Updated: 26-Mar-2002 Committee on Women in NATO Forces

Special Edition




Women in the Norwegian Armed Forces have a long history of service. They have had access to military posts since 1938 and served in both officer and enlisted ranks, in all arms and services, during World War II. A political decision in 1947 reduced women's service to civilian posts only. Due to increasing demands for personnel, women were allowed to serve as reservists on a voluntary basis in 1959.

Women were given non-combat military appointments and functions between 1977 and 1984, following a resolution passed by the Storting (the Norwegian Parliament). In 1985, the Storting decided that the equal opportunities law should also apply to the military. Women were consequently allowed in all combat functions. The focus of attention during the last years has been on increasing the number of women. Women serve on a voluntary basis yet, they have the same obligations as men to serve in the event of mobilisation.


Norwegian servicewomen are integrated in the units and serve under the same rules and regulations as men. Women serve in all types of units, including combat units. Training standards, performance levels and discipline are equal. There is no compulsory service for women in Norway, however, they may complete the national service on a voluntary basis.

General Policies

The Ministry of Defence (MOD), in co-operation with the Chief of Defence (CHOD), has developed a Strategic Plan for Gender Equality in the Armed Forces. The four main objectives include proficiency enhancement, marketing (which includes recruitment), family policy, and real career opportunities at various stages. Additionally, equal opportunity and family policy are two of eight areas that have been given special attention in "the Chief of Defence Personnel Policy". This personnel policy was published in June 1998, and has since been developed in more detail. Equal opportunities for women are also one of the stated values in the Armed Forces Ethical Tenets document, which was also published in 1998.

"Chief of Defence Action plan for recruitment" was updated and improved in 1999. In general, the military follows public services' policy on maternity and paternity leave. Basically, an employee receives 42 weeks paid leave at 100% of their salary or an optional 52 weeks at 80% of their salary. Four of these are exclusively for the father, and nine for the mother.

The Norwegian military has an overarching sexual/gender harassment policy detailing actions to be taken in rape cases. The Navy, in addition, has regulations defining sexual/gender harassment. The number of staff dedicated to women's issues is significantly reduced, compared with the situation in the mid-nineties. In the eighties and early nineties five officers were responsible for these issues. Today, one senior executive officer in the CHOD's staff is responsible for Norwegian positions and personnel policy for participation in international operations, women's issues, family related policies and gender equity.


Women serve under the same conditions as men and are integrated in mixed gender units. All positions are open to women and they have no limitations on combat operations. Except for Army and Navy special operations forces, there have been women in all kinds of operational functions in the Armed Forces. They serve as pilots (including fighter aircraft) and onboard all naval ships. Norway was the first NATO member to employ women on submarines. Women compete for admission at all levels and have the same terms of service and opportunities for promotion as men. Few women have advanced to the senior ranks.


Norwegian service women make up 3.2% of the total force (36,000).
There has been a positive development in the number of officers in the Army and the number of women who complete the national service. On the other hand, the number of female officers in the Navy and Air Force is, unfortunately, declining. There are 630 female officers, 42 enlisted personnel, and 54 students.


The Headquarters Defence Command is responsible for the overall recruiting policy for the military. The Armed Forces Recruiting and Media Centre (AFRMC) is the executive organisation and is responsible for co-ordinating all promotional and advertising activities for all three Services. It also organises exhibitions and visits to secondary schools.

Norway has taken an aggressive recruiting approach in the last three years, particularly in the Officer Candidate School (OCS) applications, with new methods to reach their set goal of 7% female personnel strength by 2005 (national service personnel excluded). Additionally, a new action plan for recruitment has been developed. This plan is also focused on reducing the number of women who choose to leave the Armed Forces after some years of service.

The CHOD has tasked a project group to develop an exhibition on the History of Women in the Norwegian Armed Forces, which is available to the public.


All personnel train in integrated units and are subject to the same standards and requirements for basic military training. Physical fitness criteria differ slightly between genders. The annual physical tests for officers were changed in 1999. The time limits on the different tests (running, swimming, skiing and cycling) are tighter for both women and men. The initial evaluations conclude that the number of personnel that complete the test is the same, but fewer get the highest score. As a result, there will be some adjustments to the test. These changes include giving other optional tests and modifying the time requirements.

Norway's military career system is based on a "step-by-step" approach; this means one must start the officer career by attending OCS, which offers basic training for operative, administrative, and technical personnel. After serving in the Forces for at least one year, one may apply for the Military Academy: a two-stage system. Army officers must have periods of service abroad in order to qualify and advance in rank. So far, only a few female officers have completed Staff College and National Defence College. After maternity leave, many female officers change their service from operational to administrative, and in so doing, they reduce their chances of being selected for higher education.


Norwegian servicewomen have and will continue to be deployed in support of Crisis Response Operations (CRO) and other humanitarian operations. They have served in IFOR, SFOR, KFOR, Korea, the Middle East and in the Gulf War. Norway was one of the lead nations to get acceptance of deploying females on UN missions (manoeuvre elements). Norwegian women were employed as military UN observers in the mid-nineties. The proportion of women is larger in international missions, than in active duty.

Recent and Projected Developments

Women participate in three different mentoring programs: one is a program for the civilian sector, one is a program developed for women in the Armed Forces, and the last one is a mixed gender-mentoring program to develop the talents within the Air Force. The initial evaluation of these programs concludes that they encourage women to stay and compete for senior positions.
The CHOD is concerned that women leave the Armed Forces and has started an interrogation focusing on why women are leaving and why they choose to stay. The result was published in summer 2001. Results indicate that women leave for reasons such as difficulties with combining work and family (same as men), not being listened to as women, and wanting other, more demanding, challenges. For the first time, women have been focused on by the CHOD and the Armed Forces. The issue has also been discussed in the media.

In March 1999, the first-ever female Norwegian Minister of Defence was appointed, and in November 1999, the first female Colonel was appointed.


The Ministry of Defence is concerned about the goal of having at least 7% women (excluding national service personnel) by 2005 and has stated that gender equality needs follow-ups. The Chief of Defence will focus on the retention of women. An action plan for family policy concerning support and back up for families having members in international operations is also being worked out.

National Co-ordination Office

Headquarters Defence Command - POC LTC Tore Bjonnes
Personnel management- and Financial Division
Oslo Mil/Huseby
N-0016 Oslo
Tel: +47-23-09-8272
Fax: +47-23-09-7545
Email: toreb@fo.mil.no

National Delegate to the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces

Captain (Navy) Elisabeth Natvig
HQ Defence Command Norway
CIS Staff K-1
Oslo mil. Huseby
N-0016 Oslo
Tel: 0047-2309 8342
Fax: 0047-2309 8356
E-mail: elisaben@fo.mil.no

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