Denmark is well-known as an egalitarian society with a generous welfare system that provides equal opportunities for men and women to thrive. However, in recent years, the nation’s efforts in advancing women’s rights in Denmark have been progressing slower in comparison to neighboring Scandinavian regions of Sweden and Norway. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 report ranked Denmark 29th for gender equality out of 258 nations, down from 14th place in 2020.
In 1814, Denmark passed a law on “universal primary education,” granting children irrespective of gender the right to seven years of education. This was the beginning of gender equality efforts in Denmark.
In Denmark’s 1849 and 1866 constitutions, “political engagement was reserved for men over the age of 30 who headed their own households.” In 1871, the Danish Women’s Society emerged to promote social change for women through advocacy and legislation. In addition, in 1915, Denmark through the “democracy constitution” granted women the right to vote and run for the parliamentary election.
Then, in 1924, Denmark appointed Nina Bang as minister of education, becoming “the world’s first female minister in a country with parliamentary democracy.” Women’s rights in Denmark have continued to evolve and advance over the years considering the increased level of women’s involvement in social causes and politics. Denmark elected the country’s first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, in 2011. In addition, Denmark elected Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as the second female prime minister and current Danish leader in 2019.
The 1999 Amsterdam Treaty of the European Union influenced the gender equality legislation in Denmark. The Amsterdam Treaty “promotes respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms into the formal structure of the EU. It also strengthens and focuses the European commitment to gender equality and extends the equality principle beyond the workplace.”
Efforts to achieve gender parity in Denmark have focused for many years on women’s participation in public life and the decision-making process. The traditional independence of Danish women influenced women’s integration in the decision-making process. In 1999, the Danish government, in its effort to strengthen and promote equal gender participation, appointed a minister for gender equality to advance women’s rights in Denmark.
In furtherance of these efforts, the Danish parliament amended provisions of the Act on Gender Equality. The legislation “provides for promotion of gender equality, including equal integration, equal influence and equality in all functions of society on the basis of women’s and men’s equal status.”
Gender Wage Gap
In 2020, out of 3 million people who registered in the Danish labor force, females made up 47%. The increased influx of women’s participation in the workforce demonstrates that females have strong representation in the labor market.
Despite this increase in labor participation, Denmark has stalled in its efforts to reduce gender wage gap differences. The Global Gender Gap Report for 2021 revealed a 38% income gap between men and women.
Experts attribute inequality in pay to gender segregation in labor participation. Danish women are more likely to hold public-sector jobs “while men are more likely to work in the private sector” and in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs.
The Public Servant Reform Act of 1969 paved the way for an unequal labor market as well. This law assigned job sectors that female employees commonly dominate, such as nursing, childcare and education, to lower wages than jobs that are more male-dominated, such as law enforcement. Furthermore, working long hours and employment pressures exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the disparity in income and the gains achieved in enhancing women’s rights in Denmark.
Denmark has a flexible parental leave system as do neighboring Nordic countries Sweden and Norway. In 2019, Denmark’s Parliament expanded parental leave to “24 weeks of leave per parent, 13 of which are transferable, for a total of 48 weeks of leave combined.” This is a significant departure from the previous policy of 32 total weeks of paid leave. Parents receive entitlements to a combined parental leave benefit for 52 weeks. To qualify for parental leave benefits, certain employment duration requirements are necessary. The expanded parental leave will provide equal opportunities to integrate work and life balance for parents.
Danish society places a high value on equal opportunities for women with the election of two female prime ministers, but the work to achieve complete gender equality in Denmark is far from accomplished, more so with the income inequality challenge. The Danish government, in cooperation with civil society and the private sector, can improve women’s rights by creating safe spaces and repealing the 1969 Civil Service Reform Act to ensure equal pay for equal work. It is important for countries to leverage policies and programs that provide equal opportunities for men and women to achieve gender parity for a peaceful and prosperous world.
– Sylvia Eimieho