Elisabeth Arnold

Political Development

Party Affiliation

Profession/ Current priorities

Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments





The Team




[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Juli 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Elisabeth Arnold

Political Development

1. What made you decide to go into politics?
My interest started back in the 60's when I experienced discrimination at my working place. I had just finalised my university degree and applied for a job in a rather big private firm. During the employment interview I realised that the firm would not pay me for my later pensions. I asked why. The answer was because you are a woman. The male functionaries were automatically paid for their pensions after having been employed for year, no matter how old they were. However, female functionaries were only paid for their pensions, when they were 30 years old or above that age, no matter for how long they had been in the firm. The thinking behind this rule was that women in their 20's often leave the firm when they get children and 'choose' to be housewives. Women above 30 years will probably stay at the labour market. Men stay and make career, even if they get children. I think that it is strange to realise that this pattern and thinking was quite normal only 30 years ago. I had to react to this pattern, as I was very conscious on gender equality. I said frankly that I only wanted the job, if I could get a pension scheme, which was at least as good as the men's. In the end I succeeded in getting what I wanted. Afterwards I activated the female functionaries, and I took action. In the end the firm accepted to give all the women the same pension schemes as the men. Afterwards the legislation has been changed. That means that what happened at that time could not take place today. - This experience made me indignant. I got a kick, and I realised that I had to do something myself to fulfil my visions and rights, and to change unjust rules.
My second experience concerns representation on a board, when a new legislation on joint stock companies was passed. This new law provided that employees should be represented on boards of joint stock companies, which had a certain size. My firm was such a joint stock company. I was contacted by some of the functionaries who found that the only chance to be represented as a group on the board was if I would be their candidate. Their argumentation for choosing me was: 'you are a woman, and you are rather stubborn. We need people like you'. Then we established a Functionaries Association, and this Association nominated me as candidate. I was elected as one of the two employee representatives on the board, and I represented the employees for 6 years on this board.
These two cases, the pension schemes case and being a member of the board persuaded me to become politically organised and active. I realised that you have to commit yourself if you want something to be changed. Moreover, it is fun when you can get something to move and develop.
In the meantime I had become a Member of the Party, Det Radikale Venstre. That was back in 1972 just after the Danish EU referendum. I was willing to accept a nomination, if I should be asked. But I did not go for it very seriously, because I had a job, which I liked very much. During the next years I was nominated both for local and Parliament elections, but at places where I had no chance of being elected.
In 1984 something unforeseen happened, when the first direct election for the European Parliament took place. Suddenly the Party realised that they had not succeeded in getting any women to be on the list. The Party found that it would be a scandal, if there were no women on the list. Then I was asked - also because I was the Chair of the Party's Gender Equality Committee. I felt that I had to accept - even if I at that time was not especially interested in EU politics and had very little knowledge of how the EU institutions functioned. The result was that I was placed as no. 2 on the list, and I had to be trained and to study all kinds of EU questions to be able to speak and answer questions in public. That learned me a lot - also to participate in cross-questioning in TV. It was very hard, but also extremely exciting. The Party did not get enough votes to be represented in the European Parliament, but after the election I got quite a lot of offers to be nominated as a candidate for the next Parliament election. Then I realised that I would have to choose between a political career and my management career. There was no opportunity for leave. Then I decided to accept an offer from a constituency to be placed on the Party list with a very good chance for being elected. That was in 1987. The nomination was so good that I told myself: If you want to be a Parliamentarian, then you will have to decide now. And so I did. Unforeseen, the general election was a reality one month later, and I was elected to the Parliament. I had to quit my job immediately.

2. Do / Did you have a role model?
Yes. My great-grandmother has in a way been a role model for me - and in a way not, because the family mentioned her with veneration and with disdain. I have not known her myself. She was a very, very active feminist. She was well educated and involved in establishing the Danish Women's Council (now named Women's Council in Denmark) and was the founder of the Danish Nurse Council. She was engaged with organisational work, and therefore she had only little time left for her family. Therefore, she was mentioned as a strict and authoritative woman who did not look after her family in a proper way. But at the same time she had a very powerful and interesting life, and for me she is a role model. She carried through her ideas and visions.

3. Does political involvement or policy making have a tradition in your family?
Yes, in a way. My parents were apolitical. But as mentioned, my great-grandmother was involved in policy making. And so was her sister. She was a member of the Social Liberal Party and was elected as member of the City Council of Copenhagen.

4. Where there disruptions in your political career path and why?

5. Where there disruptions in your biography that have/had an impact on your political career?

6. How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
I have throughout my political career been asked to be responsible for different political areas and objectives. So in a way I have been passive in choosing my objectives. Lately, I am focusing on EU policy and the enlargement process. I want to see the new democracies integrated in EU. That is for the first time that I am planning my political career.

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Party Affiliation

1. What was your motivation to join a political party?
I had met discrimination against women in my work place, and I realised that if you want some changes you will have to commit yourself and be politically active. I was finally motivated to join a political party when the result of the EU referendum on 3 October 1972 was official, and it was clear that the Danes voted yes to EU. On the 3 October 1972 I joined the Social Liberal Party.

2. Which party do you belong to? Since when?
I have been a member of the Social Liberals (Det Radikale Venstre) since 3 October 1972.

3. Does your party have en equal opportunities regulation?
No, but we have discussed this issue very much in the Party - and also in the Gender Equality Committee, where I became Chair in 1979. Several times proposals have been put forward at our national congresses suggesting having minimum regulations. For instance, at least half of the members of the local boards should be women. But each time the proposals were rejected - also with my own vote. The reason is that you might force the different boards quota which they could not fulfil - and if they should try to fulfil these quota they might try to find persons of the lacking sex amongst friends, family etc. In fact I do not like such regulations. But it has been discussed so much that we all know that we will have to do something active to have more women to be interested in decision-making posts. In stead of regulations I think that we need to make women who are willing and capable to go into politics visible and to train other women to have the capacities and self-confidence to accept nominations. The Party organised some years ago a data bank and courses. These instruments were both very successful.

4. Which function/offices did you hold in your party at the beginning?
I was active in the Party's gender equality group as an ordinary grass root, and moreover I was active in connection with the elections. A little later I became member of the Party's Executive Committee and also Chair of the Party's Gender Equality Committee.

5. Do you have mentors within your party?
No. We do not have the resources and persons for that purpose. We use the model: Take a jump from the 10-meter high diving board. That is very rough, and someone might break his or her neck.

6. Did you ever change party affiliation?

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Profession/ Current priorities

1. How does your profession correspond with your political work?
I could not continue my professional job full time as a manager in a private firm, when I decided to be a politician. I wanted to go on leave as long as I was elected, but my employer did not accept. That means that the day when I am no longer elected, I will be without work.

2. What kind of vocational training, degrees or other professional qualification do you have?
I have a university degree in biochemistry from the University of Copenhagen (cand.scient.).

3. In what kind of jobs did you work?
I worked for 13 years in a private firm dealing with pharmaceutical products. For 6 years I was Head of Department, and for the last 2 years I was Manager of Development.

4. Are you linking both your professional and your political career?
No. I have chosen to concentrate on my political career.

5. In which areas do you see your special competencies?
When I started in the Parliament I was asked as a newcomer to be the Party's spokesperson in the field of taxes. It was a quite new area for me and very difficult. But after some years I liked this field of action. I would not give it on to others, and I have been involved in making two tax reforms. The end of it was that I continued to have this function for 10 years. Then I wanted to be replaced, so I could work more deeply with other areas.
During the years, I have worked with most areas. I have been my Party's spokesperson in the field of Culture, Energy, Business and Trade, Education. And right now I am the spokesperson in the field of Legal questions and Research, and I am a member of the Committee of foreign affairs. I am also my Party's spokesperson in the area of EU policy, and I am a member of the Parliament's European Committee. Moreover, I have for several years been Chair of my Party's Gender Equality Committee, and since 1997 I am Chair of the Prime Minister's International Gender Equality Committee.
But I have never been a member of the Environmental Committee or the Traffic Committee.

6. Which are your political priorities?
Since I was nominated to the election of the European Parliament, I have been very engaged in EU policies. In this field of action I have worked very determinedly on my career. I have been very active, taken part in debates, and I have given interviews to the press. I have been a member of the Parliament's European Committee since 1988 without any interruption. I have the longest seniority of all members of this Committee, and since 1994 I am vice-president of the European Committee. - Moreover, I am a member of the Council of Europe. I am very much engaged in what is going on with the new democracies and how we can help them to be integrated in Europe. The new democracies from the former Soviet Union are now becoming members of the Council of Europe. This new development is very exciting.

7. Which are your main fields of action?
My main fields of action right now are EU policy and legal questions. And of course gender equality.

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Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments

1. Which objectives would you like to achieve through your political work?
I have decided that I will not leave policy or slow down my work, until the first Eastern European countries have become members of EU.

2. How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
I will say that I have not planned my career in the sense that I have focused on one objective at this point, and on another at that point. New objectives have appeared throughout my career. I have focused on different areas more or less by a mere chance. Now, for the first time I have planned not to change my focus on EU policy.

3. Do equal opportunity strategies - in your opinion - have an impact in your country to promote women in decision-making?
Definitely! It is now so natural in our society that both women and men should be represented in a balanced way in committees, boards etc. Each time board members are appointed, you count at once how many women are represented. If you find a board without women, you at once consider why. Of course our legislation in this field has meant something. But what is more important is that it now is an issue, which is discussed openly.

4. Did you benefit from these strategies?
Yes. I have been recruited actively twice to two different boards - a research board and to the board of the Danish Radio. Both times I was chosen and appointed, because I am a women - and of course also because I had the relevant capacities. I have only accepted appointment to jobs, which I knew I could manage.

5. How do you judge these strategies?
I think that they are useful and make it possible to get a more gender-balanced composition of the members on boards and committees.

6. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in "conventional" policy making?
No, not in the Parliament and not either in my Party. But I am sure that you find discrimination in some parties. Nomination of candidates take mostly place locally. More of the big parties have very male dominated political clubs. Many members of these clubs say that you should not believe that you are capable, just because you are a woman.

7. What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
Well, I think that many women have a strong self-censorship. Being a politician is a very exposed job. You are blown up in the newspapers and in TV. You might also experience that your old mother is being criticised at the hairdressers' for things her daughter has said or done. It might be unpleasant for you as a person to cause your family critics. So becoming a public person might be very unpleasant. And it is too fatiguing.

8. What are the major obstacles that women need to overcome in their endeavour to participate in political decision-making?
After all, I think that the major obstacles are due to the fact that you are a public person and that you have a very exposed job. It can be very, very unpleasant - also to speak in public.

9. Which are the obstacles you had to fight in your own political career?
In my own political career I have had to fight the obstacles, which have to do with insecurity and lacking self-esteem. I have had clammy hands and palpitation just before making a speech in front of a big audience. I have considered how others and I myself could overcome these barriers. At the start of my career, I should pull myself very much together just to speak and say something talented in a small board. I have now overcome this barrier, which has to do with fearing what the others think about me. But I am still concerned of saying something talented!

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