New #MeToo wave challenges Denmark’s image as haven of equality

Thousands of women across Denmark have come forward in recent weeks with stories of sexism and harassment in the Nordic country which is often viewed as a bastion of gender equality.

New #MeToo wave challenges Denmark's image as haven of equality
Morten Østergaard meets the press after announcing his resignation. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix
On Wednesday Morten Østergaard, leader of the Social Liberal party, resigned after it emerged he had placed his hand on the thigh of a female colleague ten years earlier.
“Morten has apologised and I have forgiven him” MP Lotte Rod wrote on Facebook.  “The problem is no longer what happened but the way it was handled, she added, calling for “a change of culture”.
In 2017 a public discussion arose in Denmark as the #MeToo movement emboldened women across the world to speak out about their experiences of discrimination and sexual assault.
However a widespread change in attitudes did not materialise in the Nordic nation, which regularly scores highly in international measures of equality.
#MeToo was often considered “a minority issue, something that was not really Danish,” Camilla Mohring Reestorff, associate professor in culture and media studies at Aarhus University, told AFP.
Danes tend to see themselves as “progressive, free and equal,” she said, adding, “It can make us a bit blind when it comes to sexism.”
'Domino effect'
In recent months, however, the issue has risen to the fore as thousands of women, including celebrities, doctors, academics and musicians, have begun sharing their accounts of sexism or mistreatment.
The testimonials are “triggering a domino effect and making people conscious of the need for collective change,” said Christian Groes, anthropologist at the University of Roskilde.
“In 2017-2018 there was a debate, now we have a movement of social justice,” he told AFP.
The issue became a national talking point in late August when presenter Sofie Linde, a household name, stunned viewers of a live TV gala by recounting how a senior television executive offered to advance her career in exchange
for oral sex, 12 years earlier.
The revelation led to Equalities Minister Mogens Jensen saying he wanted to “end sexual harassment in the workplace”, and 1,600 women signed an open letter declaring that they had experienced sexism during their careers.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also took to Instagram to call for a cultural shift. 
“We have failed to create workplaces with equal relationships. We're going to change that and it starts now,” Frederiksen wrote in late September.   
However the Social Democrat leader was forced to reiterate her confidence in her foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, who stepped down in 2008 as his party's foreign affairs spokesman after admitting having sex with a 15-year-old girl
at a party event. Denmark's age of consent is 15.
Then 34 years old, he apologised at the time for a “lapse of judgement” and a “morally inappropriate relationship.” He was appointed foreign minister after 2019 elections.

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‘When I said no’: Danish women in campaign against sexual assault victim blaming

Women in Denmark have joined a social media movement responding to victim blaming of women who have suffered sexual violence and harassment.

'When I said no': Danish women in campaign against sexual assault victim blaming
Illustration file photo: Issei Kato/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpi

Using the hashtag #dajegsagdefra, which translates loosely to ‘when I said no’, women have described assault, attacks, violence, harassment and humiliation against them which occurred or continued after they rejected the advances of an attacker.

The hashtag began to trend in response to social media comments suggesting women can avoid being assaulted simply by firmly ‘saying no’ (ved at sige fra). Such comments have been criticised as an attempt to place responsibility for sexual assault, violence and harassment with victims.

The discussion is linked to Denmark’s #MeToo debate, which remains a prominent issue in the country after thousands of women shared stories of sexual harassment in late 2020.


 In the hashtagged tweets, the women describe situations of sexual assault or harassment which escalated after they told the aggressor to stop.

Kirstine Holst, the chairperson of support organisation Voldtægtsofres Vilkår, is among those to have shared personal accounts.

“When I said no I was held by the throat and raped”, Holst’s tweet reads.

Another voice in the Danish debate, Khaterah Parwani, is also among those to have tweeted using the hashtag.

Parwani is director of Løft, an organisation which works against negative social control.

She described several incidents in which she was subjected to violence and abuse after saying no to an aggressor, including being “unrecognisable at hospital” after an attack and “beaten up in a car and lying bleeding on a wet pavement”.

A number of Twitter uses in Denmark also highlighted on Tuesday a report issued by police in North Zealand of an incident in which a 22-year-old man punched and kicked a 15-year-old girl after she asked him to stop whistling at her and friends, and told him her age.

That incident occurred in the town of Espergærde.