gender discrimination at work are still dominating the Ombud's caseload of complaints. The Ombud has also had several cases involving age discrimination at work and discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity. The Ombud has to a lesser degree received relevant complaints on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation or religion/faith. However, this does not mean that discrimination does not happen on these grounds.
The Ombud took up 55 complaints on its own initiative in 2006. The background for us taking up such cases is partly due to media publicity and partly due to tip-offs from the public, organisations or from the Ombud's own investigations. Some examples: refusal on an agreement to purchase a house - despite having the highest offer, separate classes at school for people with an immigrant background, refused application to establish a new taxi company, the value document of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission Association in connection with staff appointments, discriminatory age requirements and language requirements in vacancy adverts and the requirement that applicants must be able to master both Norwegian language variants to work for the government.
A low-threshold opportunity with fast case handling
In 2006, the Ombud received a total of 1230 legal cases and nearly 150 other requests for guidance of various types. Furthermore, the Ombud fulfilled a specific function by acting as an alternative to court hearings in cases involving discrimination. In 2006, the Ombud commenced the contradictory complaint handling of 286 cases with a view to making a statement about whether the conditions are in conflict with the legislation the Ombud administers.
Requests for guidance were received mainly via e-mail, 566 in total. Another important channel is the telephone; altogether the Ombud received 527 telephone enquiries from people who believed they had a legal problem. The Ombud received 90 other enquiries via letter/fax, and 28 people visited the Ombud in person.
When it comes to complaints, it is a slightly different story. 97 complaints originated from a written complaint sent by letter or fax. 81 complaints originated from e-mails, 43 from a telephone enquiry and 8 from personal visits. 55 complaints were taken up by the Ombud on its own initiative following media publicity and tips from the public organisations or from the Ombud's own investigations.
Marketing the Ombud to the user groups
In 2006, the Ombud established user forums for all six discrimination grounds and held meetings with each of them. These forums consist of representatives from organisations and competence environments within each area.
The Ombud arranged two open information meetings outside Oslo in 2006 (Karasjok and Kristiansand), in addition to hosting several information meetings and debates in Oslo. Here are some examples: a 2-day seminar about age discrimination, debates about the 21 year-old age limit, a half day seminar about hate crimes against homosexuals and an open seminar about unified discrimination protection.
The LDO User Committee
Special interest groups and various competence environments were invited to nominate candidates for the LDO User Committee in June 2006. This Committee had its first meeting on 21st November 2006. Members of the committee for 2006-2008 are: Abdullahi Mohamed Alason, Kristiansand; Ivar Bjørgen, Trondheim; Agnes Bolsø, Trondheim; Lisa Jåma, Tromsø; Kristin Kvaalen, Telemark; Ragnar Kværness, Oslo: Thomas Prestø, Oslo: Eilin Reinaas, Molde: Benjamin Rødner, Oslo: Susan Rakhsh, Oslo: Marianne Slinde, Oslo: Berit Vegheim, Oslo: Elin Vestrum, Oslo: Johan Øydegard, Oslo.