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A Danish MP has reignited the debate about bringing babies into parliament

Posted by
Sarah Shaffi
Published
LEJRE, DENMARK - AUGUST 26: Mette Abildgaard speaks during the Conservative Party's press briefing following the party's parliamentary group summer meeting in a private garden on August 26, 2016 in Lejre, Denmark. (Photo by Ole Jensen/Corbis via Getty images)

Despite great strides, it seems women still aren’t welcomed when they try to bring their children to work.

At times it seems like huge leaps are being made in gender equality in politics. After all, in 2018 the US elected a record number of women to its Congress, Jacinda Ardern became the first world leader to take her baby to a meeting at a gathering of the UN General Assembly in New York, and footage of Canadian elected official Karina Gould breastfeeding her baby in parliament went viral.

At other times, though, it seems as if the world is taking one step forward and two steps backwards – something which felt all too true when a Danish politician was told her baby was not welcome in parliament this week.

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Mette Abildgaard took her five-month-old daughter, Esther Marie, with her to work because her husband was unable to care for her that day, and because Abildgaard needed to vote. Writing on Facebook, the politician called the circumstances “extraordinary”.

“I took her to the hall, because she was in a nice mood and had a pacifier in her mouth,” said Abildgaard, noting that she had made arrangements with her secretary to take the baby if she became noisy or unsetted.

But, upon arriving in the chamber, Abildgaard was told by Pia Kjaersgaard, a female politician who has consistently taken a stance against multiculturalism and immigration, that her baby was not welcome. Abildgaard had to hand her baby to a staff member so she could participate in a vote.

The incident has prompted a debate about whether female politicians should be allowed to bring babies into parliament.

On Facebook, Abildgaard said that while she entitled to a year’s maternity leave with full salary, she didn’t want to take advantage of this, and instead wanted to serve democracy.

The politician said that she needed a bit of flexibility in the early months of her baby’s life, but this was not extended to her when she was told that Esther Marie was not welcome.

Some Facebook commenters have said that it is not appropriate to take children to work and that Abildgaard should have found childcare.

But many have spoken in support of the politician, asking how anyone is supposed to modernise when parliament practises old-fashioned stereotypes, while another post says that there must be room to be “both mother and politician”.

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According to the BBC, another commenter said: “A chamber that represents mothers, fathers and babies ought to be open to mothers, fathers and babies.”

It is, of course, unrealistic to think that children should be allowed into parliament at all times, an idea that Abildgaard herself called unworkable. But in exceptional circumstances female, and male, politicians should be able to take their children to work and feel supported in doing so. 

We’ll only see true equality in politics when women, who traditionally take on the bulk of childcare responsibilities, are not discriminated against for having children. And after all, if our elected leaders aren’t allowed to visibly be mothers and fathers at work, how can we expect other sectors to create policies supporting parents?