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Gender Equality - An incomplete success

Gender equality is a cornerstone of the Danish welfare state. When it comes to gender equality parameters, Denmark has been on the forefront for more than a hundred years. That said, Danish men still earn 12.7 per cent more than women. 15 per cent of the difference between men and women's wages cannot be explained. 

Historically, gender equality has played a central role in the building of the Danish welfare society. When industrialisation began to take place in Denmark about 150 years ago, women quickly became part of the work force, earning their own money, paying taxes, and contributing to financing the Danish welfare system. By the 1960s, a network of Danish day care systems had been established. Today, the percentage of Danish women working outside the home is one of the world’s highest.

The 1814 law on universal primary education is often pointed to as the beginning of official Danish gender equality. It spells out the obligation to educate both boys and girls. A century later, in 1915, Danish women were granted the right to vote and to run for office in Parliament alongside men. Legislation on equal pay followed soon after. In more recent times, divorcing parents have generally been given equal custody over children and public institutions have become responsible for promoting gender equality. The first Danish minister for gender equality was appointed in 1999 and the first female Prime Minister came to office in 2011.

Despite being a gender equality frontrunner, Denmark cannot tick every box yet. When the World Economic Forum published its Gender Gap Report in 2021, Denmark took 29th place, down from a 14th place the year before. This index favours progress and Denmark’s drop on the list shows that gender equality is progressing more slowly in Denmark than in other Nordic countries.

Did you know

Denmark appointed the world's first female minister. As Minister of Education, Nina Bang became the first female minister in an internationally recognised government back in 1924.

The Gender Pay Gap - segregated labour market and unequal pay

Denmark has one of the world’s most segregated labour markets. Details and nuances aside, women in Denmark are more likely to work in the public sector providing hands-on care, while men are more likely to work in the private sector and in the STEM professions of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"One would think that choosing a profession is a personal and individual issue. However, we see that norms and expectations limit young people and even kill their dreams of future careers. For example, very few men choose to become nurses as it is seen as a women’s profession alongside other care tasks,” says Henriette Laursen, Director in KVINFO, which is the Danish knowledge centre for gender and gender equality.

“Both employers and society experience a loss of talent when norms and traditions limit people’s choice of profession. We miss out on the diverse thinking that we need in order to maintain our welfare and prosperity,” says Laursen.

Did you know

The percentage of women working outside the home in Denmark is one of the world's highest.

On average men in Denmark earn 12.7 per cent more than women. About 85 per cent of the difference can be traced to the segregated labour market in which male-dominated jobs tend to pay more than female dominated jobs, and the fact that men tend to be higher up in the professional hierarchy.

But there is still 15 per cent of the difference in men and women’s wages that cannot be explained (VIVE, 2020). The Danish government is working on identifying the root causes and finding ways to overcome the gender pay gap.

One initiative is to change the framework for parental leave. A directive from the EU states that as of August 2022, the number of leave weeks must be more equally distributed between parents. This will greatly improve fathers’/co-parents’ rights to parental leave, and assist LGBT and single parents. Right now, fathers in Denmark only take 11 per cent of parental leave when a new member of the family is born. Other initiatives focus on creating more transparency in wages and in promoting women in leadership positions and on management boards.


Changing the culture of sexism and sexual harassment

Another area where gender equality is relevant is the culture of sexism and sexual harassment. Over the past couple of years, the public debate in Denmark has echoed the international MeToo discussion and shed light over numerous MeToo experiences at all levels of society. Many sectors – including media, health, and academia – are now making efforts towards securing safe and dignified working environments.

One example is the revision of the criminal code, which has placed concept of consent at the centre of rape legislation. The law was amended in December 2020 following years of scrutiny at the Ministry of Justice and massive advocacy campaigns. In short, sexual intercourse is now illegal if one of the parties has not expressed their consent. The number of rape cases reported to the police rose by 40 per cent in the year after the new legislation took effect.

Global engagement and gender equality - the right to decide

Danish development cooperation with states in the global south emphasises women’s and girls’ right to decide over their own bodies. This includes deciding how many children a woman wants to have, when and with whom. Funds and focus are directed to ensuring access to reproductive and sexual health, to sexual education, and to abortion.

Denmark has also taken a leading role in fighting gender based violence (GBV) in situations of crisis and conflict. GBV is the international term describing violence targeting women and girls. Denmark currently chairs the so-called Call to Action against gender based violence, which is an international network of 96 countries, donors, civil society organisations, and UN agencies. Studies show that cases of gender-based violence rise sharply during times of conflict and crisis.

Although complete gender equality hasn’t yet been achieved in Denmark, Danish society values equal opportunities for women and girls highly. The Danish government, in cooperation with civil society and the private sector, will continue to work towards creating safe and encouraging spaces for all genders, both in Denmark and elsewhere in the world.