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Gender equality in Sweden

Sweden believes that women and men should have equal power to shape society and their own lives. Often considered a gender equality role model, Sweden has come a long way. Still, there’s room for improvement.

Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se

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Gender equality in Sweden

Sweden believes that women and men should have equal power to shape society and their own lives. Often considered a gender equality role model, Sweden has come a long way. Still, there’s room for improvement.

Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se


Rape and abduction prohibited in Sweden


A school reform allows girls to be educated


Widows, divorcees and unmarried women entitled to work in certain areas


All women gain the right to vote (Left: Elin Wägner with 350,000 signatures for this cause)


Birth control and abortion legalised


  • New law on universal child allowances
  • The first woman in government: Karin Kock

Three months' paid maternity leave for working women


Alva Myrdal, the first woman to hold a high position in the UN, here chairing a UN disarmament meeting


Joint taxation of spouses abolished


Parental leave replaces maternity leave (Weightlifter 'Hoa-Hoa', above, was later used to promote daddy leave, even though he didn't take any himself)


Abortion permitted until 18th week of pregnancy


Gender discrimination in the workplace made illegal


New law on gender equality (replaced by the Discrimination Act in 2009)


Parental leave: 480 days – two months reserved for each parent


Sweden gets an Equality Ombudsman


Parental leave updated: three months of parental leave reserved for each parent

Photos, from the top: Wikimedia Commons, Jason Briscoe, Wikimedia Commons, Stockholmskällan, UN Photo, Riksbanken, Reijo Rüster, Ragnhild Haarstad/TT, Wikimedia, Mikhail Pavstuyk, Amanda Westerbom & Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se

Power and influence

With a feminist government and a law against gender discrimination, how come Swedish board rooms are still heavily male-dominated?

The Swedish approach

The overarching Swedish principle for gender equality 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. Even if the idea has been met with both praise and criticism – domestic and international – the word feminism is not as charged in Sweden as in many other countries. The government uses the ‘F word’ to stress that gender equality is vital to society and that more needs to be done to achieve it.

It’s no coincidence, then, that 12 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. It may be more than most countries, but was still a drop from the 2010 and the 2006 elections.

There’s still room for more gender equality in the boardroom.

Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs

Male-dominated board rooms – so far

The business sector, on the other hand, is a heavily male-dominated field. On the average board of a Swedish stock market company, about one in three were women in 2018 – a great increase compared with a few years earlier. In fact, if this development continues at the same pace, the boards of listed companies in Sweden will be gender-equal within ten years.

However, there’s a hitch: nine out of ten people who appoint the board members are men. Some politicians suggest quotas for women as a quicker way of achieving gender-equal board rooms.

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 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 fourth. But if the Global Gender Gap Report is anything to go by, the global labour market is far from gender equal. For example, on average 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.

Want inspiration rather than statistics? Browse through our list of 10 Swedish superwomen.

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?

Women’s average monthly salaries in Sweden are less than 88 per cent of men’s – 95.5 per cent when differences in choice of profession and sector are taken into account (2016). Pay differences are most obvious in the county councils, and the smallest difference is found among blue-collar workers.

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.

Working for free after 16:12

Another way of illustrating the current pay gap of 9.9 per cent is to say that women basically work without pay from around 16:12. Assuming a working day is eight hours and ends at 17:00, a 10.7 per cent shorter day is the same as if women worked without pay from 16:12.

The goal of 16:12-rörelsen (the 16:12 movement) is to ensure that women are paid for a full day’s work. The movement was started by the Swedish Women’s Lobby (Sveriges Kvinnolobby) in 2012 and is now a co-operation between political women’s unions, trade union organisations and women’s movement societies.

At the beginning, the movement went under the name 15:51 as the pay gap was then 14.3 per cent. The 16:12 movement strives for its own name to continue changing until women no longer ‘work for free’.

The average pay gap between women and men keeps shrinking in Sweden.

Photo: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

Part-time is part of the problem

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.


Work and family

Sweden does pretty well when it comes to work–family balance. The average Swedish woman has 1.9 children (EU average: 1.6) 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 and pre-school should be affordable for all. Fees are proportional to the parents’ income and the more children you have, the less you pay per child. For children between three and six, childcare is even free for up to 15 hours per week. It was in the 1970s that public childcare was reformed and expanded to facilitate for families with two working parents.

The Swedish government also provides an additional monthly child allowance until the age of 16 of SEK 1,050 per month per child, and if you have more than one child, you get an extra family supplement.

Oh, the challenging equation of work and family.

Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/

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. By 2014, fathers were taking 25 per cent of the total number of days available to the couple. As of 1 January 2016, there are three ‘daddy months’ with 90 days of paid leave reserved for fathers.

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’.

Read more about Swedish family life in Family-friendly life the Swedish way.

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

Despite the fact that Swedish statesman Birger Jarl banned rape already in the 1250s, Sweden battles with among the highest rape statistics in the world today. But rape statistics from different countries are very hard to compare – there are great differences in definition as well as how a crime is registered. For example, in Sweden each and every rape is registered as a separate crime, which is not the case in all countries. The victim’s willingness to report may also differ between countries.

Recently, the debate has intensified due to sexual assaults at music festivals in Sweden. At one event in Stockholm, the police failed to report the assaults for fear of worsening ethnic tensions, as many women were assaulted by gangs of young foreign men. Schools have an important preventive role to play here, and the government is taking special measures to inform and educate newly arrived refugees on gender equality and non-discrimination, as well as related laws and regulations.

In 2018, the government tightened Sweden’s laws on sex crimes. The parliament decided to adopt a new sexual consent law, which states that sex without explicit consent is rape, even when there has been no violence or threats.

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.

Change starts in the everyday chats.

Photo: Karin Enge Vivar/Folio/

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 2017, around 28,000 cases of violence against women over the age of 18 were recorded in Sweden. In most cases the perpetrators were men, and in more than half of these cases (17,600) the perpetrators were known to the women.

Apart from the suffering caused, the total cost of healthcare, sick leave, police investigations, trials and imprisonment amounts to SEK 45 billion a year. That is more than the entire annual budget for the Swedish defence.

What happens to men who abuse women?

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. The maximum sentence for a gross violation of a woman’s integrity is six years’ imprisonment. Women and men, girls and boys, must have the same right and access to physical integrity.

Useful links

Last updated: 26 February 2021