WHEN I was 17 my view of the world changed forever.
Living in Denmark as part of a year-long student exchange, my first host father said something that blew my mind.
We were walking through the dimly-lit, cobble-stoned streets of Odense - Denmark's third largest city with a population comparable to Brisbane at the time - when he said he'd have no hesitation in letting me walk through the city alone at night.
"Denmark is very safe," he said.
"Women don't have to worry about walking home alone at night ever."
Having grown up on a Riverina sheep station miles from anywhere, I might have been naive enough to think this was the case in Australian cities too.
Yet I knew it wasn't.
My highly-educated, chief executive of a big Danish soft drink company host father, knew it too.
Otherwise, he wouldn't have even made the point that night on the streets of Odense, which is best known as being the birthplace of that famous writer of fairy tales Hans Christian Andersen.
British barrister Harriet Johnson recently tweeted:
Every woman you know has taken a longer route.
Has doubled back on herself.
Has pretended to dawdle by a shop window.
Has held her keys in her hand.
Has made a fake phone call.
Has rounded a corner and run.
Every woman you know has walked home scared.
Every woman you know.
Going on to spend my exchange year in 1989 on the west coast of Denmark in a historical port town similar in size to Echuca, I found that personal safety and respect for all people were standard issue.
They were a birthright, not a privilege.
Interestingly, you don't always appreciate what you've got.
My first Danish host sister bemoaned the "rude" and "forthright" Danes. Unlike the British, she said her people were too pushy and there were no niceties (ie. there's no Danish word for "please"); the youth were always knocking each other over to get into the disco, the bar or the unisex toilets.
"In England, the men hold open the doors and let women go first," she'd say.
"That would never happen in Denmark!"
I don't begrudge anyone who holds a door open for another but you'd hope they do it because the other person is a human being, not because they're a "lady".
MORE MATERIAL GIRL:
Sadly, the "ladies first" approach is a furphy. Casual sexism, gendered violence and lack of pay parity have proliferated throughout history in otherwise civilised countries like Britain, Australia and the US.
Sadly, the "ladies first" approach is a furphy.
Casual sexism, gendered violence and lack of pay parity have proliferated throughout history in otherwise civilised countries like Britain, Australia and the US.
While equal female representation in politics would go a long way to address gender equality and violence prevention, many First World nations still won't get there any time soon.
It may be because the souped-up boys' club of politics rewards men who play hard and work just hard enough.
The women who do step up to the plate on politics are judged through an entirely different lens.
In 2005, Julia Gillard was mocked in a Good Weekend cover story featuring her Melbourne home for having an empty fruit bowl and tatty curtains. (Far worse was yet to come for our first female prime minister.)
Sixteen years later we're still reeling over the rotten-to-the-core-culture that permeates Federal Parliament.
Porepunkah resident Gesine Wiedmann, who has been an activist since the women's liberation movement of the 1970s, said few inroads had been made on gender equality.
"Our leaders need to take charge and be the change; not be the ones calling women liars and cows," she said.
From the top down, gender equality in both work and life should simply be the norm, not the ever-unattainable fairy tale.
Enough is enough!
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