Women in Politics in Denmark
a) Structure of the essay.
The theme of this essay is to investigate women’s role played in politics of Denmark. Female participation and representation in political life of Denmark is scrutinized by considering the interaction of various factors: political institutions, electoral systems, legal background, economic forces etc. The essays is structurally divided in four parts:
1. Introduction, where the general description of the country in question and structure of the essay is outlined,
2. Women in politics, which addresses women’s political participation and women in the national legislature and government.
3. Acting for change, which concentrates on the legal side for promoting equality between men and women.
4. Conclusion, which is organized to reflect the reasons behind the present situation of women in Denmark. Explanations are formed under three groups: the historical and cultural factors, political and electoral systems, and economic and social conditions.
On 5 June 1849, Fredrik 7th signed the Constitutional Act of the Danish Realm. With his signature he abolished the absolutism introduced 189 years earlier by Fredrik 3rd – in 1660. Denmark had become a constitutional monarchy with the monarch as a head of the state, but the power being concentrated in the Parliament and government.
So far Denmark has had three –so-called – June Constitutions. The first, is the one was adopted in 1849. The result was a two-chambered system consisting of a low-chamber (Folketing, 100 members, directly elected) and an upper chamber (Landsting, 51 members, indirectly elected), known jointly as Parliament (Rigsdagen). According to this act, all independent men of unblemished reputation over 30 years of age were given the vote. The constitution guaranteed the freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of assembly and compulsory education.
In 1915 the second constitution was introduced. Women and servants were given the vote and proportional representation was introduced. In this way it became virtually impossible for a single party to have a majority in the parliament. Women got seats in the Folketing at the election of 1918 for the first time. At Stauning’s government in 1920’s Nina Bang was appointed as a minister of education. She was the first woman to become a cabinet minister.
The third constitution was signed by Fredrik XI on 5th June 1953. It established Cabinet responsibility, which was a reality since 24 July 1901, but was not incorporated in the Constitution until the 1953 amendments. According to this principle the king appoints a government that has a majority behind it –or at all events doesn’t have a majority against it, which could be called negative Cabinet responsibility. It is in this constitution that the possibility of female succession to the throne was also introduced, although it was agreed that a son should take precedence over an elder sister.
c) Parliamentary and electoral systems.
The 1953 constitution established a unicameral Parliament of not more than 179 members, of whom two are elected from the Faroe Islands and two from Greenland. Elections are held at least every four years, but the prime minister can dissolve the parliament at any time and call for new elections. Parliament members are elected by a complicated system of proportional representation; any party receiving at least 2% of the total national votes’ representation. The result is a multiplicity of parties (nine currently in the parliament), none of which holds a majority. Electorate participation normally is more than 85%. Men’s turnout at the elections is a little higher as compared with women’s, but figure differences are diminishing.
A prominent Danish politician has said the following about the Danish scheme of voting. ‘Our election by proportional representation, which is a very ingenious mathematical method, is so complicated… that many voters do not understand it at all and even the more expert are completely in dark as to who in fact benefits from their vote’. It is true, that few electorate systems in Western World can compare with the Danish regarding complexity. The intricate procedures have a dual aim: a) striving to achieve mathematical justice, i.e. proportionality in the distribution of seats; b) preserving the patter of election districts and a close relationship between candidates and districts. As a result, the electoral system is still characterized by the existence of two kind of seats, four different geographical areas of importance for holding the elections, four ways in which the candidates can be nominated in their districts and thus also a number of complex ways to designate the persons chosen. But to put in shortly the candidates are nominated through one of the two list systems (standing by district or standing in parallel) with provisions for effective preferential or personal voting within the party lists. The seats in the parliament are distributed in the following manner. Of the 175 proper Danish seats, 135 are constituency seats, which are allocated among 17 multi-member constituencies. The remaining 40 seats are compensatory seats, which are shared between three electoral regions.
d) Political system.
After the passing of the Constitutional act in 1849 a number of political groupings emerged in the newly established parliament. These formed into three main groups: Venstre (Left), Hogre (Right), Centrum (Center). Parties are not mentioned in the Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark, which is the framework of the political system of Denmark. Nevertheless, they play an important role in political life of the country. During the 1870s and 1880s mass membership parties were formed with their own organizations, and soon after the turn of the century the classical Danish four-party system had developed: the Liberal Party, represented by peasants, the conservative party, represented by business in the cities, the Social Democratic Party, acting on behalf of workers, and the Radical Liberal party, acting for small farmers. The four-party system remained largely intact until 1960s. After the elections in 1973, the number of influencial parties in the Parliament increased by 5. Two of the new major players were already represented in the Parliament. It is after the elections of 1973, that the percentage of seats obtained by four old parties shrank from 84% in 1971 to 58% in 1973. Many scholars claim that political parties in Denmark are undergoing a change from mass and class parties to media parties.
The roles of the parties that make them vital players on the political arena can the summarized in the following three functions:
1. They carry on the elections
2. They carry on the work in the parliament
3. They contribute to the formation of the government.
Danish governments have usually been minority governments. Therefore, Danish politics have been characterized by compromises between the parties. Cabinet members are most often recruited from inside the Parliament.
2. WOMEN IN POLITICS
A general view of women's situation in Denmark is given by its Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM): this UN index takes into account many factors of women's political and economic empowerment. Denmark is ranked like the third country in the world where the empowerment of women is the more developed, just after Sweden and Norway. In order to explain this position,
we have to understand in more detail the Danish situation.
a) Women's political participation
In Denmark, the turnout rate is generally very high (over 80 % ; it was 86% for 1998 parliamentary
election), and there is no considerable gender gap : women vote a little bit less (the difference in the
turnout rates is commonly of a few percents), but this gender gap has been decreasing. Since the election in 1981, women have voted to the left of men, but the difference is modest; Nevertheless, since the gender gap in party choice among the younger generations is larger than among the older, there are that the gap will widen. It has to be also noticed that the gender gap in political attitudes is more outspoken than in voting behaviour, for instance in the sense that women are more in favour of the Welfare state, especially among the younger generations. Moreover, women tend to vote more preferentially for women than men.
Women's proportion of candidates at national parliamentary elections has been increasing regularly
between 1970 and 1990, before stabilising in the 1990s around 30 %. But there are considerable differences between the different political parties, with a rate of female candidacy varying between 15,1 and 37,6 % in 1998, which is nevertheless a smaller variation than between elected members. It has also to be noticed that the parties listing the more female candidates are not necessarily those who get the more women elected. In 1998, for example, the Unity list had 37,6 % of female candidates, but only 20 % of women elected, whereas the Social liberal party presented 27,6 % of women, but got 57,1 % of female MPs. In general, left wing parties tend to have more women
candidates than centre-liberal parties or right wing. In 1998, the 4 left or social-democrat parties (Social democratic party, Social liberal party, Socialist people's party and Unity list) listed respectively 33 %, 30 %, 37 % and 27 % of women, which is over the average level. On the other hand, central or liberal parties (Progress party, Liberal democratic party and Centre democratic party) had 15 %, 25 % and 26 % of women on their lists, and right wing parties (Conservative people's party, Christian people's party and Danish people's party) presented 25 %, 24 % and 28 % of female candidates. These figures show thus a slightly higher rate of female candidates in left wing parties, but we will see in the next part that this difference is not anymore valid for elected MPs.
Political parties play in Denmark an important role in the organisation in the elections and the political life. There are simultaneously old parties created in the 19th century and new parties that have emerged in the 1970s. Despite a strong tradition of mass parties, membership in political parties has known a rapid decline since a few decades, and in 1994, 6,7 % of the voting population was member of a party. Gender differences have diminished along with the decline in membership, and women constitute more or less one half of these party members, especially among the grass-root participants. A study has shown that women were generally a bit less than the half of the
audience of political meetings. Unlike parties in most the other Nordic countries, only one Danish political party, the Conservative party, has a separate women's section today, but there are examples of informal women groups and networks in the left wing parties and the Social democratic party, their main objective being to work in the interest of women.
Of the ten political parties currently represented in parliament, three are headed by a woman : this proves the rather good women's position in party elites, which had been improving until the 1980s, and is now stable. The available figures show that generally women are better represented at the top of the party organisation, i.e. among executive committee members and national congress delegates. In return women are poorly represented among district chairmen. A comparison of many surveys does not show a recent increase in the number of women internally in the political parties, but rather changes between the parties. Because of these changes, it is difficult to draw general conclusion from one set of figures, but in the statistics of 1998, it has to be noticed that only the Conservative people's party (right wing) and the Progress party (liberal) have less than 20% of women in all the hierarchical levels, whereas most of the other parties reach an average level of 30 %. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the role of women in party leadership is more modest in Denmark than in
Norway and Sweden. Gender quotas have rarely been applied internally in parties, with the exception of the Socialist and Social-democratic parties in the 1980s, and that can explain the difference with the other Nordic countries.
The mobilization of women movements has a long tradition in Denmark. The major feminist organizations that exist today were formed in the late 19th century: Dansk Kvindesamfund (Danish Women Society), the oldest, was established in 1871, and aimed at promoting equal rights (especially political) between men and women. It is still an important and very active organization, which defends the equality of the genders in respecting their diversity; their main subjects today are an equal pay for equal work, the defence of the right to abortion, and the fight against sexual exploitation and violence towards women. The second oldest organisation, Dansk Kvinders
Nationalrad was created in 1889, as an umbrella organisation which comprised a large number of women's organisations, political parties and unions. A new feminist movement, the Redstockings, emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was more leftist and anarchic than the old women's organisations, and less preoccupied of political rights because of its date of creation.
In the realm of women's participation, it has finally to be noticed that Danish women are particularly active in unions and NGOs. But in unions and NGOs like in political parties, women are more represented in the lowest levels of organisation; even when there are a majority of the members of an union (for instance in the unions of teachers or commercial employees), there
become a minority among the highest levels of decision-making.
b) Women in the national legislature and government
Female MPs constitute 37,1 % of the national parliament in 2000. Female representation has been on the increase regularly during the post-war period, with the exception of 1973 election (also called landslide election), which saw the raise of many new parties to the detriment of the traditional ones. The large majority of 30 % percent, defined by Dahlerup as a critical mass, was reached in Denmark in 1988. This representation is the lowest among the Nordic countries (except Iceland), but one of the highest of the European Union.
Compared with the total proportion of female listed candidates, there is no systematic relation : most of the time, the rate of women representation is almost the same that women candidates, or even a little bit higher. The only notable exception is 1998's election : 28 % of the listed candidates were women, and they represented 37 % of the elected parliament. In general, it is thus no more difficult for a woman to be elected, but the last result, if it is confirmed later, can be a proof of an evolution towards a vote more favourable to women.
There are quite big differences between the political parties. The rate of women elected per party varies indeed between 20 and 62,5 percent after the election of 1998. Left wing voters and social democratic voters vote preferentially for a woman more often than right wing voters, but among some leftist parties, women have long been disfavoured by the system of party lists. Surveys prove that the rate of people with no option to vote for a woman is the highest in rural areas, and the lowest around the capital. As we have seen in the first part, the parties listing the more candidates are not those who have the more elected women. The difference between left and right wing parties in term of women elected does not have much significance, but another criteria can be used to
understand why some parties have more elected women: the size of the party. The big parties, i.e. the two main parties which got more than 40 seats in parliament in 1998, have a considerable rate of women elected : 38 % for both of them. In comparison, the three smaller parties, which got 5 MPs or less in 1998, had respectively 25 %, 20 %, and 25 % of women among the MPs elected. On the contrary to the political orientation, the size of the party seems to be significant. The reason is that the competition for the places in the parliament is less severe in the large parties where many candidates are elected than in the small parties with only a few candidates being elected. An exception from this rule is the Centre democratic party which traditionally elects many women.
The parliament has been characterized by a horizontal and vertical segregation of work in the sense that women concentrate on areas related to reproduction, and there were fewer women the highest one got in the power structure. This tendency has weakened in the 1980s. The parliament has never had a female chair, but there are now often female deputy chairs (there are four deputy chairs in the Danish parliament). Concerning the committees in the parliament, in 1997, women were 24% in the committees considered as "important" (labour market, Europe, defence, politico-economic, tax, finance, business, law and agriculture and fisheries, and foreign affairs), whereas they were 41,2% in the other committees.
Nine Danish ministers out of 21 are currently women, which represents 47% of the government. Despite the fact that there has never been a female Prime Minister, there is no real vertical segregation, because all the members of the government have the same rank, and neither does it seem to be horizontal segregation. Indeed, the minister for economic affairs is a woman, as well as the minister for finance, the minister for research and information technology or the minister for the interior. On the other hand, the minister for social affairs is a man, like the minister for health. Women are not limited to ministries in relation with reproduction matters, and some of these problems are dealt with by men. The division of work inside the government does thus seem
equalitarian between men and women, and it is to be noticed that the minister for housing and urban
affairs is also minister for gender equality (this post has been created in 1999 and was attributed to a
woman well-known for her feminist ideas). The presence of this special ministry show how the Danes are attached to the idea of gender equality, especially in politics The proportion of women in the political decision making process has reached the level of a critical mass able to defend women interest, and to progress naturally towards a better equality.
3.ACTING FOR CHANGE : the legal framework for equality between men and women in political decision-making.
The 1953 Danish constitution contains no provisions dealing specifically with equality of men and women, but it embodies the principle of equal treatment of the two genders. Since the Danish authorities started to create and to develop the process of equality legislation. At the moment, there are five parliamentary acts on equality:
- The Act on Equal Opportunity between Men and Women, passed in 1978.
- Consolidation Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women as regards access to employment, passed in 1978.
- Consolidation Act on Equal Treatment pay for Men and Women, passed in 1976.
- Act on Equality in Appointing Members to Public Committees, passed in 1985.
- Act on Equal Opportunity between Men and Women occupying certain executive positions in the public administration, passed in 1990.
The constitution and the equality laws impose, in the political system, certain obligations in relation with gender equality. This legislative measures have had results yet : during the last decade, there has been a positive development in women`s political participation and success in the election (as we have noticed in the second part). The more important measure to materialize the equality of women and men at the political level, was the adoption in 1987 of the Plan of Action on Gender
Equality. The overall strategy is to make ministries and other central government organizations act as initiators of and models for future-oriented and operational activities.
Gender quotas have rarely been applied internally in parties, but there are some examples. The socialist People`s Party was the first to introduce internal quotas in 1977 ; the Social Democratic Party was the next in 1983, followed by the Left Socialists, which enacted quotas in 1985. The use of quotas is, however, very controversial at any level in Denmark, and by 1996 all quotas internally in the parties were abandoned. Gender quotas used to nominate candidates have rarely been used. Presently, no political party in Denmark applies quota system for nominations in national elections.
a) Women`s participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy
Work to improve equality in Denmark has focused for many years on women`s participation in public life and in the decision-making process, starting with the establishment of the Equal Status Council and the five equality laws. The Equal Status Council was established on 31 October 1975 by prime ministerial decision following a proposal from the committee on women`s rights, which was set up to study the condition of women in society. This work was followed up by the government`s Action Plan on Equal Opportunities in 1987.
The Danish legislation meant also to influence the appointment of women to councils, commissions, committees and boards established at the central or local level in order to advise ministers, mayors, and their administrations. When nominating candidates, both a woman and a man should as often as possible be proposed : "Public committees, commissions etc. set up
by a minister to prepare the drafting of rules or the planning of activities vital to the society should
have a gender-balanced a composition as possible ". As part of legislation efforts to obtain a more gender balanced composition of municipality councils, the Parliament has adopted amendments of the statutes for local authorities. It is expected that this provisions will promote the participation of women in political work at local level. However, statistics show that women are still a minority in political decision-making. In order to improve the situation, some ministers have refused to
appoint members from the organizations until these have nominated an equal number of women and men for their seats. Other ministers have shortened the appointment period to put pressure on the
In 1997, the government established a committee charged to considerate the organisation of work within gender equality. The committee was composed of ministries, trade unions and NGO`s. In 1999, the committee submitted a report to make the government strengthen its work to promote equal gender participation in decision-making in society. It also proposed the reorganisation of gender equality institutions. The committee stated that the work of the Equal Status Council was too much and to varied, and proposed to create three separate institutions to divide the Council`s attributions in order to reinforce the gender equality efforts.
b) Actions initiated to promote women`s participation in politics
The principle of gender mainstreaming plays an important role in Denmark. Therefore, all ministerial departments have an equality policy. New national machinery was being planned for Autumn 1999 and new spheres of competence had just been established : a minister for equality, equality law (the five acts we have seen before), the Equal Status Council and women organisations.
A Minister for Equality was appointed on 17 June 1999. For the first time in Denmark, equality is a special field in the government, distinct from the other matters. The elaboration of this minister gives to the principle of equality a new legal base in the Danish institutions and confers it more weight. Since 1 July 1999, the Ministry for housing and Urban Affairs has been responsible for the general aspects of equality. Equal treatment is governed by the Act on Equal Opportunity between Men and Women, which consists of the five individual acts we have state before.
There is on national agency for equal opportunities between the genders, the Danish Equal Status Council which was established in 1975. It has 9 members : 3 members represent the social partners, 4 members represent women's organisations, and 1 member comes from the world of research into the situation of women. In accordance with the Act on Equal Opportunity Between Men and Women, the function of the Council is to promote equality in economic and social fields, but
the Council have also the duty to act in favour of women at the political level. The Equal Status Council is an advisory institution for government authorities and municipalities, advising them on questions of gender and equal opportunities. It co-ordinates ministries' equal rights policies. And each term, the Council publishes a report on the gender situation in counties and municipalities.
Moreover, the Council tries to change people's opinion by making campaigns, conferences and by publishing articles and brochures on women in political decision-making.
Women's organisations are also very important in the process of gender equality ; especially the Women's Council, the Danish Women's Society, and the Women's Worker Union. These non-governmental organizations work actively to influence government policies by taking part in the public debate, disseminating information, preparing conferences and urging women to
take part in the decision-making process at all levels of the society.
4. EXPLANATIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS OF WOMEN' STATUS IN DENMARK
a) The historical and cultural factors
The tradition of women's participation in public life is still very vivid today in Denmark. The first
women's organisations fighting for political rights were created at the end of the 19th century, and
Danish women can vote and being elected since 1915. In 1918, 3 % of the elected MPs were women, and in 1924, Nina Bang was the second woman in the world to become a minister. What can be deducted from these historical facts? It seems that the equality of political and civic rights between women and men has for a long time been taken for granted by the majority of Danish
population. People are used to see women in public life, and women dare engage themselves in politics. Moreover, the idea of equality is a very popular idea in Danish mind, and maybe because the country is so small, everybody is used to live together in harmony and equality. On the basis of women participation in every day life work, the image of a strong Danish woman is a traditional one. Women integration in the decision-making process was very certainly facilitated by the traditional independence of Danish women. Nowadays, because of decades of women's political
participation in the public debate, the empowerment of women is taken for granted by many, without the coercion of laws or quotas.
b) Political and electoral systems
Analysing the reasons of the actual women's situation in the Danish system, we can also wonder if the electoral system and the party system have an impact on women's representation and presence in the political decision-making. In Denmark, the electoral system is based on proportional representation. This system seems to be more favourable for high levels of female representation than in majoritian system. Women' representation also depends for a good part of the parties' choices to nominate their candidates for the elections. Two choices are offered to Danish parties : the « district method » or the « parallel method ». In the district method, the candidates' position on the party's list is decided by the parties. This position is decisive for the elections. Thus, women's chances to be elected depend on party's decision. We can notice that in Denmark, during the last years, parties have put more women at the top positions on the lists, contributing in this way to
increase female representation at the political level. In the parallel method, contrary to the district one, there is no rank order and each candidate obtains his proper votes. Therefore, the electors are the only responsible for the number of elected women. This system is more fair because it is not subjected to the parties' wills.
c) Economic and social conditions
The current position of women in Denmark to a lesser or greater extent is influenced by economic and social condition in the county. The activity rates of women on the labour and commercial market have increased from 71 per cent in 1981 to 76 per cent in 1994. In 1995, out of 2.9 mill people registered in the labour force, 46 percent were females. This high percentage of women’s labour activity demonstrates that females are quite strongly represented on the labour market. That means that economic and social environment makes it possible for women to work. Women’s higher involvement in economic activities is, first of all, achieved due to increased quality and quality of education obtained by female population. Secondly, the combination of ‘family and career’ has been brought to live thanks to highly developed social security and welfare systems in Denmark. Furthermore, higher level of political awareness within women entailed a dramatic feminization of trade unions in terms of membership. Today the level of unionisation of women is at the same level with men. This helps to promote women’s interests on the working places.
But still the labour market is extremely segregated. Vertically, women are more concentrated in the lower part of the hierarchical positions. This implies that there are still some gender discrepancies in career opportunities, and male-culture driven stereotypes about high-level managers and leaders.
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Decision Making, report on Denmark, by associate
professor Annette Borchorst, May 1997
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Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Denmark