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danmark.jpg (4943 bytes)Feeling the pulse on equality work in Denmark

Previous, equality work in Denmark was recognised by the demand of justice in equal rights for men and women. There was a great disparity between men and women. The men had the power. It was a fight for women’s rights. And the fight for equal opportunities was a matter for women.

Today "equal opportunities work" has nearly become a dirty word. It is a worn-out word, and people are groaning, when they hear it. It is rooted in the myth that the object has been attained. "We have equal rights for men and women in Denmark", people say. It is true, that we have a law forbidding differential treatment of men and women, but we still have far to go. Even though most of the legislative obstacles have been removed, there are still problems – but the interest in equality work has the bias against changing the culture. We still have a patriarchal culture, but it is not so evident any more, and it is not a daily discussion.

In Denmark we have a labour market, which is divided – concerning genders – both vertically and horizontally. With horizontal division I mean, that we still have jobs where the main part are women or men, e.g. nurses and teachers in kindergartens are mostly women, policemen and mechanics mostly men. Vertically I am thinking of the hierarchy: it is still difficult to find women in the top positions in Denmark, both in the private and the public sector.

It is not the law creating this inequality, but rather the culture. So working with equality is not only a question of obtaining justice or reaching the same figures in the statistics, but a question of creating a culture, promoting the same opportunities for men and women, and creating a good life for both sexes.

But even if the words "equality work" are worn-out, we are working with equality as never before. Only in a very different way than we did in the seventies. Today we are working to tackle hearts and minds rather than laws.

The public politics

Historically we have moved from differential treatment of women and men fixed by law in the 18th century, over prohibition against discrimination (1978: the Law conc. Equal Rights for men and women) to directives and appeals to act (1990es). Today – May 2000 - a new law has been passed.

The Danish Council of Equal Opportunities was established in 1975 as a public institution administered by the Prime Minister’s Office. The object of the Council was to survey and work progressively towards achieving equal opportunities between women and men in society.

In connection with the passing of the new Act on equal opportunity between men and women, the Council is now replaced by a whole new organisation:

bulletWe now have a Minister of Equal Opportunities (May 1999) – the first one in Denmark. The objects are to co-ordinate the work of all other Ministers concerning equal rights, both nationally and internationally. Making sure that all parts of the public Administration take responsibility for equal rights in each their field, and to improve guidelines and specific orders promoting equality.
bulletAn Information Centre of Equality attends to connect organisations, authorities, scientists and others taking an interest in Equality, and is supposed to create a forum of debate.
bulletThe Equal Status Board consider complaints of sex discriminations in the society, guides and advises the citizens, organisations, firms and authorities of the possibility to complain about sex discrimination

It is also in the law that the public sector, the municipalities and the counties too, must work for equal opportunities and implement them in all public planning and administration.

The development in equality work has given us a different starting point to an old issue. The fight for equal rights is no longer isolated, but integrated in every corner of the society.

Besides these political achievements, we see young women ‘coming back on the stage’. They are claiming that inequalities still persist. They work in another way, e.g. by writing books telling their stories "It is enough! Now I have said it!". They have something on their mind, and they are serious.

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