Why fighting for better work-life balance in Denmark and human rights for women in developing countries is not mutually exclusive

Why fighting for better work-life balance in Denmark and human rights for women in developing countries is not mutually exclusive

This blog often centres on gender equality in the developed world (Denmark, more precisely). In an opinion piece leading up to international women’s day on March 8th, Danish CEO Asger Aamund rightly pointed out that in this day and age, millions of Muslim women have fewer individual freedoms and rights than the women who lived in ancient Rome 2000 years ago. Mr. Aamund’s point is that we need to reprioritize our efforts when it comes to gender equality; not concentrating on whether coddled Danish women should be affirmative-action’ed into boardrooms, but focus our energy on fighting discriminatory laws and bigotry, such as the fact that Iranian and Egyptian women must have their husband’s permission to obtain a passport; while in Cameroon a husband has the right to determine whether or not wives may work or study; that Saudi Arabian women are not allowed to drive a car, and that Singapore still has not repealed a law that allows a man to rape his wife if she is aged 13 or over.

Ultimately, I think Mr. Aamund has a point. Without a doubt, a vast sea of extreme inequity, bias and general prejudice against the human rights of women exist throughout the world. Especially in developing countries. That said, I can’t blame women in industrialized societies, such as myself, for advocating for gender equality in our own countries. Even though achieving favourable policies for maternity leave, better work-life balance and ensuring that structures are in place for more women to become senior-level managers aren’t about fundamental human rights, they are still legitimate causes to fight and advocate for. And ultimately, I don’t think that fighting for better professional opportunities in Denmark and human rights for women in the least-developed countries is mutually exclusive. Rather, I see these endeavors to be complimentary.

A good example of this is the recent Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), held at the UN headquarters here in New York, at which hundreds of politicians, government representatives and NGOs from all over the world came together to discuss the status of the world’s women (in all countries, rich and poor). A good introduction to the event can be found at UN Dispatch. Feministing’s Lori Adelman also has a great article on the CSW entitled “CSW 2010: Why This U.S. Based Feminist Gives a Damn”. Kiva.org, the microfinance website that especially targets female entrepreneurs in the Third World is another case in point of how companies in the West are engaging with women in developing countries.

In the end I accept Mr. Aamund’s argument to some extent. But realistically speaking, we can’t all work for do-gooder NGOs or grand-scale policy-making organizations. The predominant part of women in developed countries have their own challenges to deal with, such as juggling a full time job with a partner’s full time job with parenthood. That said, I do think that women people in Denmark can do more to support the plight of women in the developing world. A good way to do so is to empower women economically – I’ve provided a list below to get all of you –women and men- started.




Mette Mikkelsen,

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