Pernille Blach Hansen
Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments
© Jan 2001
Pernille Blach Hansen, MP
I did it because of my social indignation in general, but also because I have a great interest in politics, which I achieved through my age of growth. This interest made me choose civics at grammar school. I had a very good teacher. He was able to bring up some very good debates. We came very close to the political sphere. This caused me to choose to study political science at the University after having finished grammar school. Political science is also politics. From there it has followed in rapid succession. When I decided to go into politics, it had to do with a political background, a social indignation, a need to react against injustice, and a burning interest in the political debate and politics.
A study tour to England also pushed me into politics. In England I experienced things, which I do not want to see in Denmark, for instance, private hospitals. The public hospitals are not as good and have less qualified doctors than the private hospitals, because they have less money. Through this you are making a distinction between people when they are ill - those who can afford and those who cannot afford to go to a private hospital.
Do/did you have a role model?
No, I did not. I have started to read political biographies - but that is only after I have gone into politics.
Does political involvement or policy making have a tradition in your family?
I cannot say that there is a real tradition for going into politics in my family. But my father is a politician in Viborg County. He is also a Social Democrat like I myself. He has been a member of the County Council since I was around 10 years old. For the last 10 years, he has been Mayor of the County.
So, I have grown up in a very political home. My parents had many political discussions at the dinner table and in the evenings. Gradually, when we children were old enough, we were also involved. So it was quite a normal thing in my home to take part in the political debate, watch the news at TV, and be well informed through the newspapers.
My mother has not been politically active in the party. However, she has been enthusiastic to discuss politics with us children. We discussed with her the news that we watched on TV, especially the political news. If my father had experienced something specific in politics, then we also discussed that. I had to rather early answer for what he said or did. Then I had to know why he said and did it in order to be able to give the correct answers.
Also my grandfather was involved in politics. A long time ago, he was a member of the local council. But none of my sisters or brothers, (we are three), are involved in politics. I am the eldest - so they might later choose to go into politics. But I do not think so.
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I belong to the Social Democratic Party. In 1993/94 I joined the Social Democratic Youth Organisation, when I went to university. But I was not especially active, because I did not live in the town where the university is placed. Instead, I was involved in the local department of the Social Democratic Party in Viborg, where I lived, and I became a member of the board in 1996.
Shortly after I was asked if I would be a candidate and stand for the next election to the Parliament. It happened in this way: I was at home at Christmas at my parents' house. Then I had a phone call from the Kellerup constituency, where my parents live, and where I was born and grew up for 20 years. I was asked to be a candidate. At that time I was 22 years old. I did not say yes at once. I asked for time for reflection. Two weeks later I called back, saying that I would like to be a candidate.
We have in our party parallel nomination, and the candidates are placed in alphabetic order on the list.
I was elected in this Kellerup constituency, which had never before elected a Social Democrat. So it turned out to be different from what it used to be. It was very surprising for everybody.
Which function/offices did you hold in your party at the beginning?
I was a member of the Committee on Environment. After two years in Parliament I was appointed political spokesperson. This job includes working with the more superior issues and preparing long-sighted development. The job also includes that I am a member of the "general" committees such as the Committee on Finance, the Committee on Foreign Policy, and the Committee on European Questions.
Do you have mentors within your party?
No, we do not have mentors for the new members of Parliament. But when you join the Parliamentarian group, one of the more experienced members of Parliament supports and guides you to be acquainted with the way of working, and he or she will also help with practical questions.
Did you ever change party affiliation?
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I have an allround university education as a political scientist. I studied Danish foreign policy, Danish interior policy, economics, and I specialised in environment policy and EU policy. So I must say that my profession corresponds very well with my political work. The interest has been there all the time. However, when I started my university study, I did not want to be a politician. I wanted to be a civil servant. But when I was asked to be a candidate, I said OK - also because I knew that this constituency never elected a Social Democrat. I made up my mind to try and see how far I could get. I knew that I would not be elected. I could try it. And if I found out that I liked it, then I could try to be elected next time we had an election to Parliament. But as I have said - I was surprisingly elected at this first attempt.
What kind of vocational training, degrees or other professional qualification do you have?
I graduated in political science at the university in spring 2000.
In what kind of jobs did you work?
I have had different summer and student jobs (cleaning, factory job, etc.). In 1997 I was a stagiaire for ½ year in Brussels at the office of the Association of the County Councils in Denmark (Amtsrådsforeningen). In this job I used my education as a civil servant. It was very interesting, and I learned a lot.
In which areas do you see your special competencies?
I have my basic qualifications within the areas of environment, education and EU policies. Now, as a political spokesperson, I will have to be more all round qualified. I should be prepared to present the party's general attitude to more or less any political question.
Which are your political priorities?
I want to involve more people in the political debate in a way that people feel like doing it. I want to open up the discussions also with people who are not necessarily members of our party, but who may sympathise with our policies. I also want to make policy in a different way, so that you can attract people, who are not usually attracted by politics. As a politician you should be where people are. You should make politics at fairs, market places, and camping places. I think that when we are making our new programme in the local community for our next local election, then we should invite everyone - and not only the members of the party - to give their good ideas to the election programme. Afterwards you can take away the ideas, which are not consistent with the social democratic policies.
We should try to open up the political process. It has also something to do with the way that we try to make a local democracy in our kindergartens, schools, councils of the elderly, etc. All of this has to do with a general change of attitudes. If we want to succeed in changing these attitudes, we need that all politicians say very loudly that they are politically active. Politics should be for everyone - and not only for a special type of people.
Which are your main fields of action?
Environment, education, EU - and general social democratic political issues.
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I have a very general objective for my political work: to have more people involved in the political debate. Concerning my more concrete objectives I can say that I am very engaged in environment politics. I have been a member of the Committee on Environment where I used my energy to secure that we have more clean water, less spray poison from the fields, etc. Moreover, I am interested in educational politics, where I focus on primary school and how to get more young people to continue their education when they have finished school. Environmental politics and educational politics are the two political areas, on which I have worked in the Parliament.
How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
No, they have not changed. I have only a very short career - not longer than 2 years - so there has not yet been time to change my objectives. And I do not think that I will.
Do equal opportunity strategies - in your opinion - have an impact in your country to promote women in decision-making?
I think that the debate on equal opportunities has been very important; because the debate has focused on questions and areas where it is obvious that there is inequality. The debate has drawn many peoples' attention to the fact that you can benefit from having both genders represented. That is also true for the political parties.
I think that we still need a debate on gender equality - especially concerning women who have no further education and a low income. It is still a big problem that we have pronounced differences between women's and men's wages.
We need to continue the equality debate and take it down to earth, so it is not only people like myself who are discussing these issues. This debate will also have to be broadened, if we are going to progress any further. So I think that we shall continue with the work on gender equality, as we still meet women and men with different expectations. There are differences in their wages, and there are differences in their possibilities to be managers.
Did you benefit from these strategies?
Equal opportunity strategies have not meant anything to me in my life. I do not feel that the debate on gender has meant anything in regard to the offers and posts that I have gotten. But there have been others who have made the work for me. I know that for sure.
How do you judge these strategies?
I think that these strategies have had an influence. Both legislation, the Equal Status Council, and other organisations have done the work so well that we are now going in the right direction. I think that the debate gets things moving at the single working place or in the single family. I also think that the general development, the women's entry on the labour market, and their way through the education system (more women than men take now a further education) have contributed rather slowly to the fact that we now make other demands. We will no longer stand gender discrimination. All of this is part of a process in society, which points in the right direction.
Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in "conventional" policy making?
I would never have thought that there exists gender discrimination, until I became spokesperson of my party. I had never seen it or felt it myself before - maybe because I am so young. But I have now experienced that it exists, especially when journalists ask me questions. When I had been appointed, I was each time asked, if I had got the job just because I am young and a woman. It was the first question in each interview. And the next question was: Don't you think that it will be a problem to be a spokesperson, if you want to have children? It shows implicitly that they think that I was not appointed on grounds of my qualifications, but because I am a young woman. It shows that when you have climbed up the ladder, you are met with the attitudes, which reflect indirect discrimination.
Having said that, I do not see gender discrimination very often in politics. In the Parliament we are on our way to have 50% women and 50% men - and 9 out of 20 ministers are women. I do not think that there is discrimination in Danish politics when you consider who is getting the jobs and positions. I do not either see discrimination when you consider how many women are elected. I more often hear the opinion that it is an advantage to be a woman politician, because there are many women and men who want to give their vote to a woman. People want to have more women represented. There is a general opinion that the Parliament shall reflect the composition of the population - both concerning sex, age, and professional background. That is a good thing.
What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
I think that it has something to do with tradition. I do not know exactly why it is as it is, but I think that role models are an important part of it. When you see that others can do it, then you think that you yourself of course also can do it. In Parliament there are more people who are visible, because you have had so many ministers - also women ministers. It is not the same in a municipality, where you have only one mayor and 3-4 chairs of committees. If they all are men, then you do not have this reflected image. But I think that the "revolution" which has started in national politics will spread in the future also to the local and regional levels.
What are the major obstacles that women need to overcome in their endeavour to participate in political decision-making?
Women have too few role models. Moreover women have less inclination than men to be visible, and to step out of the crowd saying: "This is my attitude, take it or leave it!" Most women have an attitude towards care of the elderly, childcare, and primary school. Women have lots of attitudes to questions in society, but they do not like so much to put their name on a list, be visible, and present the political message. Why? Maybe it has to do with the fact that women still have the main responsibility for the children. It might be difficult to cope with a job, children and the political career at the same time. But in the daily gender equality debate, we ought to move in the proper direction in this area. I also think that we are moving in this direction. Men are more involved now in caring for their children than before, and they also take parental leave.
Which are the obstacles you had to fight in your own political career?
I have not had any. On the contrary, I have succeeded in getting on very quickly. I was elected the first time I was a candidate. Two years later I was elected to be the political spokesperson of my party, I am the youngest politician of the Parliament, and I am the youngest politician ever who was elected spokesperson of a party.
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