It was a grey Saturday in December 1983. An icy wind from the Oslo-fjord blew through Karl Johans gate, the main pedestrian street in Oslo. My feet were freezing in jogging shoes and the synthetic fur coat did not prevent the wind from reaching my arms. I tried to keep moving tiny steps back and forth and to the sides, but the big triangular placard covering my front and back did not allow too much movement.
People were hurriedly passing me. I managed to stop some of them for a second to give them a small leaflet we had produced in the women’s’ group I belonged to. Nobody seemed to be interested in engaging in a discussion: too cold, too busy!
Suddenly two Arab-looking young men stopped in front of me. The shorter of them asked in broken English: “What does this clock mean” pointing at the hand drawn poster on my front side. The area between hours from 8 am to 2 pm was colored in red.
“My group works towards placing the 6-hour workday for parents with small children on the political agenda”, I explained. The men stared at me with astonishment.
“Do you mean that mothers who have small children must work six hours a day in this country?” the taller of them asked making me realize that the men did not know much about Norway. “In our country”, he continued, “women don’t need to work at all, they are taken care of by men”.
It turned out that the two travellers were originally from Iran, but living in Bahrain. Now they were on a month-long train trip exploring Europe staying only a short time in each country. The following day they would leave Oslo.
“No”, I explained, “women and men are equal in Norway and all people have the right and responsibility to work and support themselves. The issue here is that when children are small it is hard if the main caretaker, either a woman or a man, must work eight hours a day. Therefore we are advocating that during that period in their children’s life, the main caretaker needs only to work six hours a day without loosing any salary”.
Both men still seemed confused and wanted to continue the discussion. However they were not part of the target group I was trying to reach that day. Therefore I gave them my address and invited them for dinner that evening. They came; we continued the discussion that so far has led to a long-distance friendship and hopefully an increased understanding of each other’s cultures.