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Expats praise Denmark's 'progressive' gender equality

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Denmark was recently declared the best country in the world for women. Photo: Moyan Brenn
15:37 CET+01:00
As the world celebrated International Women's Day on Tuesday, The Local spoke with international students about how Denmark differs from their homelands when it comes to gender equality.

On Tuesday the world celebrates International Women's Day, marking the economic, social and political achievements of women and helping to raise awareness of issues that still face many women around the world.

Denmark has an exceptionally special relationship with International Women's Day. It was in Copenhagen in 1910 that a German woman named Clara Zetkin first put forward the idea of having a day across the world that highlighted and protested social issues that plagued women.

The proposal was met with unanimous support by over 100 influential women from 17 different countries. The following year International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time on  March 19th, 1911 in Denmark, Austria, Germany and Switzerland, with over one million men and women campaigning for a woman's right to work.

While Denmark may not recognise the day as an official holiday like in countries such as China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, the small Scandinavian country that was the birth place of the global celebration still boasts an impressive record when it comes to women's rights.

So impressive in fact that Denmark was recently ranked as the number one country in world for women, according to U.S. News and World report released in January.

See also: Denmark is world's best country for women

The report praised Denmark's generous welfare state, free education and health care and its flexible parental leave policy.

“They may pay among the world's highest taxes, endure long winters and watch the sunset before 4pm, but Danish women still remain the envy of many in the world,” the report stated. 

So it may all be fantastic for Danish women, even with the harsh winters and high taxes, but is Denmark just as utopian for non-Danish women living here?

The Local had a talk with some international women living in Denmark and the people helping women come to Denmark to see if the small northern European country lives up to all of its international hype and praise.

American student Alysia Grapek came to Denmark from the US two years ago and has found her new home to be a much more progressive country when it comes to gender equality. She praised the way women's issues are an ingrained part of the state-funded health system.

“Gender equality is less of an issue here than in the US. There, I had to worry about the basic rights, like the right to screening for ovarian cancer if my income was low. In Denmark, it is made a right like any other medical service,” she said.

Grapek said that in the US she experienced workplace gender discrimination, a situation she hasn't faced in Denmark.

“I experienced inequality first hand at a job I had at high school in the US, where I was passed up for a promotion that went to my male colleague due to the fact I was a woman, and was told so straight up. I certainly haven't experienced that here,” she said.

Alysia Grapek said gender equality is a built-in part of life in Denmark. Photo: Submitted

Silvia Schena has been pursuing her Master's degree at the University of Southern Denmark for one year now and has observed a striking difference in Denmark's workplace gender balance at university, compared to her home country of Italy.

“Definitely Denmark is more progressive than Italy when it comes to gender equality. I think one obvious indicator is the number of women working in the university as professors and researchers,” Schena said.

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Denmark's welfare system may be confusing maze to navigate for many women coming from a plethora of different cultures, but there is a rich support network in order to help women find their feet here.

See also: Six reasons it's great to be a mum in Copenhagen

International Community Odense, on the island of Funen, is one such organisation at the forefront of providing families, expats and students coming to Denmark with support to help set up their new Danish lives.

“We work quite a lot with international women in Denmark. Women coming to Denmark have a lot of questions about child care, day care facilities, as well as pregnancy and maternity leave,” International Community Odense's student assistant Živile Petronyte told The Local.

Petronyte said that the parental leave provided by the Danish welfare system allows for women from different countries living in Denmark to still pursue their career aspirations, a situation that is not as common in her home country of Lithuania.

“It is very common in Denmark to see fathers with their young babies on their parental leave, looking after the children while the mothers are taking care of their careers. In Lithuania it is not so common yet, but hopefully it will be,” she said. 

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