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Gender equality in Sweden

Sweden ranks as one of the world’s most gender-egalitarian countries, based on a firm belief that men and women should share power and influence equally. An extensive welfare system makes it easier for both sexes to balance work and family life. However, the Government recognises that there is still room for improvement in many areas.

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Photo: Alexander Ruas/Folio

The Swedish approach to fairness

Gender equality is one of the cornerstones of modern Swedish society. The aim of Sweden’s gender equality policies is to ensure that women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all areas of life.

The overarching principle is that everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to work and support themselves, to balance career and family life, and to live without the fear of abuse or violence.

Gender equality implies not only equal distribution between men and women in all domains of society. It is also about the qualitative aspects, ensuring that the knowledge and experience of both men and women are used to promote progress in all aspects of society.

In the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, Sweden is named as a world leader in equality. The report, drawn up at the initiative of the World Economic Forum, measures equality in the areas of economics, politics, education and health. It can be read at: www.weforum.org.

Gender equality at school

Ideally, gender equality should reach and guide all levels of the Swedish educational system. Its principles are therefore increasingly being incorporated into education in Swedish preschools.

The aim is to give children the same opportunities in life, regardless of their gender, by using teaching methods that allow each child to grow into a unique individual. The issue of gender equality is addressed continuously throughout elementary school to prepare students for further education.

Today, a greater proportion of women than men complete upper secondary education in Sweden, which has come to attention as a reverse gender issue. Significantly more women than men also participate in adult education. Women comprise roughly 60 per cent of all students in undergraduate university studies and almost two-thirds of all degrees are awarded to women. Equal numbers of women and men now take part in postgraduate and doctoral studies.

Both mothers and fathers in Sweden are entitled to paid parental leave.

Photo: Niklas Larsson/Scanpix

Parental leave

In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of parental leave when a child is born or adopted. This leave can be taken by the month, week, day or even by the hour. Women still take most of the days – in 2012, men took about 24 per cent of parental leave.

For 390 days, the maximum parental allowance is SEK 946 (EUR 105.0, USD 137.0) a day, as of 2013. For the remaining 90 days, the daily allowance is SEK 180. Sixty days of leave are allocated specifically to each parent, and cannot be transferred to the other. In addition, one of the parents of the new-born baby gets 10 extra days of leave in connection with the birth or 20 days if they are twins.

Parents who share the transferable leave allowance equally get a SEK 50 daily bonus for a maximum of 270 days.

Adopting parents are entitled to a total of 480 days between them from the day the child comes under their care. A single parent is entitled to the full 480 days.

Swedish law prohibits gender discrimination
in the workplace.

Photo: Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Women and men at work

Two main sections of the Discrimination Act deal with gender equality at work. First, there is the requirement that all employers must actively pursue specific goals to promote equality between men and women.

Second, the law prohibits discrimination and obliges employers to investigate and take measures against any harassment. Employers must not unfairly treat any employee or job applicant who is, has been or will be taking parental leave.

Pay differentials between men and women can largely be explained by differences in profession, sector, position, work experience and age. Some, however, cannot be explained this way and may be attributable to gender – these are called unjustified pay differentials. On average, women’s monthly salaries are 94 per cent of men’s when differences in choice of profession and sector are taken into account. Pay differentials are most pronounced in the private sector.

Jönköping County governor Minoo Akhtarzand (left), one of many women leaders in the public sector.

Mutewatch founder Mai-Li Hammargren (right) is paving the way for women in the private sector.

Photo: Casper Hedberg/Scanpix; MuteWatch

Economic and political power

The Government’s gender equality policy is twofold: to ensure power and resources are distributed fairly between the sexes, and to create the conditions that give women and men the same power and opportunities.

In professional life, the proportion of women in top posts is increasing. In 2012, the share of women heading companies – private and public sector combined – was 36 per cent compared with 29 per cent in 2006. The majority of managers in municipal, county council and central government were women (64 per cent), but in listed companies, the representation of women remained weak, with only 4 per cent of board chairpersons and managing directors.

After the 2010 election, 45 per cent of the places in the Swedish parliament were taken by women, down from 47 per cent after the 2006 election – the first fall in this figure since the 1930s. At present, 13 of the 24 Government ministers are women.

Gender mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming, a term coined by the United Nations in 1997, describes the incorporation of the gender equality perspective into the work of government agencies at all levels. The idea is that gender equality is not a separate, isolated issue but a continual process. To create equality, the concept of equality must be taken into account when resources are
distributed, norms are created and decisions are taken.

In Sweden, gender mainstreaming is seen as the main strategy for achieving targets within equality policy. The portal www.includegender.org was created in 2009 to help this process, providing simple tools to make gender mainstreaming easier in practice.

In 2011, the Swedish Government decided to strengthen efforts within equality, creating a national platform to further gender mainstreaming at the municipal, regional and national levels.

Violence against women

In 2012, about 28,000 cases of violence against women were recorded in Sweden. Over the years, the number of reported cases has risen significantly as more women speak out. Legislation changes in the early 1980s removed the possibility of a woman withdrawing an allegation of violence once made; this was required to counter threats to women who lodged complaints.

Women who need help can turn to the Swedish Association of Women’s Shelters (www.kvinnojouren.se), or the National Organisation for Women’s and Young Women’s Shelters (www.roks.se). They can also ask for help from any of approximately 130 local women’s shelters located throughout Sweden.

Other organisations that work with issues regarding violence against women include:

  • The National Clearinghouse on Violence against Women, which promotes co-operation between agencies and organisations in contact with women exposed to violence. www.operationkvinnofrid.nu
  • The National Centre for Knowledge on Men’s Violence Against Women, based at Uppsala University, has been tasked by the Government to raise awareness of male violence against women, honour-related violence and violence within same-sex relationships. It also works to improve and spread ways of assisting women victims of violence. www.nck.uu.se

Gender-neutral language

The discussion in Sweden covers not only gender equality but also the gender neutrality of language. This was seen during 2012 in a lively debate over the gender-neutral personal pronoun “hen”, a newly minted word adopted by some people as an alternative to the gender-specific “hon” and “han”, she and he.

Advocates say hen avoids the need to refer only to one gender or to use the cumbersome inclusive form of he/she, while also opening up the language for people who might not identify themselves as either male or female, or who wish to avoid referring to themselves as one sex or the other.

Critics argue that the word dilutes and damages the Swedish language and leads to confusion, particularly among children. Hen is being seen increasingly on Swedish websites and in print.

History of gender equality in Sweden

1250s King Birger Jarl passes a law on violence against women prohibiting rape and abduction.

1921 Women get the right to vote and run for office. The first five women to win seats in parliament are Kerstin Hesselgren, Elisabeth Tamm, Agda Östlund, Nelly Thüring and Bertha Wellin.

1965 Sweden passes a law against rape in marriage.

1972 Joint taxation of spouses is abolished in Sweden.

1974 Sweden becomes the first country in the world to replace maternity leave with parental leave.

1975 New abortion law comes into force.

1980 Sweden, a constitutional monarchy, makes its Act of Succession gender-neutral.

1998 The Act on Violence against Women is introduced.

1999 The Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services comes into effect.

2002 Parental leave increased to 480 days, with each parent entitled to two months of non-transferable benefits.

2005 New legislation on sexual crimes further strengthens the absolute right of every individual to sexual integrity and self-determination.

2009 The Discrimination Act replaces seven separate anti-discrimination laws.

2011 Stalking – repeated harassment – becomes an offence. One aim of the law is to further prevent male violence against women.

Other useful links

www.allakvinnorshus.org All Women’s House
www.forsakringskassan.se The Swedish Social Insurance Agency
www.genus.se Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research
www.government.se Government and the Government Offices of Sweden
www.kvinnofridslinjen.se Hotline for women subjected to threats, violence or sexual assault
www.scb.se Statistics Sweden
www.wombri.se Women’s Business Research Institute

Last updated: 25 March 2014

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