Democratisation of Denmark - the Inclusion of Women in Political Citizenship

Birte Siim, Christina Fiig

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    By obtaining the right to parliamentary enfranchisement in 1915, women in Denmark strengthened their political citizenship. On Constitution Day, June 5th 1915, the Danish suffragettes dressed in white, marched through the streets of Copenhagen to the royal palaces and to the King to mark the occasion of the parliamentary vote. The march completed the struggle for the enfranchisement, which women obtained some 66 years after the 1849 Danish Constitution, the latter granting the vote to men with their own household who had not received public poor people's relief or could not dispose of their own estate. It did not include "women, poor people, criminals and fools" and as a result only about a quarter of the male population was enabled to vote. 

    The parliamentary vote symbolized women's new societal status and initiated a range of structural changes to gender relations throughout the 20th century. Women's suffrage formed a central part of the struggle for democracy between the different strata of society: between the Right and the Left and between the urban and rural political forces. The struggle went on in several arenas: in the Parliamentary debates, where the male parliamentarians debated women's political citizenship (Bach 2003), in the suffragette organisations among the female members (Dahlerup 1977; Hansen 1992; Højgaard 1977) and throughout the country where local citizens - especially women - organised in networks contributing to political empowerment and social capital (Rambusch 1990). It was never a mass movement and never as militant as it was the case in Great Britain (Dahlerup 1978).

    From a historical and comparative perspective it is important to differentiate between suffrage for the parliament and for the local municipality and between different types of rights: civil, political and social rights (Marshall 1950). In a gender perspective, the Danish debate on suffrage has changed across the 20th century. Around 1900, the debate focused on questions related to gender and class as it dealt with an extension of citizenship to women and the poor.

    Today, the debate deals with the intersection of gender and ethnicity. The Danish political culture and political system gradually came to include the farmers' and worker's movements. After a severe constitutional fight between the Conservatives and the democratic forces from the Liberal Left and the Social Democratic Party, the political institutions opened up for demands from the farmers' and working class movements. The struggle for women's vote was based upon a democratic alliance and it was part of the general political transformation after the take over of government by the Liberal Left in 1901. Compared to Western democratic countries like France and Britain there was a relatively short period between women and men's general and equal right to vote. Nordic women obtained relatively early political rights compared to other western European countries with strong republican traditions like France, and the process was relatively non-dramatic compared to the English Suffragettes fight for the vote (Siim 2000).

    The purpose of this chapter is to analyse the history of female suffrage in Denmark by examining some of the main actors and organisations from a historical as well as from a comparative Nordic perspective. 

    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationAalborg
    PublisherDepartment of History, International and Social Studies, Aalborg University
    Number of pages15
    Publication statusPublished - 2007
    SeriesFREIA's tekstserie

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