MacCarthy’s World | Battle of the sexes

Sub-editors here, there and everywhere are set to go on a headline punning spree should Denmark’s ongoing leadership changes at the political parties follow the most probable course.

Pia Kjærsgaard announced some weeks ago that she was stepping down and named a young man as her chosen successor to lead Dansk Folkeparti. On the opposite side of the house, Villy Søvndal has now also relinquished the reins of the Socialistisk Folkeparti, and while this contest is ongoing, a young woman is the current favourite.

This gives us the possibility of a leadership scenario that is certainly unprecedented in Denmark and quite probably the rest of the world: the left side of parliament being led purely by women and the right just by men.

The fact alone that left-wing women are in power at present will have journalists angling to inject a ‘gender-battle’ twist to stories about Danish politics. And given that most newspapers’ subbies tend to be male, we should brace ourselves for a plethora of racy and rude headlines.

Furthermore, we’ve already got the prospect of a fired-up autumn in Danish politics. Relations between the government and its far-left parliamentary prop, Enhedslisten, are fraught due to what the latter perceives as state welfare-bashing policies.

Over on the right, Kristian Thulesen-Dahl, the heir-presumptive to the anti-immigrant brigade, will surely be jostling to make his own impact in the wake of Kjærsgaard’s retirement.

Continued tight finances mean the 2013 budget bill will be unusually full of compromise and tough choices. Which in turn means that the former prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Venstre, will not ignore any plausible opportunity to exploit the wrangling to step back into power.

The prospect of a gender-divided political clash will be grist to the mill for journalists and headline writers in Denmark and abroad.

It is also likely to focus foreign attention on the success of Danish women in national politics. A parliament where four of the eight parties are headed by women is no mean achievement.

Denmark also has a perfectly respectable record on the proportion of women elected to the house. Collectively, women increased their share of the vote in last year’s general election to take 38.8 percent of parliamentary seats (up from 37.7 percent four years earlier).

Only the other Nordic countries can pride themselves on a similar showing and most of Europe cannot boast of a rate much above 20 percent.

This statistic might cause overseas observers to wax lyrical about Denmark’s wonderfully far-reaching gender equality (or to condemn if they’re of a misogynistic bent).

Sadly, though, Danish women’s prominent role in national politics is not mirrored elsewhere in society. Though many more women than men are employed by local authorities across the country, just 25 percent of the top jobs are held by females.

The proportion is even worse at the top of the private sector with less than 13 percent of board chairs of listed companies being occupied by women.

There’s a severely disproportionate amount of women in low-paid, part-time jobs that cannot be explained away in terms of educational achievement or ability.

Some 57 percent of the places in upper high school are taken by girls, and they’ve also been outclassing the chaps in university admissions for several years. When it comes to cool cash, continued wage and pensions disparity between the genders makes for depressing reading. Every time a man lodges 170 kroner into his pension pot, a woman only manages 100 kroner – so a poorer retirement beckons.

In 2009 (the newest international comparative data I’ve been able to locate) Danish men had a 12 percent wage advantage over women. While this was largely in line with the other Nordics as well as countries like Iceland, Italy, Greece and France, it was immensely preferable to the 39 percent gap seen in South Korea. Among the developed economies in this particular survey only Hungary could pride itself on near-evenness – a 4 percent advantage for the guys.

But Hungary also has one of Europe’s lowest parliamentary participation ratios for females – 9 percent. Which only goes to show that you can’t, right now, have it all. So Sisters: despite our many gains, it is still too early to declare mission accomplished.

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