Feminism in Denmark
How far have we really come?
Text: Heather Storgaard
Kvindebevægelsen, or The Women's Movement, was a pivotal part of Danish history, particularly during the counter-culture period of the late 1960s and 1970s. Women boldly declared themselves feminists and fought for increased equality through protests featuring marches and songs. This put Denmark at the forefront of many areas considered "women's issues", such as the right to abortion and access to well-funded childcare. How, then, did Denmark end up branded as the least feminist country in the world following a 2019 study?
Many friends from other Western-European countries would say they were feminists because they believe in equality between men and women. Danish friends and family, on the other hand, would often say that they believed in equality but didn't consider themselves feminists, as they didn't actively protest or engage with feminist movements. They also didn't want to be seen as extreme, a typical response to identity politics in Denmark, where the culture is firmly focused on not standing out from the crowd.
This vast difference in the connotations of the word feminism perhaps explains why so few people identify as feminists in a society with high gender equality. However, perhaps this is because the Kvindebevægelse was so strong, leading many Danes to believe that the fight for equality was already finished.
Beginning in the US in 2017, the #MeToo movement gave women a voice to speak out against sexual and gender-based violence. While this led to ugly revelations in the US and UK, Denmark remained quiet on the subject. I remember talking about it with Danish friends, who believed this was because Denmark simply didn't share the problems. As other countries grappled with the issues in their societies and became more aware of feminism, Denmark didn't, leading to the 2019 title of "least feminist nation in the world", according to The Guardian after analysis of YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project data.
However, three short years later, #MeToo exploded into Danish life, with women reporting sexual abuse across all areas of life, particularly in the media and politics. Since then, violence against women and girls has been more prominent in Danish politics and society.
"In 2021, a study found that femicide committed by a partner is the single most common homicide in Denmark."
In her brilliant book about life as an expat in Iceland, Sarah Moss examined crime in the Nordic region, particularly against women, and reported on this. She observed that while crime was mentioned in Icelandic-language newspapers, English-language publications for expats and tourists often focused on the positives, giving those who couldn't speak the local language the inaccurate impression there were hardly any offences committed. Actually, Nordic countries' crime rates are broadly average for Western Europe, although society perceives them as safer.
In 2021, a study found that femicide committed by a partner is the single most common homicide in Denmark. In the analysis of this, migrant women were highlighted as being particularly vulnerable, as a lack of social network, language skills, and dependency on male partners are all factors that make it harder to report gender-based abuse. Statistics and facts such as this are sobering and vital reminders that international women need to look out for one another, even in a country famous for hygge and high quality of life. While gender equality in terms of the pay gap may be better here than in many other countries, International Women's Day is an excellent time to remember that true equality must be fought for and maintained. International women have an essential part to play in ensuring that equality counts for everyone in Denmark, no matter their background.