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

By: AFP      Published: 07:41 PM, 9 Oct, 2020
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.

On Wednesday Morten Ostergaard, 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.