Gro Harlem Brundtland, the first female prime minister of Norway, on Monday described the #MeToo campaign against sexual assault and harassment as a “watershed” moment for women and predicted the emergence of a new culture in which women will be believed when they speak out.
There is still male harassment of women in the workplace and the people who have tried to speak up have been silenced because it is an uncomfortable topic to discuss, the 78-year-old former Norwegian prime minister, who is visiting Taiwan to attend the Gro Brundtland Week of Women in Sustainable Development, told in an interview at the Tang Prize Foundation.
Speaking with Norwegian broadcaster NRK in November last year, Brundtland revealed that she too had been sexually harassed when she was a young doctor by an assistant physician 10 years her senior.
She told NRK that the man, who was married with children, began to tickle her on the ear and neck while she was analyzing urine samples in a laboratory.
Aside from this incident, Brundtland told that she has not been exposed to other instances of sexual harassment, perhaps because she became a leader of her Labour Party at a young age and people “don’t dare” harass a leader.
Since the #MeToo movement, however, Brundtland said she has become aware of the prevalence of sexual harassment and believes that the movement marks a “watershed” moment for women.
“It will now be possible to have another culture developed, and to have the whistleblowers listened to. And then things will change,” she said.
Brundtland served three terms as prime minister of Norway (1981, 1986-1989, and 1990-1996), and worked to introduce gender parity in her Cabinet and promote women’s participation in politics.
Her Labour Party adopted a rule in 1983 requiring that 40 percent of its candidates for public office be women. In her second Cabinet term, she appointed eight female Cabinet members out of 18.
When asked what advice she has for the Taiwanese government, which is now led by a female president but still has a low percentage of female ministers, Brundtland said that when she was prime minister, she felt that it was her responsibility to increase the number of women in her government.
“This is what needs to be done,” she said, adding that qualified female Cabinet members can be found not only from inside parliament, but from outside as well.
When told that female legislators account for more than 30 percent of all legislators in Taiwan — in fact, Taiwan now has a record percentage of women legislators at 38 percent following the 2016 elections — Brundtland said the number is enough for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to bring more women into government.
“You have to complain about that and tell the president that she needs to take more women,” she said.
Brundtland, winner of the 2014 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development, is visiting Taiwan to attend the Gro Brundtland Week of Women in Sustainable Development, which honors female researchers from developing countries and Taiwan.
Five female researchers from South Africa, Kenya, India, the Philippines and Malaysia will receive the 2018 Gro Brundtland Award at a ceremony to be held April 3.
Brundtland is a former chairwoman of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), which coined the term “sustainable development” in a 1987 landmark report titled “Our Common Future.”
The 1987 “Brundtland Report” by the WCED lays the groundwork for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which produced a global action plan for sustainable development known as Agenda 21 and initiated the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the lead-up to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — the predecessor of the 2016 Paris Agreement.