Danish lawmaker Mette Abildgaard brought her baby to Parliament on Tuesday — and was surprised when the speaker, Pia Kjaersgaard, asked her to take her daughter out.
“I didn’t ask for permission to bring her since I had previously seen another colleague bring a child into the chamber without any problems,” Abildgaard explained on Facebook. “I’ve never brought my daughter to Parliament before, and it wasn’t the plan to do so today. But Jens Jacob [the baby’s father] couldn’t step in this time and shortly before the session I found out I had to vote.”
Through an assistant, the speaker apparently passed Abildgaard a note, which read, “You are not welcome with your baby in the parliament’s chamber.”
The demand came as something as a surprise in progressive Denmark, which ranks as one of the best countries in the world for women. (Some, however, suggest the reality shows a more nuanced picture than a ranking can paint. A recent Amnesty International report said the country has a “pervasive rape culture.”)
Abildgaard gave the baby to an assistant and returned for the vote.
At hand is both the practical issue of whether babies are a distraction from the political process as well as the (equally practical) issue of whether the bodies making policy impacting families are conducive to raising them — and the question of whether the political sphere, long thought of as masculine and distinct from the private realm, is comfortable with visible maternity.
Denmark is hardly the only country grappling with such questions. A German legislator was removed from a state parliament with her 6-week-old last August. “I always thought that we were past that point,” the legislator, Madeleine Henfling, said. “I don’t understand what the problem is.” In 2017, a Japanese city councilwoman was kicked out for bringing her baby to work. (One year later, she was kicked out for having a cough drop in her mouth.)
But there are also babies (and their parents) making history for being present. Last April, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) cast a vote with her baby on the Senate floor. “It is about time, huh?” she told reporters. (Her colleagues changed the rules beforehand to allow the baby onto the floor during votes.)
And Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, became the second elected world leader to give birth while in office (the first being Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto) and the first elected leader to go on maternity leave last year. Last September, she brought her daughter, Neve, with her to the U.N. General Assembly. (Her baby received a special pass.) Her partner held Neve while Ardern gave her address.
“Prime Minister Ardern is showing that no one is better qualified to represent her country than a working mother,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. “Just 5 percent of the world’s leaders are women, so we need to make them as welcome here as possible.”