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Gender equality

What is the current status of women in Danish society?

Photographs: Pexels

Text: Natália Šepitková

When the Danish journalist and activist Signe Wenneberg published a post on her Instagram with figures from The Danish Union of Journalists (Dansk Journalistforbund), which showed how many women were among the 20 most quoted in the Danish media, I was shocked. There were zero women among the 20 most cited experts and only five women among the top 50. It does not mean that women are not qualified enough. It suggests that they are discriminated against and not listened to. Signe also cited in her post statistics from Marianne Dahl from Boston Consulting Group, which showed that there is now a greater chance of becoming a leader in Denmark as a 40-year-old if your parents are criminals than if you are a woman. In Denmark – the country that we internationals regard as the best country with gender equality.

Signe Wenneberg also wrote about how many have threatened her for a long time for her public statements and published facts. "There is something very, very wrong in our little democracy when some men think that women who present facts should be bullied into silence," she wrote in her LinkedIn post at the end of January this year. Signe Wenneberg studied gender studies and cultural journalism. This gave her background to write about gender in the newspaper where she wrote then and since elsewhere. She stopped doing that after threats against herself and her family. So, how is gender equality in Denmark? Is it as good as we expected?

What do the numbers say?

Equality is based on the fact that women and men are equal, which means that women and men must have the same rights and opportunities. All the Nordic countries are at the top regarding equality. Denmark is the country in the Nordics that lags far behind in gender equality. While Nordic neighbours are all in the top 5 worldwide, Denmark ranks number 23 according to The Global Gender Gap Index 2023 rankings. It was even overtaken by countries such as Namibia (8th place), Lithuania (9th place), Rwanda (12th place) and Albania (17th place). It's astonishing.

Although Danish women have better life conditions in Denmark than in other European countries, it is still imperfect, and there is room for improvement. It must be said that women in Denmark are highly respected and seen as having equal status as men. Girls are raised to be independent and strong from a young age, without the need to stereotype male and female roles and prioritise the male career in the family. The number of employees in Danish companies should be gender-balanced; most likely, mothers in many companies have more flexible working hours. Up to 71% of Danish women have paid work outside the home, far below the OECD average (62%).

Denmark's parental leave policy is also among the most flexible in the European Union. Parents with children born on or after 2 August 2022 are each entitled to 24 weeks of maternity leave benefits after the child's birth. For full-time employees, 11 weeks are designated for each parent, and 26 weeks (13 weeks for each parent) can be shared. This new consolidation act brought working mothers a fantastic opportunity to return to the labour market as soon as possible if they wanted.

After all, Denmark is the top country in the world to be a woman, according to the 2023 Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Index. So where is the problem?

"70% of large Danish companies have set diversity targets, but so far, their efforts have not resulted in higher representation of women in leadership."

Leadership and the Pay Gap

Despite the increased efforts of Danish companies to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion, the representation of women in leadership positions has not risen over the past five years. According to Gertie Find Lærkholm, the author of the report about gender diversity in Denmark, women must advance at the same rate as men to change this. World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report showed that the representation of women in leadership has been flat over the past five years (2017-2021).

"70% of large Danish companies have set diversity targets, but so far, their efforts have not resulted in higher representation of women in leadership. Over the past five years, the representation of women in leadership positions has stagnated at 27% – only one in four leaders is a woman, and this rate does not seem to be improving," Gertie Find Lærkholm wrote in the mentioned report about diversity in Denmark.

Another problem Danish women have to fight in their careers is inequality with men regarding salary. Women are not paid the same as men, even if they do the same job. This is documented by a new large-scale study in the renowned journal Nature Human Behaviour, co-authored by Copenhagen Business School associate professor Lasse Folke Henriksen. The study shows the inequality in pay between women and men in 15 countries. According to the study, Danish women earn, on average, 7% less than men, even if they work in the same workplace and have the same profession and job. "Political efforts must always be about how to get more female managers, how to get more women into traditionally male professions and get rid of historically conditioned lower wages in traditionally female professions," Lasse Folke Henriksen says for Ritzau.

Last but not least, Danish society also struggles with the issue of sexism and sexual harassment. The public debate in Denmark has echoed the international MeToo discussion and shed light on numerous MeToo experiences at all levels of society. In addition to #MeToo, they appeared on Danish social networks under the hashtag #NejTilSexisme (No to Sexism). But the fact is that it happened sometime after the American MeToo Movement when the Danish TV presenter Sofie Linde talked about her experience on a TV show in front of the whole nation. Until then, the Danes pretended this problem did not exist in their country, maybe because of their "frisind"- a kind of free-thinking and the fear of being politically correct and boring.

"One of the reasons why we haven't really seen this before is that many people said to themselves, well, we are an equal society, so therefore we don't have these problems," said former prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt for the magazine Time in 2020. "But the idea of Denmark as a gender paradise is a myth. We're good, but we're not that good." As Denmark's first female prime minister (she held the office from 2011 to 2015), Thorning-Schmidt has also experienced firsthand the latent sexism that Denmark has long failed to acknowledge – everything from the media's fixation on her appearance to the kind of harassment.

Publication of experiences with harassment of Danish women, public outrage and a series of shock waves that have since reached the highest levels of power in Denmark has led to more significant efforts to secure a safe and dignified working environment. It was also reflected in the legislation. The amendment of the criminal law in December 2020 introduced the concept of consent within the criminal offence of rape. In other words, intercourse is now illegal unless one of the parties consents. The number of rape cases reported to the police increased by 40 percent after the new legislation took effect.

The new society with the new generation

Although complete gender equality hasn't yet been achieved in Denmark, Danish society highly values equal opportunities for women and girls. Good prospects for the future are also brought by the fact that in Danish families, there is a fair distribution of tasks between partners. Women are thus not overburdened with housework and raising children as in many other countries in Europe and the world. They can devote themselves to their careers, leisure activities, and family.

In the spirit of gender equality, Danish children today are brought up in families, schools, and educational institutions. When political efforts and citizen initiatives are added, Denmark's future could be headed in the right direction regarding gender equality. However, men should understand that they are neither the stronger, smarter, or more capable gender. In short, women are just as good as them.

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