Politics will always be a man’s world if you listen to the men, says Danish MP Liselott Blixt. She told her own story about why she entered politics and getting elected at an international parliamentary conference in London on gender and politics
I am a member of Parliament in Denmark. This is my story.
In Denmark it has taken 100 years to be where we are today.
We have eight party leaders and half of them are women. We also have the first female prime minister in Denmark. And the coalition parties here both have female leaders.
In my party, the Danish People’s Party, we have always had a woman leader until this year when she left the position and we got a man as leader. But I don’t think we feel the difference. These days, we don’t care so much about whether it’s a woman or a man we vote for. It’s very normal for us to have both alternatives: we vote for the best human being.
I have been in local government for eleven years now, and in the parliament for five years. I’m the leader for my party in the local government and I’m health spokeswoman in the parliament. After the last election I also became chairman of the board responsible for supervising the treatment of involuntarily committed patients, children living away from their parents due to forced placement, patients with dementia detained in nursing homes and others.
One of the first cases I was involved with and what I was fighting for when I was elected, was to get the HPV vaccine to all girls, so we could save women from cervical cancer. And we got it. Now all females in Denmark from age 12 to 26 get a free vaccine.
We have lot of focus on women’s rights and health in Denmark. We still have some problem with violence against women, and sexual abuse. That’s why we have programmes for all kinds of abuse or violence, and also for women who have been trafficked in to Denmark.
All parties in Denmark fight for women’s rights. None of us likes to see women treated as if they were a lower class than men. So I think it is the first piece of advice I have for women wanting to go into politics - believe in yourself. As a woman I have the same worth as a man. Women and men have the same rights and if a man can do it, I can also. That’s why I drive a big fast motorcycle in Denmark. Someone told me that women couldn’t drive that motorcycle, so I bought it and I have now been driving it for four years.
But we have to fight, it’s not easy, and it will not happened by itself. We still have to fight for equality. Men often believe that they are better than women at making the right decisions, and that they always have the right solution.
I remember the time a man from my party called me and told me not to stand for election because then he wouldn’t get so many votes because we was living in the same town. He told me that he had a higher chance to get elected than me and if we were both standing on the list, neither of us would be elected.
I thought it was stupid and I got angry and sad, and I decided not to stand, because I didn´t want the problems and conflict with him or maybe other people in the party.
But I only did that once, and I think it was because I was new in politics. I didn’t know if I was good enough. I didn’t have enough courage and confidence.
But I thought about it for many hours, and many people told me how stupid I was, and many supporters told me that I should stand at the next election so they could vote for me. It has made me stronger. It was the first time that I felt I had people who supported me.
But now I’m older and wiser – I hope - I don’t compromise if I know that I’m right. I don’t let a man decide what to do. The last time we had the election to the city government, I had to fight all the way. A man in my party wanted me to let him get the first place on our voting list, but I told him NO, it is the members who decide who they want as the top candidate. And they voted for me. After the election, where he also got in to the local government - but after me and another woman - he tried again. He is still trying to get all my jobs. So I have had to get really “tough” and mad. The funny thing is that this man tried two different ways. The hard way, like this - but he also tried the sexual way. When we were at social events he tried to kiss me and be very sweet. But he’s not going to get me. We have to work together and that’s it, but now I am trying to get another constituency so I don’t have that kind of trouble every time.
And what helped me after I was elected?
For me, it helped to be short and precise, and to talk so that people could understand me. It does no good to stand and talk around the subject as many politicians do, but speak so everyone can understand what you are saying.
I try to stay on top of the news, on facebook, twitter and in letters, articles, TV-News and so on. I am there where the people are, and they can easily come into contact with me. It takes work and it means keeping several balls in the air at once.
It is here that I believe that we women are superior. Indeed, we can multi-task, many men can’t. We as women have learned to clean the house, take care of the children, cook, and work at the same time. This is the strength we need.
It is women themselves who must fight the fight. In Denmark, feminists fought the battle in two stages. The requirement for votes for women was first raised in parliament in 1886, but it was voted down. The argument was that women were unfit for political work because of their special psyche, and that one should not make marriage a political battleground by giving women their own voice.
Throughout the 1880s and 90s proposals to give the vote to women were defeated time and time again. But outside parliament, the dawning women's movement was in the process of proving that women were particularly suitable for political work.
The first wave of feminism was driven by a throng of women's organisations with the Danish Women's Society at the head. It culminated in the constitutional amendment in 1915 and a string of equality laws in the 1920s. With the right to vote, access to education and work, the same marital rights and obligations, women won legal equality with men.
At the first election when women could stand, four women were elected. It was equivalent to 3% - we had the same problem that some countries still have today. That women did not vote for women, but for men. For many years there was only this 3% of women in the parliament. After the War, women started to work and got more involved in other things than children and homemaking. And we saw more women in the parliament.
In 1970 a new wave of the women's movement started called “The Redstockings”. It took hold of the concept of gender roles. The women's movement is now regarded as the most important of the 20th century’s political movements because it led to changes in the lives of all people. The biggest cases were equal pay and women’s right to legal abortion.
Then from 1970 the numbers of women being elected increased. So in Denmark in the last general election, we reached 40%.
I first stood for election in 2001, and I did it because I was angry about the way we treat older people. I had been working in a home for older people. I had no one to help me. My then husband was not interested in me running for election. But I did what I wanted to. I didn’t know anyone in the party, but I went to a meeting, told them what I would fight for, and I was put on the candidate list. And I got elected. So I've always fought my battles myself. Today I happily have the support of my adult children and many of the people who think I'm doing a great job.
But the most important thing is to be honest with yourself and honest with other people, and fight for what you are passionate about. So all these things will come gradually.
I've always been afraid that I didn’t do it well enough, and, as my husband told me, “how can you think that you can make a difference?”
But now I know I can……… and my husband is not my husband anymore. But I know that he is proud, and I think he knew that I could do it.
Therefore, women should believe in themselves.
For the last seven years I have been the top candidate and leader of the party in the local government.
And this is my second term in the Danish Parliament, and although I am in opposition, I have a post as a committee chairman which I am very proud of.
So when I look back it has been a journey of going steadily forward from year to year.
There will be ongoing challenges between men and women, but I think by now we have proven that we can be exactly the same as men.
So believe in yourself, be honest, speak clearly so that everyone understands you and fight for your rights. And don’t believe any man who says that you can’t do it.
Liselott Blixt was speaking at the International Parliamentary Conference on Gender and Politics, held in London November 6th-8th.