The Balancing Act | Danes are frontrunners in gender equality

”I see men.” This confession is in no way as scary as Haley Joel Osmont’s “I see dead people” in the movie ‘The Sixth Sense’. I’m simply talking about something I witnessed that was ordinary yet remarkable.


When I got back from a recent trip to my home country, India, I was greeted by a sight that warms the cockles of my heart – one I never tire of. I remarked happily to my husband how nice it was to see so many men. But it was not just looking at men that delighted me (handsome as some of them were), it was the sight of men … with children: men pushing their babies in prams, men playing with their toddlers at playgrounds and parks, and men cycling while keeping a close watch over their little boys and girls cycling alongside.


I see them everywhere: at restaurants, on buses and trains, and in the streets and schools. I once saw a man patiently trying to coax his restless and bored six-year old to sit still in a crowded bus, while simultaneously trying to soothe an ‘I’m tired and sleepy but will wail away’ snot-nosed baby on his back. Perhaps not an uncommon sight in Denmark, but nevertheless, significant to me. Never before have I seen so many men so involved in the day-to-day upbringing of their children. Heartwarming as it is, it is also symbolic of a much more important element of Danish society – one in which men and women have equal responsibility when it comes to being a parent. It is representative of a society in which fathers are just as actively involved in parenting, and a society in which gender equality is at work.


An offshoot that is just as wonderful to witness is the number of males who work at my daughter’s børnehave, which is also true of other vuggestuer and børnehaver in the country. This is no coincidence, as this is a society in which men are comfortable being around children and taking care of them, both on a personal and professional level.


This impresses me. I come from a country that is quite patriarchal and male-orientated. While there is a tiny trickle of men who have begun to reverse the trend, it will be a while before it swells to a gushing torrent. And it will be even longer before it becomes the norm.


Sure, things were not always like this in Denmark, and I wouldn’t go so far as to attribute the present scenario to only the progressive attitude of Danes. The state has done its job of nudging them in the right direction and offering the necessary support. To me, this is not just about the role of men in parenting; it is also about the role women play in society. Women are encouraged to get back to the world of targets, deadlines, meetings and breaking the glass ceiling, just as men are encouraged to dunk themselves into the world of diapers, poop, playtime and school. Two weeks paternity leave, following the birth of a child, with the option of several more weeks of parental leave, certainly gets fathers off to a good start and on the right parenting track, in my mind.


Data validates the connection between the active role of men in parenting and gender equality. At about 70 percent, Denmark is one of the countries with the highest employment rates among women in Europe and the OECD countries. According to Eurostat, one of the indicators of gender equality is the proportion of low-wage earners. Denmark – along with Sweden, France, and Finland – is one of the countries with the lowest proportion of female low-wage earners (less than ten percent).


Nevertheless statistics don’t impress me as much as what I see day in, day out. And yes, there are other Nordic countries that are doing just as well. But for me, seeing is believing, and right now, I’m seeing this in Denmark.

This wonderful balance of yin and yang is heartening – something I hope and wish to see in my home country. While this may be commonplace here and not a cause for excitement, I’d say the Danes deserve a pat on the back for getting this right.

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