While I was strolling through the beautiful city of Copenhagen, not only organizations were on my list to interview. I was also interested in how individual people who live in Denmark experience gender (in-)equality in the country. One day I decided to visit the University of Copenhagen in hope of finding someone to talk to – the result are three conversations with four people who are currently living in Copenhagen. I have asked each of them to tell me About their experiences with feminism.
Experiences Denmark as gender equal, but that the topic doesn’t affect him much
I work in the IT-Department at the University. Personally, I have never had any direct experiences with feminism. I know that the situation for women is pretty good here in Denmark, just like Denmark is doing well in many other aspects as well. But I can also see that women are being treated equally at my work: There are just as many men as women working in IT nowadays. And in many other well-paying fields, there are even more women than men working/employed. There are certain professions that are prone to gender inequality but that’s not the case in the IT-department. I haven’t been working here long enough to say something about the past in IT though but today women are completely accepted if they work in IT, even if they do the ‘geeky’ stuff that would be considered as cliché men-stuff. In general, your job depends more on what you’re good at than on what gender you have. Gender unequal professions are maybe HR with more women, and in Public Health Sector nurses are often female while doctors are often male, although that is changing: today, more than 50% of medical students are female. But as I mentioned, the topic of gender is not something I think or talk about often with my friends. In the public debate it is often discussed, but not in my private life.
ME: And what do you think of the living Standards in Denmark in general? Do you like living here?
JERRY: I like Denmark. Our way of organizing society works really well, for example we have good measures that ensure that nobody will be too poor, everybody gets health insurance, and there are equal opportunities here. But to have all these things, we also have to pay relatively high taxes and share a lot of personal information with the government. And there are people that think it is intrusive what the government does with our private information, but for me that’s not a problem. I and many other Danes don’t see the government as something foreign but as a part of us, so that we can live with the intrusion into our privacy. Plus I don’t mind paying high taxes, because I know that it gives societal benefits in turn.
I think problem might be that people have fought hard for it in past, how our workplace is organized for example, it was a hard way. But nowadays people are getting a bit too used to how well we as a country are doing: more and more liberal voices are saying that we should pay less taxes. I think that is because people are getting spoiled; they forget how Danes before us have fought for an organized workplace and equal opportunities for everyone. And they also forget that high taxes pay off more in the long run, like when a family member falls sick and you need medical care for them.
Diamond, international student from South-Sudan
Denmark gives safety to the women living here
I am an international student from South-Sudan, and I’ve lived in Denmark for two years now. I don’t know all the updates on the feminism-debate in this country, but from what I can see, Denmark doesn’t keep a big difference between men and women. First of all, it is obvious that Denmark is a relatively safe environment for women to live in. For example, I don’t experience much catcalling here. I can go out at 2am in the night without major problems; in other places I have lived in that has been very different. I still remember the first time I went cycling in the night here in Denmark, all I could think of was ‘What if something happens, what if something happens’, because I had almost never done that before. So I feel very safe living here as a woman.
But it goes beyond just feeling safe: the government here is really taking measures to make things gender equal. The most striking thing for me in that sense is parental leave. After you have a child, the fathers actually also get days off work! I find that wonderful. And in general, I have seen that fathers spend a lot of time with their children here, be it outside in parks, going grocery shopping or doing other things together. It is really nice to see that fathers are so invested in their children’s lives. For someone like me who comes from a patriarchal society, that is very impressive.
ME: And how would you judge the gender equality in your study field?
DIAMOND: I am doing a full-time Master in Global Health with a specialization in Disease Burden, Challenges and Changes. I really enjoy my study, and I feel like my faculty is relatively gender balanced; the head of our department is a woman, for example. Also, the ratio between girls and boys studying with me in my faculty is 40/60 I would say. But I do feel like later in the job market, there is a global trend of men earning more than women; regarding this conflict, Denmark is making efforts to find a balance. In general I would say that Denmark is gradually trying to close the gender gap, for example their recently elected a female Prime Minister. All in all, I think Denmark is not completely at the top yet, but they are surely trying their best.
Ida and Laura, Danish teenagers
It can sometimes be dangerous for a girl here
IDA: I think men and women are really equal here, but I do feel like men get higher-paid jobs than women. Even though I feel like girls often give their best in school, sometimes even more so than boys, they still can’t manage to get certain jobs.
ME: And if you compare to other countries in the world, are you happy to be a Danish woman?
LAURA: So if I compare to other countries, one really big and important thing for me is that in Denmark, women can choose who they want to be together with and who they want to marry. And the fact that women are easily able to get an education and a job here, that is also a big benefit about living in this part of the world.
ME: And do you hear many people talking about gender equality in Denmark? Do you guys talk about it with each other?
IDA: No, we don’t hear it a lot. And we also don’t really talk about it with our friends. I think that’s maybe because gender-topics don’t affect us so much right now, as they may affect girls of our age in other countries.
ME: And is there anything, any aspect of being a Danish woman, where you think ‘This needs to be changed’?
IDA: One aspect that I find difficult to deal with is the risk of being raped as a woman. You almost never hear that a man got raped, it’s almost always women who are victims of such crimes. And because of that, it can sometimes be scary to walk on the street at night. I don’t think you should be afraid to go out at night just because you are a girl or a woman. So that’s still an aspect that could be changed more – the safety of women.
I really enjoyed talking to these people. Our conversations gave me a completely new look on feminism in Denmark: It is one thing to read about the progress Denmark has made in articles or on Wikipedia, but it is something entirely different to talk to people who actually get to experience the situation daily, in their everyday life. These interviews showed me how different your viewpoint about the same topic in the same country can be. While Jerry does not get affected much by the debate around feminism, Diamond, coming from a different country, can easily count the positive aspects of gender equality in Denmark compared to other places she has lived in. Ida and Laura, two Danish girls, on the other hand, are aware of the benefits of being a Danish woman, but also see threats that are still existing towards women in their country. This leads me to the impression that even though Denmark might have come quite far in gender equality compared to other countries, this does not necessarily mean that women or girls in Denmark feel safe or equally treated. Besides that, if you don’t want to be involved in the gender equality debate, that is also possible; the fact that Denmark deals with gender equality more than other countries, does not mean that everybody gets affected by this topic in their everyday life.