Equal power and influence for women and men – that's what Sweden is aiming for.
Sweden has long been a pioneering promoter of gender equality. The overarching Swedish 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.
Every year, the World Economic Forum ranks around 150 countries based on the gap between women and men according to indicators within health, education, economy and politics. Since the report's inception in 2006, Sweden has never ranked lower than fifth.
Equality in the workplace
Gender discrimination in the workplace has been illegal since 1980 in Sweden. The Discrimination Act – which came into force in 2009 – demands that employers not only actively promote equality between men and women, but also take measures against harassment.
Sweden is also striving for equal pay for equal work. The Discrimination Act states that employers and employees should work actively to even out the pay gap between the sexes. But a significant pay gap remains – one of the challenges on the Swedish gender equality agenda. In 2022, women’s average monthly salaries in Sweden were 90.1 per cent of men’s.
This gap can partly be explained by differences in profession, sector, position, work experience and age. But some of them seem to have more to do with gender.
When women have children, they tend to work part-time more often than men, which makes for a less positive career and wage development, as well as a lesser pension.
Equal family policy – childcare and parental leave
A family policy that supports working parents with the same rights and obligations for both women and men makes it easier for parents in Sweden to find a decent work–life balance.
Childcare is guaranteed to all parents and the aim is that nursery school should be affordable for all. It was in the 1970s that public childcare was reformed and expanded to facilitate for families with two working parents.
In 1974, Sweden was the first country in the world to replace gender-specific maternity leave with gender-neutral parental leave. The so-called parental insurance enabled parents to take six months off work per child, with each parent entitled to half of the days.
Back then, however, a father could sign his days over to the mother – which made for slower progress. Two decades later, in 1994, around 90 per cent of all the paid parental leave was being used by mothers.
In 1995, the first ‘daddy month’ was introduced, with 30 days of leave reserved for the father on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. If the father decided not to use that month off work, the parents would lose one month’s paid leave. In 2002, this was extended to 60 days, then in 2016 to 90 days of paid leave reserved for fathers.
Today, fathers in Sweden take around 30 per cent of the total number of days available to the parents.
The Swedish Discrimination Act states that employees and job applicants who are, have been or will be taking parental leave may not be treated unfairly.
The Gender Equality Agency
The Swedish Gender Equality Agency is tasked by the Swedish government to support government agencies with the work of integrating a gender perspective in all of their operations.
Positions of power
In November 2021, Magdalena Andersson of the then-ruling Social Democrat party became Sweden’s first-ever female prime minister. Her spell came to an end in 2022 following the general election and a change of government.
After the 2022 election there were 188 men and 161 women in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament. And of the 23 ministers currently serving under the prime minister, 11 are women.
According to Statistics Sweden's bi-annual report on gender equality from 2022 (publication in Swedish only), women held 67 per cent of executive positions in the public sector during 2020.
Sweden’s business sector, on the other hand, remains a male-dominated field. Of the companies listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange, 10 per cent had women chairpersons in 2020, 13 per cent had female CEOs and 36 per cent of the board members were women.
Some Swedish politicians have suggested quotas for women as a quicker way of achieving gender-equal board rooms.