For all the liberals’ complaints about the state of the healthcare system in the States, and indeed the state of the country in general, I’m really surprised Scandinavia is rarely mentioned. Remarks full of yearning for “the way they do it in Europe” generally refer, I’ve found, to Britain, France, and Germany. But after spending eight months in the ultimate welfare state–Denmark–I’m disappointed to return to the US.
Seriously, there probably is no better place to be born a woman than Denmark.
Of course there are problems, like the immigration debate much of Europe is currently experiencing, ridiculously high taxes, and the fact that the ethnic homogeneity of the society makes it hard to compare to the U.S.
But in a country where bike theft is the most rampant crime, women grow up with little fear of being out after dark. Today marks 100 years since Danish women got the right to vote (on April 20, 1908), and this little country, whose monarch and opposition party leader are both women, has a long tradition of empowerment.
Both maternity and paternity leave are guaranteed for one year per child–politicians have expressed that it’s important both parents take time off, so that both parents are on equal ground in their careers. The government even pays each couple per child, out of a philosophy that an extra human being requires extra funds. Abortion, like all medical care, is free; in fact, a publication from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs outright declares that “Denmark is convinced that abortion should be free and legal.” But it’s discouraged through comprehensive sexuality education and widely available birth control. Though most of the population is registered with the state Lutheran church, religion rarely enters into discussions of sexuality and health.
A sexually open culture means a production like “Vagina Monologues” wasn’t necessary. I was surprised it wasn’t performed in Copenhagen (Stockholm did it), but “cunt” was reclaimed here long ago. Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography, in 1969, and while at first I thought perhaps this indicated a culture of violence against women, I’ve found it’s just a result of their sexual openness, and manifests itself more through the Dworkin/MacKinnon definition of “erotica” rather than “pornography.”
There are some controversial laws that impact women. For example, the “24-year rule” states that a Dane cannot marry a non-Dane who is younger than 24 years old. This law is meant to prevent young Muslim women from being forced into marriages, but obviously has ramifications for everyone, and is a dangerous example of the government trying to interfere with cultural practices. Women’s headscarves are also a hotly debated topic.
The country that produced the Mohammed cartoon crisis definitely has some issues to work out. But their commitment to women’s rights, and environmentalism as well (bringing cloth bags to the grocery store, biking everywhere, buying local and organic), is really something to be admired.