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Yesterday Denmark had its Obama moment. Or perhaps rather Hillary moment, as Helle Thorning-Schmidt, winner of the recent September elections, mounted the talerstol (rostrum) of Folketinget (the Danish Parliament) and delivered her åbningstale (inaugurational speech) as the first female statsminister (prime minister) in the history of Denmark. Although the audience – consisting of VIPs like Queen Margrethe II, Crown Prince Frederik and his Australian wife Mary, as well as the remaining 178 members of Folketinget and huge parts of the screen-watching Danish population – was tellingly split between ”cringers” and ”rejoicers”, most people seemed to agree on the event’s historical importance.
Danish women were granted the stemmeret (right to vote) in 1915. (Since 5. juni 1849, when the Danish King was forced to relinquish his absolute power and let his subjects have their first grundlov (constitution), franchise had been confined to men of wealth.) However, ligestilling (sexual equality) activists have had a long way to go, and even though Denmark is one of the world’s most ”equalized” countries, we still aren’t there yet… Yes, it is relatively easy to get divorced or get an abortion in Denmark. On the other hand, women on average still get lower wages than men, and most leaders are men. (As are most soldiers – the værnepligt, ’compulsory military service’, is still a male-only thing; women may join the army by their own choosing. Some do…)
And now Mrs. Thorning-Schmidt, a 44 year old master in political science and mother of two girls, has raised the bar even further for what one can attain as a woman in Denmark. Whatever one might feel about the Social Democratic party she leads (Socialdemokratiet – ’the social democracy’), one has to admire her track record:
At the age of 26 she joins Socialdemokratiet. After just one year she becomes leader of her party’s secretariat at Europaparlamentet (the European Parliament in Strasbourg). In 1999 she decides to give a go at politics herself, and she is elected to the European Parliament. In 2005 she is elected member of Folketinget, and shortly afterwards she becomes the first female leader of her party. At the general elections in 2007 she swears she can beat prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen from the party Venstre. He proves her wrong. But four years later she beats prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen – likewise from Venstre – showing Denmark and the world that gender is no longer a barrier to achievement.