24 February 2021
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) concluded this afternoon the examination in public session of Denmark's report, which began on Monday, February 22.
METTE KAAE HANSEN, from the Department of Gender Equality at the Ministry of Employment, presented the report on Denmark’s measures to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. She argued that Danish women participated in the labour market almost on an equal footing with men, adding that a woman headed the Government and that women generally enjoyed equal opportunities in the political, economic, social, cultural and civil spheres. However, the Danish Government recognized that more progress was needed to achieve full equality between women and men, but it pointed to important milestones that had been achieved. These included new legislation on rape, based on the criterion of non-consent, and the improvement of support services for women victims of domestic violence, as well as initiatives to combat sexual harassment in the workplace and in education.
Presenting the situation in the Faroe Islands, the delegation announced, among other things, the creation of a Gender Equality Office in 2019. One of its main objectives was to raise awareness of the issue and help increase the number of women in decision-making positions. As for Greenland, a new law, which came into force on January 1, 2021, extended leave in connection with pregnancy, birth and adoption. The delegation also pointed out that women were no longer over-represented in Greenland's unemployment statistics. It also reported that there had been an increase in public awareness of abusive, degrading and discriminatory practices against women.
The Director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights referred to the second wave of the #MeToo movement, which had been widely discussed in Denmark since August 2020. She recommended that public authorities take further measures against sexual harassment at work.
NICOLE AMELINE, an expert of the Committee examining the report of Denmark, said she was aware of recent major advances in the country, including the adoption of the Rape Act, a policy focusing on youth, and measures taken against online violence. However, she also said she expected answers to some recurring weaknesses aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. She recommended an exceptional mobilization of resources, a political renewal in the will to promote equality, the consolidation of legislative frameworks and a greater determination to eradicate all forms of discrimination. She also noted the unequal application of the Convention and the Optional Protocol throughout the Kingdom of Denmark.
The consequences of the health crisis raised concerns among other Committee members, particularly for vulnerable groups such as elderly women, homosexual, bisexual, trans, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ) persons, migrant women, indigenous women, asylum seekers and homeless people. Experts noted with concern the significant delays in women's political participation in Denmark, particularly in government, as well as on the boards of major companies, questioning the introduction of quotas to address the lack of parity. The persistent wage gap between men and women was also noted.
The Danish delegation stressed that its Government was aware of gender stereotypes in Denmark and working to take steps to improve the situation, such as encouraging parental leave for men and work sharing. In the education system, students were now more aware of gender equality and human rights. The delegation also recalled that all ministries now had to integrate the gender perspective in their programmes.
The Danish delegation was composed of officials from the Department of Gender Equality, as well as from the Ministries of Health, Justice, Immigration and Integration, Employment, Culture, Children and Education, Social Affairs and the Elderly, Industry and Finance, and Foreign Affairs.
The Committee, which will hold its closing public session tomorrow, will adopt concluding observations on Denmark's report in a closed session on 4 March. The concluding observations on Denmark's report will be available on the webpage dedicated to this session of the Committee.
Presentation of the report by Denmark
The Committee reviewed Denmark’s ninth periodic report (CEDAW / C / DNK / 9), as well as the country's responses to a list of issues it had submitted.
METTE KAAE HANSEN, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Department of Gender Equality at the Ministry of Employment, immediately underlined that successive governments of the Kingdom of Denmark have always strived to improve the country’s legally binding legislation and regulations to achieve gender equality between women and men. Nowadays, Danish women participated in the labor market almost on an equal footing with men, she argued, adding that the current government was headed by a woman, and women generally benefited from equal opportunities in the political, economic, social, cultural and civil spheres.
The Danish government recognized, however, that progress remained to be made to achieve full equality between women and men in society, which was why it carefully considered the Committee’s recommendations following the previous dialogue in May 2015, assured Ms. Kaae Hansen.
Regarding violence against women, the representative informed the Committee that the Danish Parliament had set several important milestones; it had broadened the scope of the Criminal Code and allocated funds to develop support services and awareness. Among the most important initiatives of the past twelve months, the head of the delegation highlighted the new legislation on rape, which criminalized sexual relations without consent, as well as a national information campaign to raise awareness of the new rules among citizens, inform them about a new hotline for victims and generate a debate, especially among young people. As such, new teaching guidelines on sexual education were being developed to reflect this notion of consent.
In addition, Parliament allocated funds in 2020 to strengthen support services for women victims of domestic violence, in particular to create additional permanent shelters for battered women and to increase the funding of non-governmental organizations offering outpatient counseling services for victims. The COVID-19 pandemic had clearly had a severe impact on victims of domestic violence, Ms. Kaae Hansen said, adding that the government had quickly decided to allocate additional funds to deal with this crisis.
In 2019, Parliament decided to criminalize psychological violence and provided training to the police and the prosecution. Ms. Kaae Hansen added that a survey on the prevalence of psychological violence against women would be conducted this year.
All women should be able to make decisions about their body freely, said the Danish representative, adding that neither religion nor culture could be used as an excuse to limit women's rights. She said that the myth of the hymen as a symbol of virginity was used to hold back women and their freedom to decide about their own body and their sexuality. To counter this, she said Parliament had decided in 2019 to ban hymenoplasty (surgical construction of an artificial hymen).
The Government had also proposed to amend legislation on psychological violence to clarify that negative social control was a form of psychological violence and therefore should be punishable. The proposed bill included the criminalization of the harmful practice of keeping women in civil, religious or other forms of marriage against their will. The government had also proposed to criminalize the religious marriage of minors and allow authorities to withdraw or refuse to issue a Danish passport or travel document to children who were at risk of being married abroad.
On the issue of online sexual harassment and abuse, which disproportionately affected women and girls, Ms. Kaae Hansen said the Government had launched a campaign on digital harassment last year to educate young people about the consequences of indecent online exposure, the unauthorized sharing of private images and the manipulation of pornographic images.
Ms Kaae Hansen deplored that sexual harassment was still prevalent in Danish society and told the Committee that her Government had launched new initiatives last 14 November to combat this scourge in the workplace and schools. Among these initiatives, she mentioned that a tripartite dialogue had been established with social partners to improve prevention and strengthen sanctions for sexual harassment at work. An emergency harassment telephone number had also been revived, and, from December 2021, a national whistleblower system would be in place to help counter violations of the law, including sexual harassment.
Regarding women’s participation in the labor market, which is high in Denmark, Ms. Kaae Hansen took note of the Committee's recommendations and announced some of the Government’s actions to reduce the pay gap between men and women. Currently, parental leave could be shared equally between women and men, but only around 10 per cent of Danes used it, which is why an awareness campaign would be launched again. The government also sought to encourage female entrepreneurship and had introduced a maternity equalization program for the self-employed to increase their financial compensation during maternity, paternity, and parental leave.
As for academia, women were still under-represented in teaching and lecturing positions. The Government had thus decided this year to strengthen the “Inge Lehmann” talent program to promote a more equal gender balance in the field of research.
Regarding the representation of women on boards of directors and company management, the Government was reviewing legislation and policies to assess how to achieve gender balance in public and private enterprises more quickly.
Ms. Kaae Hansen informed the Committee that the Government had taken several measures to address gender segregation in the education system. These measures would focus this year on how vocational schools could work on gender equality and promote a better balance among their students.
In conclusion, Ms. Kaae Hansen stressed that gender equality and the fight for the rights of women and girls around the world remained priority areas for Denmark and central elements of its development cooperation and humanitarian action. Last year, the Kingdom had provided more than $ 63 million in extraordinary funding for the COVID-19 pandemic to help frontline organizations continue their important work for women and girls in vulnerable situations.
To show its commitment to the right of all women and girls to make decisions about their life, their body and their future, Denmark had co-organized in 2019 the Nairobi Summit (ICPD + 25) with the Government of Kenya and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Ms. Kaae Hansen said that Denmark was proud to co-lead, since July 2020, the Coalition of Action for Body Self-Reliance and Reproductive and Sexual Health Rights as part of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. At the end of 2020, the Danish Government had launched its fourth and very ambitious national action plan on the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. And, in January 2021, Denmark had taken the lead in the global “Call to Action for Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies” initiative.
With regard to the implementation of the Convention in the Faroes, the delegation said that government initiatives, such as social benefits, childcare, a targeted gender-equality policy, increased opportunities to obtain an equal share of paid parental leave, more educational opportunities and more scholarships for students with children, partly explained why emigration had stopped and why mostly young women were returning or deciding to stay in the Faroes.
The representative said that several support measures had been put in place to stem the negative social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Support was also being made available to the Crisis Center in the capital, Tórshavn, as the lockdown resulted in an increase in the number of women seeking help.
In August 2019, a Gender Equality Office was established in the Faroe Islands. Its main objective was to put the issue of gender equality on the agenda in all areas of society and to raise awareness about the issue, as well as to increase the number of women in decision-making positions.
In 2017, several amendments relating to sexual assault were made to the Faroe Islands’ penal code. The sentence for rape was raised by an average of one year and the definition was broadened to include other forms of coercion and abuse of a helpless person as well as sexual assault in marriage. Another regulation that came into effect in 2017 aimed to protect people against violence, assault and harassment. It gave permission to remove an abusive person for a period of time from the home they share with the victim and contained clear provisions regarding protection orders, immediate protection orders and temporary restraining orders.
Regarding the situation in Greenland, the delegation told the Committee of the entry into force, on 1 January 2021, of a new law extending leave in connection with pregnancy, birth and adoption.
Ms. Tove Søvndahl Gant, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Committee that women were no longer over-represented in unemployment statistics, as indicated in the report. Figures for 2019 and still unpublished figures for 2020 showed that the percentage of unemployed women was now lower than that of men.
The delegate reported that women and girls continued to outperform men and boys in upper secondary, vocational and higher education.
The trends were also positive for the participation of women in politics. Indeed, women had been occupying Greenland's two seats in the Danish Parliament since 2011, and three out of five mayors were women.
Regarding the case of sexual harassment mentioned in the report of the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council of Greenland, the representative said that the District Court in January 2021 convicted the defendant on four counts of indecency and sentenced him to 60 days imprisonment. The case had generated enormous interest in raising public awareness of abusive, degrading, and discriminatory practices against women and the importance of ending behavior and practices that undermined women's dignity. Following this condemnation, one of the largest political parties announced a policy against sexual harassment," said Ms. Søvndahl Gant.
National human rights institution
LOUISE HOLCK, Director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, which is also the national human rights institution of Greenland, commended Denmark’s positive initiatives on psychological violence, rape legislation and sexual harassment.
Ms. Holck, however, called on the Danish Government to pay more attention to several issues. On sexual harassment, she referred to the second wave of #MeToo, which had been widely debated in Denmark since August 2020. The Institute recommended that the Government take measures to ensure that an employer was held responsible in cases of sexual harassment committed not only by executives but also by colleagues and customers.
The director of the Danish National Institution welcomed the new rape law, which was now based on the criterion of consent, but stressed the importance of carrying out preventive awareness-raising and educational activities for young people.
Regarding trafficking, Ms. Holck recalled that most victims were women and that their number was probably higher than statistics indicated. She hoped Denmark would take steps to ensure that effective criminal investigations were carried out.
Ms. Holck said research from the Institute showed that women avoided online debate more often than men. Whether conducted online or offline, debate was the foundation of democracy, she stressed. She recommended that Denmark enforce the law in terms of social media liability for illegal content.
As for women in politics, the Institute recommended measures to encourage the representation of women, especially at the municipal level.
The director of the Institute also recommended that the Government reform the law on parental leave to apply the new European directive on the balance between private and professional life for both women and men.
Finally, Ms. Holck drew attention to the issue of violence against women and girls in Greenland, where the level was significantly higher than in Denmark. She stressed the importance of tackling this phenomenon and recommended that Greenland ensure proper data collection and analysis of violence against children and against women, especially women with disabilities.
Examination of the report
Questions and comments from Committee members
NICOLE AMELINE, the Committee's rapporteur for Denmark, said she had high expectations from a country that is among the most advanced in terms of equality. While aware of major recent advances in Denmark, including the Rape Act, youth policy, and measures against online violence, the Committee also expected answers to some persistent weaknesses aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis. This implied an exceptional mobilization of resources, a political renewal in the will to promote equality, the consolidation of legislative frameworks and an increased determination to eradicate all forms of discrimination in order to comply with the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030. Ms. Ameline drew attention to the idea of creating a national plan on parity by 2030 in order to adopt a proactive approach, recalling that the lack of parity was an attack on democracy, which must be fully representative.
Referring to the legal force and status of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Ms. Ameline suggested that the time had come for its formal integration into the domestic legal order, which would send an extremely strong signal.
In examining the report, the rapporteur noted that the Convention and the Optional Protocol was being applied unevenly across the territories of the Kingdom of Denmark. She added that speeding up its application was necessary in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She asked the Danish delegation whether a joint coordination mechanism could be envisaged with the Faroe Islands and Greenland, while respecting the autonomy of these territories, in order to reduce the existing legislative disparities in the area of women's rights. She also asked whether there were plans to strengthen national human rights institutions and to establish one in the Faroe Islands.
Ms. Ameline noted that Denmark’s statistics system was not sufficiently solid to constitute a real decision-making tool and an adequate evaluation mechanism. She stressed the importance of a high-performance tool for accurately assessing the impact of the crisis on the entire territory and modelling the place of women in the reconstruction of a more just and sustainable world.
Inclusiveness is an essential value, said the rapporteur on the issue of minorities. She noted that it would be timely to have a comprehensive legislative approach integrating all forms of violence based on the Istanbul Convention as well as the cross-discrimination that particularly affects women belonging to ethnic minorities or who are victims of disabilities.
Furthermore, the rapporteur noted that the use of the concept of gender neutrality did not fully highlight the importance of gender in public policies. She added that the evaluation of this approach was not frankly conclusive and may create new inequalities. She wondered what corrective measures could be taken to promote the status of women.
Among other members of the Committee, Ms. Ana Pélaez Narvaez showed concern for the significant delays in women's political participation in Denmark, particularly in government, as well as on the boards of directors of large companies. In this regard, she asked whether quotas to ensure greater political representation of women were planned for the November 2021 elections. For her part, Ms. Genoveva Tisheva wondered why the gender pay gap persisted.
On vulnerable groups, such as elderly women, LGBTIQ people, migrants, indigenous people, the homeless and asylum seekers, the experts wanted to know what specific temporary measures had been adopted to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that none of these women were left behind. Ms. Rosario Manalo asked about measures taken to minimize gender violence during the health crisis. Ms. Marion Bethel spoke about access to employment and housing and expressed concern about the situation of Inuit women in Greenland.
The experts also raised the issue of gender stereotypes and the presence of women in scientific and technological studies. While she congratulated Denmark for its education system, which is "undoubtedly one of the best in the world," Ms. Tamader Al-Rammah asked what was being done to ensure girls with disabilities had access to advanced studies and the job market and that migrant women had access to the labour market.
Responses from the delegation
A representative of the Ministry of Justice stressed that the Danish Government was committed to the full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and that it could be invoked by Danish courts. She also mentioned some initiatives around the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, ratified in 2014, such as the establishment of a unit for the prevention of domestic violence, increased penalties for violence against women or the adoption of a law on psychological violence in intimate relationships.
Vulnerable people had been the hardest hit by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially women. The Government understood that confinement posed potential risks to victims of domestic violence and was taking steps to address these. Highlighting the high vulnerability of non-European migrant women, a representative of the Ministry of Immigration said the Government had translated key information on the prevention of COVID-19 into minority languages. The delegation also indicated that additional rooms had been made available in emergency shelters and that measures had been taken to combat intimate partner violence during the health crisis.
Regarding neutrality, the delegation recalled that all ministries were obliged to integrate the gender perspective in their programmes. While acknowledging it could have a negative effect on promoting gender equality, she pointed out that laws and policies were developed based on an agreement by the parties to eliminate all discrimination.
In addition, the delegation noted that Parliament passed a law in 2018 on the prohibition of exclusion from the labor market based on disability. Regarding marginalized women living in poverty, the Government introduced temporary assistance, particularly for single-parent families, most of whom were women.
Regarding LGBTIQ women, Ms. Kaae Hansen said that research proved they were more vulnerable to violence than other groups of women, and the Government had implemented an action plan in 2019 that would better meet their needs. The definition of hate crimes and hate incitement would be expanded to include gender and gender identity.
In the political arena, women's organizations had a strong influence in ensuring women's representation, and several parties were taking steps towards gender equality, noted Ms. Kaae Hansen, adding that the Government currently had seven women ministers out of 20.
Regarding the under-representation of women in senior positions in business, the head of the delegation said the Government was aware of this and working on it, adding, however, that Parliament did not support the quota system. While private companies must report annually on this issue, she acknowledged that progress was too slow, and the Government was considering changes to existing legislation that currently applied to board members only and not to management positions. Companies were also encouraged to adopt the code of diversity in management positions, which encouraged greater women participation.
With respect to the persistent wage gap between men and women, the delegation noted that dialogue with the social partners was one of the tools used for raising awareness of the problem in private companies.
While women were less represented than men on social media networks, recent examples showed they used them to participate actively in political debates, said a Ministry of Culture representative. As such, the #MeToo movement had sparked debate and a surge of protest condemning the sexual harassment of women working in the media.
According to a representative of the Ministry of Children and Education, women and young people needed special attention because these groups did not know where to seek help when they faced online harassment. The Government had launched an information campaign and was working on developing and disseminating materials on digital literacy.
A representative of the Ministry of Immigration acknowledged that the employment rate of non-Western women was low because they faced multiple barriers and had difficulty fitting in. Targeted measures must be taken to remove those obstacles and improve the realization of their rights, she continued. She noted that some initiatives had already been taken. These included access to employment, assistance to ethnic minorities, and the setting up of shelters for victims of violence.
The delegation noted that the Government was aware of gender stereotypes in Denmark and trying to improve the situation by promoting parental leave for men and job sharing, for example. In the education system, students were now more aware of gender equality and human rights.
The delegation informed the Committee that a Ministry of Equality would be duly established in Greenland in order to impress upon Parliament its treaty obligations. It indicated that the Territory complied with the provisions of the Istanbul Convention and the action plan against violence. Addressing the issue of sexual abuse in Greenland, the delegation acknowledged that the number of victims was high, especially among children, and told the Committee that preventive measures for families were being taken, as well as for the treatment of victims. In addition, a national action plan was being developed to combat family neglect.
Regarding the Faroe Islands, the delegation highlighted the fact that a national action plan launched in 2012 included measures to help women who had been victims of sexual abuse and violence and provided shelters for them as part of it. The delegation said it was not aware of any cases of trafficking or prostitution in the Faroe Islands. The Government had taken steps to ensure the Convention was being implemented and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was working to establish a national human rights institution. In the meantime, an ombudsman was overseeing the enforcement of rights in the Faroes.
KAAE HANSEN stressed that gender equality was a cornerstone of Danish democracy and social cohesion. Public authorities were continuously monitoring the situation of vulnerable women to meet their needs, especially in the context of the pandemic, concluded the head of the Danish delegation.
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