By Dánae Vílchez, photos by Synne Bjørnson and Everyday Sexism Denmark
Many recognize Scandinavia as the most gender-equal region in the world. Still, Denmark ranks 14th in the Gender Equality Index of the World Economic Forum (WEF), far from its neighbors Norway, Finland, and Sweden, that are among the top 5.
According to the feminist lawyer Zen Donen, board member of the Everyday Sexism Project Denmark, there is one key factor that constrains the Danish society in particular into becoming more equal. “You have a society where everybody agrees that we are “very equal” then it gets challenging to talk about problems we still have,” says Donen.
Denmark has one of Europe’s most gender-segregated labor markets. Men earn on average of 4 -7 percent more than women, according to the WEF. Moreover, a report published by Amnesty International this week, denounces a “pervasive ‘rape culture’ and endemic impunity for rapists” in the country, as they collected testimonies of difficulties women have when pressing charges for rape.
“Equality is a lot of different things, there is a law, and if you look at the law in Denmark, we have laws that protect us from discrimination. If you just look at the surface you would say that Denmark in gender equality we are very far ahead, but there is a difference between what’s on the paper and what’s in practice”, explains Donen.
Everyday Sexism Project Denmark was founded in 2013 by the activist Irene Manteufel as a way to point out the many sexist behaviors in current affairs. Their Facebook page has more than ten thousand followers and they regularly post about sexism in politics, entertainment and culture. Besides their presence in Social Media, they have created activities and campaigns, both in Sealand and Jutland, to raise awareness on the increasing numbers of sexual violence. One example its the Good Night Out campaign they will launch this year. They will train workers in bars and nightclubs to properly respond to sexual violence.
“There is a big environment in Aarhus of feminist groups, and a lot of young people are very active. We are part of several demonstrations during the year. We have gone to universities to give a lot of different lectures to explain what is sexism, and how it affects all of us. We also talk with local politicians”, says the activist.
Signe Mortensen is a Ph.D. Student and researcher at Aarhus University. She is one of the main organizers of the “Equality March,” a demonstration that will take place in Aarhus on the 8th March, the International Women’s day.
Although she comes from a feminist family, she recognizes that the concept it’s quite a taboo topic in Danish society. She states that there is a lack of interest in the government to address some of the issues that are affecting women’s lives.
“A friend from the United States once told me that what she expected from Denmark that it was the place was unicorns dance and all was rainbows, but we have a lot of the same problems that other countries have when it comes to equality, at least in the western world. Equality hasn’t been a priority for the Governments”, points Mortensen. For example, she adds, Denmark it’s still struggling with sexual assaults, with equal pay and there are fewer resources for research on women’s health.
Donen agrees and considers that perhaps one of the causes might be that there is still a lack of public debate around feminism. “In Denmark is the “F” word. People will still ask you things like: do you hate men? Are you one of those hysterical women? They would even discuss things like: why don’t you call it equalism, and why don’t you call it humanism?”, explains Donen.
Feminism is a global movement that fights for the rights of women, although it has several tendencies and “waves,” they all agree in one thing: Women should live free from violence and have access to the same rights as men.
“My interpretation is that feminism is a way to redefine democracy without the patriarchal system,” says Mortensen.
For Donen, not only women but the whole society can benefit from being a it. “Everybody needs it, women and men, and other genders, the whole society benefits from being equal, people not being judged by their gender. With feminism you can feel free from whatever boxes they put you in”.
Everyday Sexism was initially founded in the UK in 2012 as a way to openly discuss sexist references made in the media and the public discussion. A year later its Denmark branch was created, and since then it has become a reference for gender discussion in social media.
“We collect experiences about sexism towards women and girls. Denmark is the only country where we have a Facebook page that we use it to get people to write their experiences. We show people what sexism is and why it’s discriminatory, especially things that people think are a commonplace a cultural thing”, Donen says.
The demonstration on the 8th of March gathers around 20 feminist groups in town and will be an ideal opportunity for people interested in the topic to find spaces that are suitable for them. The lines of debate in each group are different.
“There are some general lines every group shares like sexual assault and gender violence, but in Aarhus, for example, there is a focus on minority women because of Gellerup. It is a case that has influenced the feminist community in this city”, explains Mortensen. The Gellerup neighborhood it’s considered a “ghetto” with a population of 80 % of migrants from Non-Western Countries.
The 8th of March event this year will be a long day activity with workshops, conferences, and talks, that will end up with a demonstration on the streets. “I invite people to come. There is no hate in our events, maybe anger but there is a lot of love and compassion. It is the basis of it, people need to take the time to listen and engage with women’s stories”, says Mortensen.
While patriarchy it’s still very present in Denmark, the feminists are ready to fight back.