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Lykke Friis on 100 years of Danish women’s suffrage

She is a former Danish minister for equal rights, now she is Prorector for Education at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). Ahead of a big event Monday, we asked Lykke Friis about what women have achieved

Former minister for equal rights and current UCPH Prorector Lykke Friis will be hosting a university celebration Monday called Fra Stemme til Statsminister (from The Vote to the Prime Minister) to honour 100 years of women’s political involvement in Denmark.

Guests, such as Drude Dahlerlup from the University of Stockholm and Ninna Groes, the director of Kvinfo will speak briefly about the history of different perspectives on gender equality in Denmark, which will be followed by a panel debate with questions from the public.

We asked Lykke Friis five questions.

Has Denmark achieved gender equality over the last hundred years? If not, where do you see room for improvement?
“Undoubtedly, Denmark has always been a country with a great focus on gender equality. Let me just give one example: in 1924, the Danish Government appointed the first female minister in the Western world, Nina Bang, who was also an University of Copenhagen alumna. But gender equality is not a static concept. At the conference on June 1, we will for instance discuss the new phenomenon of revenge porn, of which a female UCPH student was recently a victim.

Lykke Friis, Prorector for Education. (Photo: Adam Garff)

“Personally, I have always made sure to distinguish between formal and informal discrimination. In general, the legislation in Denmark secures equal rights. However, informal norms, traditions etc. can trigger a situation where women in practice do not have equal opportunities. Just take education. Why do so few men become nurses and why are there so few female carpenters? To be sure, as a society we should obviously also be aware of the fact that gender equality works both ways. Hence, we should also be aware of situations where men suffer from informal discrimination. All in all, gender equality is about being able to fulfill your dreams – without being limited by your gender.”

Violence against women, and men

What is your opinion about the UCPH gender quota policies? Have they, in your opinion, had a positive effect on achieving gender equality at the university or hindered it?
“In 2008, we launched an action plan to strengthen diversity at the UCPH and to get more women into research and management. Looking back at the results, I have noted that the share of female Professors at UCPH rose from 15.3% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2013 and the number of female lecturers in the same period went from 29.9% to 34.6 %. So just as with any other issue, it helps when you draw up a concrete plan.”

Has the women’s movement in Denmark also included or helped other groups, such as ethnic minorities, the LGBT community and disabled?
“It is important not only to focus on the gender issue, but also on diversity in general. Since 2009, students and staff from UCPH have participated in the annual Copenhagen Pride Parade. Each year, the University has joined forces with the student LGBTQ organisation BLUS to hoist the Rainbow flag from the University main building on Frue Plads before the party kicks off. And last year, a record number of 500 students and employees joined the University car in the parade. By participating in the parade, we support diversity and help address an issue that affects all of us who claim and wish to live in an open and tolerant society. Even if accepted by society, people defining themselves as LGBTQ still experience more discrimination than heterosexuals.”

Football used to be considered a boys’ sport. When I grew up, people thought it was strange for a girl to play football. Now it is the biggest sport for girls in Denmark

“Another important issue in Denmark is to fight violence in close relationships. It has been estimated by the Danner organisation that around 33,000 women and 13,000 men in the entire population are exposed to physical intimate-partner violence every year.”

Professors – should not just be a men’s game

Can you tell us a bit more about the upcoming event?
“At the event on Monday, we will try to catch the spirit from 1915 and the many events and struggles that led up to women finally getting the rights to participate in parliament and vote. Through presentations from researchers accompanied by short music and theater performances, we will also shed light on more recent gender equality topics such as sexism and women in research.”

What other aspects of gender equality are you focusing on?
“On Constitution Day, 5 June, UCPH is one of the organizers of a women’s football tournament in front of the Danish Parliament. I have my own team. The overall idea is to send the message that women can make their own choices – in school, at university, in their careers and also in their sparetime – without being constrained by gender.”

“Football used to be considered a boys’ sport. When I grew up, people thought it was strange for a girl to play football. Now it is the biggest sport for girls in Denmark and soccer mums have moved from the sidelines to the football fields, just as the Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health has shown in its recent research.”

“Similarly, leadership positions or professorship should no longer be regarded as a man’s game. Because hopefully, in years to come, no one will associate professors with a specific gender.”

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