Gender equality is one of the cornerstones of Swedish society. The aim of Sweden’s gender equality policies is to ensure that everyone enjoys the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all areas of life.
The Swedish approach to fairness
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.
The annual Global Gender Gap Report, introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006, measures equality in the areas of economics, politics, education and health. Since the report’s inception, Sweden has never finished lower than fifth in the Gender Gap rankings.
Gender equality at school
Gender equality is strongly emphasised in the Education Act, the law that governs all education in Sweden. It states that gender equality should reach and guide all levels of the Swedish educational system.
The principles are increasingly being incorporated into education from pre-school level onwards, with the aim of giving children the same opportunities in life, regardless of their gender, by using teaching methods that counteract traditional gender patterns and gender roles.
Today, girls generally have better grades in Swedish schools than boys. Girls also perform better in national tests, and a greater proportion of girls complete upper secondary education.
Whereas a few decades ago, the university realm was dominated by men, today nearly two-thirds of all university degrees in Sweden are awarded to women. Equal numbers of women and men now take part in postgraduate and doctoral studies.
An extensive welfare system that promotes a healthy work–life balance has been an important factor in making Sweden a gender-egalitarian leader. Parents are entitled to share 480 days, or around 16 months, of paid 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 use most of the days, with men taking around one-fourth of the parental leave on average.
For 390 days, parents are entitled to nearly 80 per cent of their pay, up to a maximum of SEK 967 per day. The remaining 90 days are paid at a flat daily rate of SEK 180. Those who are not in employment are also entitled to paid parental leave. Parents of twins or more have the right to additional paid parental leave.
Ninety days, or around three months, 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.
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.
Women and men at work
Sweden has come a long way in making sure that women and men are treated equally in the workplace. But pay differences remain, and in the Swedish private sector the proportion of women in top positions remains weak.
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 preventive action against any 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. Also, employers must not unfairly treat any employee or job applicant who is, has been or will be taking parental leave.
The Swedish government strives to ensure that power and resources are distributed fairly between the sexes, and to create the conditions that give women and men the same power and opportunities.
Sweden has one of the world’s highest representations of women in parliament.
Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/Riksdagen
Economic and political power
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. On average, women’s monthly salaries in Sweden are currently around 88 per cent of men’s – 95.5 per cent when differences in choice of profession and sector are taken into account. Pay differentials are most pronounced in the county councils. The smallest difference is among blue-collar workers.
According to Statistics Sweden’s bi-annual report on gender equality, published in 2016, only 6 per cent of CEO positions in listed companies were filled by women, and 5 per cent of board chairpersons and 29 per cent of board members were women.
Across private and public sectors, the report showed that 37 per cent of managers were women, compared with 62 per cent for the public sector.
In 2015, 97 women and 102 men were heads of Sweden’s public agencies – positions appointed by the government, which also sets the salaries for these. Of the ten highest paid, four were women.
Sweden has one of the world’s highest representations of women in parliament. After the 2014 election, 43.6 per cent (152) of the 349 seats were taken by women. Nevertheless, it was a drop from 45 per cent in the 2010 elections. At present, 12 of the 23 government ministers are women.
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. In 2014, the government assigned 41 government agencies to work actively with gender mainstreaming from 2015 to 2018 in a collective called the Gender Mainstreaming in Government Agencies (GMGA) programme. Their goal is to integrate gender equality in all aspects of each agency’s work. The government has allocated SEK 26 million for the four-year period.
Violence against women
In 2015, about 29,000 cases of violence against women were reported in Sweden, 37 per cent of those within close relationships. 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.
Sweden’s current Act on Violence against Women came into force in 1998. The law states that the violence and abuse to which a woman is subjected, for instance by a man in a close relationship, is assessed cumulatively.
Each 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 who need help can turn to any of around 200 local women’s shelters in Sweden. Most shelters are connected to either or both of two major national organisations, the Swedish Association of Women’s Shelters, or the National Organisation for Women’s and Young Women’s Shelters.
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, and Uppsala University’s National Centre for Knowledge on Men’s Violence Against Women, which has been tasked by the government to raise awareness of male violence against women, honour-related violence and violence within same-sex relationships.
Antje Jackelén, Sweden’s first female archbishop.
Photo: Jan Nordén/IKON/CC by 3.0
A female archbishop
For centuries, the role of archbishop has been held by men. In 2013, Sweden became one of few countries to break the trend when Antje Jackelén was elected by the Church of Sweden as its first female archbishop. Jackelén formally became Archbishop of Uppsala in June 2014 and therefore Primate of the Church of Sweden.
German-born Jackelén was ordained priest in Sweden in 1980. She received her doctorate from Lund University in 1999 and was bishop in Lund diocese before moving on to her current position.
The Church of Sweden – separated from the state in 2000 – promotes gender equality. Its highest decision-making body, the General Synod, has 123 women and 128 men on its 2018–2021 board. Since 1960, women have been ordained as priests within the Swedish church and today some 45 per cent of all ordained priests are women. A closer look, however, reveals that pay inequalities for the same job are common within the church, with women making less money than their male counterparts.
Other useful links
- allakvinnorshus.org – All Women’s House
- forsakringskassan.se – The Swedish Social Insurance Agency
- genus.se – Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research
- government.se – Government and the Government Offices of Sweden
- kvinnofridslinjen.se – Hotline for women subjected to threats, violence or sexual assault
- scb.se – Statistics Sweden
- wombri.se – Women’s Business Research Institute