COPENHAGEN — A century of Danish advances for women met a barrier this week when a legislator was told by another female lawmaker that her baby had no place in Parliament, setting off a debate about gender politics and parents’ struggles with work-life balance in a country with some of the world’s most generous parental leave allowances.
The legislator, Mette Abildgaard, 30, revealed the episode in a post on Facebook, writing that Denmark’s first female speaker of Parliament, Pia Kjaersgaard, 72, upbraided her on Tuesday, saying that her daughter was “unwanted” in Parliament.
Mother and daughter were ejected from the room.
The expulsion united many legislators across political lines in protest against what they saw as an outdated and unwarranted stance.
“It can’t possibly disturb anyone as long as there’s no screaming and wailing,” wrote Pernille Skipper, a member of Parliament from the left-wing Red-Green Alliance.
Others called the ejection incomprehensible and demanded an apology from the speaker.
Danes are used to great flexibility to balance work and family, with a year of paid parental leave, paid days off for parents when their children are ill, and subsidized kindergartens. Still, some say that they struggle to be dedicated employees (or lawmakers) and parents at the same time, and expect some leniency when they bend tradition.
Ms. Abildgaard explained in her post that she would not normally bring her child to the chamber but had chosen to return to work early in order “to serve democracy.” A vote had unexpectedly required her presence and her husband could not make it to Parliament in time to take care of their 5-month-old daughter, Esther Marie.
The girl had been silent and “in a good mood” with a pacifier in her mouth in the chamber, Ms. Abildgaard said, who added that she had made arrangements for her secretary to take the baby if she began making noise.
“We obviously did not want to disturb the meeting!” she wrote.
There are no regulations on babies’ access to the chamber, but the Parliament’s rules say it is the duty of the speaker to maintain order and provide room for “dignified discussions.”
Ms. Kjaersgaard took to Twitter on Tuesday to defend her decision, saying she had “quietly” asked a secretary to tell Ms. Abildgaard that “it’s not good” to bring babies to the chamber, adding that it had been a minor issue.
The speaker was a founder of the right-wing Danish People’s Party, which is fighting to maintain its place in Danish politics in coming elections expected to be held in June at the latest. The party has had enormous influence on policy during the tenure of a center-right minority government under Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, but is mostly known for tightening policies on access and residence for foreigners.
Ms. Kjaersgaard’s decision to eject the daughter from Parliament found support in some quarters. Marlene Harpsoe, a lawmaker from the Danish People’s Party, said that the decision had been “absolutely fair” and that she found it “a little weird” to bring the child to the chamber in the first place.
But Ms. Abildgaard’s daughter was not the first baby or toddler to sit in Denmark’s Parliament. In 2016, the Liberal Alliance’s Laura Lindahl brought her daughter to a chamber meeting until the baby started crying and they left. The acting speaker at the time did not intervene.
Denmark parental leave arrangements provide full months’ worth of salaries to both parents, followed by months off with reduced salaries. Most parents can share a year’s leave between them after a child is born. The arrangement allows families to take time off without damaging the economy. At the same time, women have the opportunity to return to work and continue their careers sooner.
Around the globe, female politicians have drawn headlines for taking their babies to work. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, made history by taking her newborn daughter to the United Nations General Assembly in September. Lawmakers in Spain and Canada have also shown that working and being a mother is not mutually exclusive even if some compromise and flexibility are required.