Tomorrow is International Women’s day, a day to celebrate the progress that have been made on women’s rights, but also a day to focus on the still-ongoing need for promotion of gender equality. This year, Denmark was ranked as the best country in the world to live in for women, and is one of the countries where gender equality has come furthest. Conversation with Danish ambassador to Lebanon Merete Juhl on gender equality issues.
MEET MERETE, DIPLOMAT & WORKING MOM
Merete always knew that she would pursue an international career. Growing up in the Danish countryside, her gaze was aimed at the horizon. Her dad was an international businessman, and she loved listening to his stories about the many countries that he visited. So far, she has worked as a Danish ambassador living in Ukraine, UAE and now Lebanon, and she asserts “It’s important that my daughter grows up with a working mom, who tries to make a positive change in the world”.
WHY IS DENMARK THE BEST COUNTRY FOR WOMEN TO LIVE IN?
Most Danish women have jobs while raising a family. Women can enter the labour market on equal terms with men, since Denmark has publicly funded childcare and offers 52 weeks of paid parental leave. In Denmark, it goes without saying that women can have a career, and men must contribute to the housework and child-raising. Parental leave can therefore be split between parents, and it is perfectly normal to see men walking down the streets with baby strollers.
WHY IS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY STILL RELEVANT?
Denmark still has a long way to go, like the rest of the world. In Denmark, men have a higher average salary compared to women for equivalent positions, and women are still under-represented in top leadership positions. Also, Danish women are significantly more exposed to domestic violence than men.
Giving women greater independence and fighting against sexual harassment across the world is a priority for Denmark. Gender equality is not only a fundamental right, but a necessity for economic growth and democracy.
HOW CAN YOU BALANCE HAVING A CAREER WHILE RAISING A FAMILY?
To be honest, some days are better than others. My job is challenging and sometimes I think, “How will I make this work?” This morning my daughter had a school performance, and I just had to be there. In situations like this, I have to be creative. I think it is important that my daughter grows up witnessing a mom with a career. Nonetheless a career where I try to make a positive change in the world. In addition, I want to teach her that it takes a lot of effort to fulfill dreams and reach goals. Once, she asked me: “Mom, how did you become an ambassador?”, and it made me so happy. I told her, that I have always enjoyed challenging myself and that she should do the same. I hope I can inspire her to follow her own dreams.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE LEBANESE WOMEN?
Every day I meet strong Lebanese women who are committed to their own missions in life and to making a positive difference. More and more women are represented in the workforce, and more than half of the women in Lebanon have a secondary education. For the first time in Lebanon’s history, there are 6 female ministers in the Lebanese cabinet. Each one of these amazing women is proof of the empowerment of women in Lebanon. By improving women’s rights, more women will be influenced to pursue their full potential.
The mind-set of the Lebanese people inspire me. They know how to enjoy life no matter how challenging the circumstances are. This is a mentality that I will try to carry with me wherever I go.