Gender equality

Equal power and influence for women and men – that's what Sweden is aiming for.

POWER AND INFLUENCE

Sweden's government has declared itself a feminist government, and the country has a law against gender discrimination. But board rooms remain male-dominated. Let's take a closer look.

The Swedish approach

Sweden has long been a strong 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.

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.

Reclaiming the F word

The current Swedish government has declared itself a feminist government, devoted to a feminist foreign policy. The idea has been met with both praise and criticism – domestic and international – and the word feminism and what it stands for is debated in Sweden too, but the word is not as charged as in many other countries. By using the ‘F word’, the government aims to emphasise that gender equality is vital to society and that more needs to be done to achieve it.

It’s no coincidence, then, that 11 of the 22 government ministers are women. Definite progress has been made since Karin Kock became the first woman in the Swedish government in 1947. Nearly half of the members of the current parliament in Sweden are also women.

Chart showing the share of women in national parliaments in Sweden, the EU and North America, respectively.

Gender mainstreaming

The Swedish government has commissioned the Swedish Gender Equality Agency to support government agencies with the work of integrating a gender perspective in all of their operations. The initiative is called the Gender Mainstreaming in Government Agencies (GMGA) programme, and its goal is to integrate gender equality in all aspects of each agency’s work.

Male-dominated board rooms – so far

The business sector, on the other hand, is still a male-dominated field in Sweden.

According to Statistics Sweden bi-annual report on gender equality from 2020, 10 per cent of the companies listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange had women chairpersons, with 35 per cent of board members women.

Some politicians suggest quotas for women as a quicker way of achieving gender-equal board rooms.

The Allbright foundation has written a critical report about inequality among tech startups in Sweden: ‘Tech Dudes Caught in Their Own Myth’ (pdf, May 2020).

Equality in the workplace

Sweden has come a long way in making sure that women and men are treated equally in the workplace. Gender discrimination in the workplace has been illegal since 1980. The Swedish Discrimination Act (pdf) from 2009 demands that employers not only actively promote equality between men and women, but also take measures against harassment. Following a 2017 expansion of the law, the preventive work includes harassment related to all grounds for discrimination: an employer’s sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation and age.

The act also states that employees and job applicants who are, have been or will be taking parental leave may not be treated unfairly.

Cases of discrimination can be reported to the Swedish Equality Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen), a goverment agency that protects equal rights. ‘Discrimination’ includes cases of unfair treatment by an employer in connection with an employee’s parental leave.

The global gender gap

Every year, the international organisation 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 2006, Sweden has never ranked lower than fifth. According to the Global Gender Gap Report, the global labour market is far from gender equal. Globally, about 78 per cent of men between 15 and 64 are in the labour force, but only 55 per cent of women of the same age. ‘Mind the 100 Year Gap’ is the sobering title of the 2020 edition (World Economic Forum, December 2019).

Chart showing the pay gap between men and women in Sweden 1995–2020

ECONOMIC EQUALITY

Sweden has greatly increased the economic equality between women and men over time. Still, a pay gap remains. This is one of the challenges on the Swedish gender equality agenda.

Why is there not equal pay?

In 2020, women’s average monthly salaries in Sweden were 90.2 per cent of men’s, or 95.6 per cent when differences in choice of profession and sector were taken into account.

The pay gap between men and women 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.

The Discrimination Act states that employers and employees should work actively for equal pay for equal work, as well as promote equal opportunity for women and men to receive a pay rise.

The Swedish Women’s Lobby (Sveriges Kvinnolobby) aims, among other things, to ensure that everyone gets equal pay, regardless of sex. In 2012 a particular 'pay all day' movement was started to illustrate the pay gap by saying that women basically don't get paid for a full day's work. This movement is a co-operation between political women’s unions, trade union organisations and women’s movement societies.

Part-time partly explains it

Every third woman and every tenth man in Sweden work part-time. The major reason for this is lack of relevant full-time employment, but the second most common reason for women is childcare, followed by caring for an elderly relative.

When women have children, they tend to work part-time more often than men. The downside of this is a less positive career and wage development for women, as well as a poor pension. A woman who, after taking parental leave, works 50 per cent of full time for 10 years and then 75 per cent for another ten years will have a pension that is only 71 per cent of what a person working full time will get.

A family setting in a living room, with three children, a mother and a father. Two kids watch something on a laptop. The mother is using her phone.

Oh, the challenging equation of work and family! Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/ imagebank.sweden.se

A crowd of workers stand around a car on a factory floor. A woman is gesturing at the engine compartment.

The average pay gap between women and men keeps shrinking in Sweden. Photo: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

Four men with baby strollers walk down the street. Each man has a baby stroller.

Male nannies? No, just fathers on parental leave. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

A family setting in a living room, with three children, a mother and a father. Two kids watch something on a laptop. The mother is using her phone.

Oh, the challenging equation of work and family! Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/ imagebank.sweden.se

A crowd of workers stand around a car on a factory floor. A woman is gesturing at the engine compartment.

The average pay gap between women and men keeps shrinking in Sweden. Photo: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

Four men with baby strollers walk down the street. Each man has a baby stroller.

Male nannies? No, just fathers on parental leave. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

A family setting in a living room, with three children, a mother and a father. Two kids watch something on a laptop. The mother is using her phone.

Oh, the challenging equation of work and family! Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/ imagebank.sweden.se

A crowd of workers stand around a car on a factory floor. A woman is gesturing at the engine compartment.

The average pay gap between women and men keeps shrinking in Sweden. Photo: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

Four men with baby strollers walk down the street. Each man has a baby stroller.

Male nannies? No, just fathers on parental leave. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Parental leave

Parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave. Of those, 90 days are reserved for each parent.

WORK AND FAMILY

Sweden does pretty well when it comes to work–family balance. In 2019, the average Swedish woman had 1.7 children (EU average: 1.5) and, at the same time, the rate of working women is the highest in the EU, 78.3 per cent.

The kids-and-career equation

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.

What’s with all the male nannies?

In 1974, Sweden was the first country in the world to replace gender-specific maternity leave with parental leave. The so-called parental insurance enabled couples to take six months’ off work per child, with each parent entitled to half of the days. However, a father could sign his days over to the mother – and as a result, two decades later, 90 per cent of paternity leave in Sweden was being used by mothers only.

In 1995, the first pappamånad – ‘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 couple would lose one month’s paid leave. In 2002, this was extended to two ‘daddy months’, or 60 days – and in 2016, to three ‘daddy months’ with 90 days of paid leave reserved for fathers. By 2020, fathers were taking 30 per cent of the total number of days available to the couple.

The relatively high number of fathers on ‘daddy leave’ has caused foreign journalists to wonder why there are so many male nannies in Sweden. Others call them ‘latte dads’.

A crime to buy sexual services

The Swedish Act on prohibiting the purchase of sexual services from 1999 was the first law to make it illegal to buy sexual services – without punishing the prostitute.

In 2005, the offence was incorporated into the Swedish Penal Code.

MEN'S VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

Global figures indicate that about 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, often within a relationship. Sweden works actively to defend and strengthen the rights of women and girls.

Rape and sexual assault

Rape statistics from different countries are difficult to compare as there are differences in definition as well as how a crime is registered.

In 2018, Sweden adopted a new sexual consent law, which states that sex without explicit consent is rape, even when there has been no violence or threats.

In Sweden, unlike some other countries, each and every reported rape is registered as a separate crime. Taking a hypothetical example, if a perpetrator rapes the same victim three times and these three incidents are all reported, then three cases of rape will be registered.

The victim’s willingness to report may also differ between countries.

The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) publishes statistics on rape in Sweden.

Costly violence

Over the years, the number of reported cases of violence against women in Sweden has risen significantly. This is partly due to changing attitudes that encourage more women to speak out. However, it is not easy to determine whether violence against women has increased, as many cases go unreported.

In 2019, around 29,000 cases of violence against women over the age of 18 were recorded in Sweden. In 80 per cent of the cases the reported perpetrator was someone the woman knew.

Sweden’s current Act on Violence against Women came into force in 1998. Each physical blow and/or instance of sexual and psychological degradation against the woman is taken into account.

Guys who talk

Global Guy Talk is an initiative by the Swedish non-profit foundation Make Equal. It started as #killmiddag in Sweden and is now being spread to the rest of the world with the help of the Swedish Institute. The concept is simple: a group of men get together and start talking about things that men rarely talk about. It could be vulnerability, love, friendship… The project aims to give men the chance to contribute to a more equal society by starting with themselves.