by Kristen Devlin, program associate, International Programs
Drawing upon experience in international affairs, youth issues, and sub-Saharan Africa, Gry Larsen, Norway’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, delivered the opening words at the Seventh Annual Conference on Population, Reproductive Health, and Economic Development that took place recently in Oslo, Norway. In her address, she emphasized to an audience of researchers the importance that research has in developing a strong knowledge base for making sound policy decisions. Research should be considered a common platform for good discussion about important social issues.
Larsen’s opening was thoughtful not only because it set the tone for this Population and Poverty “PopPov” Network conference by addressing the connections between population research and policy outcomes, but she also adeptly connected the issues central to the Population and Poverty (PopPov) research network—women’s empowerment, access to health care and services, and poverty reduction— to her home country, Norway. PopPov issues, she said, are close to Norway’s heart.
For example, less than a century ago, Norway was considered a developing country, starkly different from its economic prosperity today. She highlighted women’s empowerment as a significant contributing factor to the country’s development, saying that three in four Norwegian women are currently active in the labor market, which has a positive effect on the economy.
Along those lines, Larsen mentioned Norway’s current contributions toward international development and women’s health and empowerment. This includes a long-standing development cooperation (of which gender is a major focus) with the government of Malawi, as well as a doubling of funds, for a total of $50 million, allocated to international family planning commodities over the next eight years.
The deputy minster acknowledged that because certain subjects, such as sexual and reproductive health for women and youth, can be controversial, a research-based approach is essential for approaching development. This recognition of the importance of population research, combined with her reflections about the development of her home country, made the conference opening very memorable for us.