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Gender-political situation in Sweden


Legal situation:



Brief description and evaluation
In the European context, Sweden is often cited as the pioneer and role model of a more extensive, successful gender equality policy. Undoubtedly, this is also due to gender equality policy having a long tradition in Sweden and having become a matter of course in societal and political life, unlike virtually every other country in Europe (often being referred to as “state feminism”).

 Sweden's official website, www.sweden.se, for example, in addition to explaining about the country’s economy and tourism, quite implicitly includes an information-packed subpage devoted to gender equality.

“Sweden has one of the highest levels of gender equality in the world. This is based on the belief that when women and men share power and influence equally it leads to a more just and democratic society. A well-developed welfare system makes it easier for both sexes to balance their work and family life. (....)

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.“

This is evident, on the one hand, through the comprehensive legislative entrenchment of equality in anti-discrimination and gender equality laws, which are particularly noteworthy for the fact that they make a double-edged strategy of bans on discrimination and the active promotion of gender equality legally binding. In this context, the particular emphasis Sweden places on non-discrimination and the promotion of equality in the education sector (schools, universities, adult education) sets it apart from other EU countries. Moreover, the country has adopted a modern family law, which follows the guiding principle of equal partnership and participation in familywork. In doing so, Sweden’s gender equality policy and laws target far more than employment/labour market, which are the focus of EU gender equality policy. For this reason, Sweden maintains a certain degree of scepticism with regard to the progress made in EU gender equality policy.

On the other hand, the political implicitness of gender equality policy is evidence of how deeply entrenched it is in Sweden’s institutional system: it is fair to say that gender equality is perceived as a government mandate, which must be given consideration in every policy field (GM approach). In addition to the responsibility of every government body to execute gender equality, specific gender equality institutions play a vital role in implementing governmental gender equality and anti-discrimination policy: the minister, gender equality department, the Office of the Ombudsperson and various others (in part, temporary commissions/advisory boards). Gender equality policy is also institutionally entrenched at municipal and regional administration level. It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that Sweden is one of the initiators of a European gender institute.

The governmental gender actors aside, numerous non-governmental gender actors play a decisive part in determining Sweden’s gender and/or equality policy. They operate at all levels (from national to local) and, in part, also impact certain topics, occupational fields and policy areas. Two central, nationwide actors of note in this context are the women’s lobby and the “Men for Equality” organisation. Despite the above-mentioned broad acceptance and representation of gender equality policy, an initiative for a feminist party has been formed in Sweden, which calls for a broader feminist approach in the country’s gender equality policy.

The relationship between the non-governmental gender actors and the government’s gender equality policy can be described as controllingly cooperative. Especially with respect to the areas of gainful employment and work-life balance addressed by the gender equality policy, NGOs assume a monitoring function.

A further striking feature of Sweden’s gender equality policy is the particular attention afforded to the role of men in gender equality policy/for the good of gender equality. This is a relevant issue among both governmental and non-governmental actors. Unlike in many other European states, in Sweden the responsibility placed on men to put gender equality into practice is an amplified issue and the problems of the hegemony of the patriarchal male are expounded.

Another indication of the significance and implicitness of gender equality policy is the country’s extensive (and nationally and internationally well-networked) gender research work. A key feature of this research is that it is very practice- and application-oriented.

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legal situation

Legal situation

Gender equality law

EO Act (Act On Equality Between Men And Women At Work):
since 1980; amended/tightened in 1992; 1994 (third bill on equality policy “Shared Power – Shared Responsibilities”), 2000, 2005;

covers both areas: ban on discrimination and active promotion of gender equality; focus: equal rights with respect to employment, working conditions, career development, pay gaps, combating violence against women, regulations governing parental leave (1 month only for the father); binds companies with over 10 employees to an annual equal opportunities plan and action plan for equal pay.

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Anti-discrimination law

The Prohibition of Discrimination Act
since 2003: amended in 2005; 2009: A new anti-discrimination law replaces seven older anti-discrimination laws (SWEDEN.SE (n. y.): Facts | Gender Equality. Under: http://sweden.se/other-languages/german/Gleichstellung-der-Geschlechter-high-resolution.pdf, access: 08.12.13) prohibits discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin, disability and sexual orientation in various areas of society (e.g. labour market policy, employment agencies, national insurance, unemployment insurance, membership of employer and employee associations, self-employment, commercial trade involving goods, services and housing); in the beginning there were separate ombudswomen/ombudsmen in place for each aspect of discrimination; since 2009 the representatives take over the DO ombudsperson in all issues of discrimination.

Act concerning the Equal Treatment of Students
since 2002; prohibits discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin, disability and sexual orientation at universities and colleges

The Act on the prohibition of discrimination and other degrading treatment of children and pupils
since 2006; prohibits discrimination against children and school pupils in Sweden's school system based on gender, ethnic origin, disability and sexual orientation, and calls on all schools to actively promote the equality of girls and boys

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Laws on quotas, above all in the political and economic fields.
No laws on quotas;
party quotas for local, regional and national elections follow a system of alternate filtering (some parties have 50/50 quotas, others 40/60)

Information: women occupy more than half (52 percent) of the leading posts in municipalities, provincial parliaments and government. Almost half (47 percent) of the members of Sweden’s Parliament, the Reichstag, are women, with 13 of the 24 ministerial posts also being held by women. In the communities, provincial diets, and national administrive bodies women made up 64 per cent of the executive positions. SWEDEN.SE (n.y.): facts  | gender equality. Under: http://sweden.se/other-languages/german/Gleichstellung-der-Geschlechter-high-resolution.pdf, Accessed: 08.12.13)

Strategy for gender equality in the labour market
Despite decades of efforts to promote gender equality, the labour market and business sector are still marked by a lack of gender equality. For instance, there are still differences in opportunities for men and women to enter the labour market, remain and develop in their working life and combine work and family life. The lack of gender equality can also be seen, for example, in pay differentials, unequal career opportunities, gender differences in sick leave, an unequal division of parental insurance and an under-representation of women in executive positions. In June 2009, the Government presented a strategy for gender equality in the labour market and the business sector. More than 60 measures have been presented, including the investment of SEK 235 million from the gender equality appropriation in special initiatives. The strategy contains initiatives to:

  • Combat gender divisions in the labour market and business sector
  • Promote gender-equal conditions for entrepreneurship
  • Increase gender-equal participation in working life
  • Enhance gender equality in working life conditions

(The Government Offices of Sweden (2011): Strategy for gender equality in the labour market. Unter: http://www.government.se/sb/d/4096/a/130290. Accessed: 07.12.13).

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Other laws/statutory regulations and government programmes

Political consensus on the principles of gender equality; also entrenched in the constitution

Education Act:
commits all school staff to promote the equality of school pupils; a corresponding law governing adult education also exists

Family law:
covers: laws governing marriage, common-law marriage, divorce, child custody, parental leave (Code of Parenthood, Parental Leave Act, National Insurance Act). Key features: equal treatment of partners in marriage; protection of the financially weaker spouse in the event of divorce/death; individual taxation for married couples; economic independence of married partners; generous parental insurance system which enables all parents to spend up to 16 months at home with their children while receiving parental allowance, two months of this paid leave is converted into mandatory “father’s months”; also paid parental leave if a child falls ill (60 days/year/child) and 10 days' parental leave for fathers following the birth of a child. The majority of parental leave is taken up by women; in 2012 24 per cent of Swedish fathers took parental leave. Since 2013 parental allowance for 390 days is limited to a maximum of 946 SEK (105€) per day. For the remaining 90 days the payment is 180 SEK per day. 60 days of parental leave are not transferable from one parent to another (SWEDEN.SE (n. y.): Facts | Gender Equality. Under: http://sweden.se/other-languages/german/Gleichstellung-der-Geschlechter-high-resolution.pdf, access: 08.12.13).

Gender Mainstreaming (GM) - Measures at Governmental level:
gender-differentiated statistics, gender training for those in (political) management positions, incorporation of the gender perspective in all studies conducted by enquete commissions;

plus: EU Project on the implementation of gender mainstreaming at governmental level (2005-2007): together with Finland, Lithuania and Portugal; aims: to gather information (guides, reports, research, etc.) and best practices in order to implement GM at governmental level in all member states, to conduct in-depth studies in the countries participating in the project; publications comprising examples and recommendations, EU conference 1/2 February 2007. In 2011 the Swedish government decided to reinforce their efforts for equality and founded a national platform which is to promote gender mainstreaming on the municipal, regional and national level. (SWEDEN.SE (n.y.): facts  | gender equality. Under: http://sweden.se/other-languages/german/Gleichstellung-der-Geschlechter-high-resolution.pdf, Accessed: 08.12.13).

The platform comprises five different parts:

  • Strategy for gender mainstreaming in the Government Offices,
  • A development programme for government agencies,
  • Support for gender mainstreaming at regional level,
  • Quality assurance of the development of gender mainstreaming in municipalities and county councils, and
  • Initiatives to gather and share experience and knowledge about practical implementation of gender mainstreaming.

(The Government Offices of Sweden (n.y.): Gender Mainstreaming. Under: http://www.government.se/sb/d/4096/a/125215, Accessed: 08.12.13).

Violence against Women Act (1998)
the outcome of enquete commissions on prostitution and violence against women (since 1993); the law included a ban on prostitution; government funding provided to NGOs which work on this topic together with women and men; 2000-2003 National Council for the Protection of Women against Violence (advisory body); NAP for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (2004-2006). 2011 stalking – repeated melstation – becomes a criminal offence; one goal of the law is to improve the prevention of male violence against women (SWEDEN.SE (o.J.): Tatsachen | Gleichstellung der Geschlechter. Under: http://sweden.se/other-languages/german/Gleichstellung-der-Geschlechter-high-resolution.pdf, Accessed: 08.12.13).

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Current political discourse

Two terms peculiar to the Swedish language, which cannot be translated literally, are of importance to the discussion on gender equality and gender policy in Sweden:

  •  “jämställdhet”: refers to gender equality, but does not get the same overall meaning across as the English compound. Instead, the word “gender” is implied in the term.
  • kvinnofrid”: translates literally as “women's peace” and is used, above all, in the context of violence against women, though its connotation is far more extensive than this, leaning more to meaning the right of women to a peaceful, untroubled life

With respect to actors on the government side, gender and/or gender equality policy above all focuses on the issues of economic gender equality (unequal pay, women starting up new businesses/women entrepreneurship, labour market/working conditions and social security matters); of the political participation of women and violence against women (domestic violence, prostitution, trafficking in women, religious and/or culturally motivated violence).
From the mid-1990s onwards, the focus of Swedish equality policy shifted from promoting the gainful employment of women to gender mainstreaming. As a strategy for achieving widespread equality-oriented action at governmental level, gender mainstreaming is perceived as a natural cross-cutting task. In keeping with this, the issue of the changing role of men and their responsibility for putting gender equality into practice has become a topic for government actors over the past few years.

  • Gainful Employment: same rates of employment for women and men but different terms of employment: only certain sectors (especially the public sector), fewer well-paid jobs, widespread part-time employment (and, as a result, differences in income) => measures to raise the status of women in work and education (career guidance, further training, promotion of start-ups by women, mentoring, etc.), ban on discrimination against part-time and temporary workers
  • Women in executive positions: „In 2012 women were able to claim 36 per cent of leader positions in the private and the public sector (2006: 29 per cent). In the communities, provincial diets and national authorities 64 per cent of the executive positions were staffed with women; in the market listed companies, however, they are still underrepresented and took up only 4 per cent of the places in the section of chairmanship of the boards and executive boards.” SWEDEN.SE (n.y.): facts  | gender equality. Under: http://sweden.se/other-languages/german/Gleichstellung-der-Geschlechter-high-resolution.pdf, Accessed: 08.12.13

  • Men and Gender equality: since the mid-1980s, government funding/activities in this field, e.g. pilot project for father training programmes (as an extension of the parent training programmes already in place), seminars and conferences (with the involvement of the Northern European countries, in the European Parliament, with member states and accession countries), a focal issue of Sweden's EU Presidency; publications (report: “Towards New Masculinities”; anthology: “Men on Men”)

Non-governmental actors operate in every field of women's, equality and gender policy. The focal issues here are: political participation of women, violence/peace (in this context, also very prominent: trafficking in women and the participation of women in conflict prevention and peace negotiations), gender roles and/or stereotypes, body/health. Needless to say, economic integration is another issue addressed by non-governmental actors, though the impression that tends to be given is that they see their role more in checking/monitoring government policy than carrying out their own initiatives.

“In a country like Sweden, inequalities are all the more perfidious because, in view of Sweden's pioneering role in promoting emancipation, many do not dare grumble about what might seem like a triviality: a man is admired for taking parental leave – a woman is expected to do this. A man is praised for doing housework, but if a woman does it, it is taken for granted. And just as unjust are the “mere” 7 percent that women earn less than men for doing the same work. Or that, in actuality, only a fifth of all fathers take parental leave in Sweden. And that, at 24 percent, the number of women in managerial positions is exceptionally high on an international scale (Germany by comparison: 11 percent). But one must be allowed to ask the question: why isn't it 50 percent? That would be a sign of true equality.”

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NGOs: political parties, civil society organisations
Swedish Women’s Lobby / Sveriges Kvinnolobby (Swedish, English):
since 1997; umbrella organisation for women's NGOs with over 40 member organisations (from political parties, research, culture, business, migrant organisations); national and international coordination and representation of women's interests (also in the EWL);

aims: to prevent discrimination against women and girls, to build solidarity among women through information, education and awareness-raising measures;

current projects in the areas of political participation of women, the participation of women in conflict prevention and peace negotiations, trafficking in women, cross-party network of women politicians, networking with the Nordic women's umbrella organisations, fight against sexist advertisement, “15:52-initiative” - Campaign on the gender pay gap, Feminist no to surrogacy motherhood, Analysis of the governmental budget.

Män för Jämställdhet (Men for Gender Equality, only in Swedish!)
is a non-partisan organisation operating at national and local level (local offices/groups); it advocates gender equality, esp. for men and boys; main focus: changing (male) role images and men assuming responsibility for transforming gender relations; training courses with and provision of advice to men and boys (in different aspects of life and work); clear separation from the men's rights movement; focal issues: gender equality, violence (physical/mental, against women)/”women's peace”, beauty/body, equal parenthood, forum/chat for transgender and young men.

JAMRUM - Regional Equality Centre for Educationalists in the Gävleborg Region:
Knowledge transfer, training/further training, media/information materials

“Jämrum is a gender regional centre of knowledge with an equality approach to preschool, compulsory school, upper secondary school, and school of education. Here we acquire knowledge of gender equality issues, current research, experiences from other sectors, news, and statistics concerning equality in the pedagogic field. Jämrum is to work for making this knowledge easily accessible and spread within the educational system in the county. Jämrum is to support pedagogues in their ongoing gender equality work, and influence more people to reflect on equality work and how to carry it out. This is done through education and guidance.”

HARO (Swedish/English)
Focus: family policy, child policy; gender equality, more from a women's perspective, with specific focus on labour participation, equal pay

Kvinna till Kvinna (Women for Women, also in English)
Foundation supporting women in war and conflict regions; works together with women's organisations in the Balkans, Caucasus and Middle East; funds and promotes women's empowerment projects as a means of promoting the establishment of democratic societies, creation of save meeting points, bodily autonomy, fight against the impunity of violence against women

Kunskkapsbanken – knowledgebase (only in Swedish, national centre for women (NCK) at the university of Uppsala)
NCK is a national knowledge- and resource data base in the fields of violence and suppression against women and violence in same-sex relationships. The centre is entrusted by the government with the development of methods, education, informing, literature reviews, the pointing out of need for research and the support of abused women. They are trying to reach this goal with the help of information, important links and addresses and publications on the topic.

Includegender.org gives you tools for the everyday work with gender equality and gender mainstreaming. In this portal you can find tools and examples of gender equality in practice that simplify, and provide quality assurance for, work with gender equality and gender mainstreaming, reports from activities, lists of important years and a great deal else.

Kvinnofridsportalen (National Clearinghouse on Violence against Women, also in English)
This is a joint project run by various institutions which have, among other things, set up this central clearinghouse to combat violence against women. They provide information, important links and addresses, and publications to achieve their goal.

KvinnorKan ("Women Can")
is an independent foundation that was founded back in 1982. Its goal is especially to strengthen women in society and at work and to enhance their skills and abilities in various fields. Among other things, the foundation awards grants, organises discussion events and trade fairs (national trade fair for women). The foundation creates forums for women and men interested in developing together to meet and debate.

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Political Parties:
The majority of the political parties, e.g. the Liberal Party, the Green party, the Christian-Democrats, have corresponding women's organisations; furthermore: a Feminist Party has also been founded (largely on the initiative of Gudrun Schyman) - Feministisktinitiativ Platform for Feminist Initiatives, predominantly in Swedish; brief English version available).

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Government, ministries

Minister for Integration and Gender Equality:
since 1976; located within the Ministry of Justice: is responsible for the overall coordination of government policies relating to gender equality; is assisted in its work by the undersecretary of state, political advisors and the Division for Gender Equality; since 2011 the Ministry is does not exist anymore; its responisibilities are now located in the Ministry of Education; the current minister is Maria Amholm – she is minister for gender equality

Division for Gender Equality
(department for gender equality issues/Jämställdhetsenheten):
since 1982; at central government level (attached to a ministry: currently Ministry of Education); tasks: coordinates and initiates measures promoting gender equality at national and regional level, develops methods of supporting and implementing GM in every policy area.

Tasks: „The Division for Gender Equality is responsible for coordination and development of gender equality policy issues, including gender mainstreaming and other methods development to implement the Government's gender equality policy. The division checks to ensure that gender equality is integrated in all policy areas and coordinates measures within the framework of the Government's gender equality initiative. The division has overall responsibility for the coordination of issues relating to men's violence against women, honour-related violence and oppression, and violence in same-sex relationships.“ (Ministry of Education and Research: Divisions and Secretariats. Under: http://www.government.se/sb/d/3008/a/18108, Accessed: 08.12.13)

EO Ombudsperson (English/Swedish)
(Office of the Discrimination-Ombudsperson DO):
since 1980; independent government institution.

The Office of the Ombudsperson against Discrimination was founded in 2009. It has replaced the Offices of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson, the Ombudsperson against Ethnic Discrimination, the Disability Ombudsperson and the Ombudsperson against Discrimination because of Sexual Orientation.

Coinciding with this, the seven older anti-discrimination laws were replaced by one new anti-discrimination act. The amendments were made to give citizens greater and wider protection from discrimination. New regulations were introduced to protect against discrimination based on age and transsexual identity/transsexual expression.

The Office of the Ombudsperson against Discrimination ensures that laws relating to gender equality in areas such as working life and the school system are observed.

It also monitors the compliance with the following laws:

  1. The Anti-discrimination Act, which governs discrimination based on gender, transsexual identity/transsexual expression, ethnic origin, religion and ideology, sexual orientation, disability and age;
  2. The Act concerning the Equal Treatment of Students;
  3. The Act on the prohibition of discrimination and other degrading treatment of children and pupils, which also covers pre-schools, schools for children with mental disabilities and child care centres;
  4. The Parental Leave Act, which also bans gender-based discrimination.

Contact: The Equal Opportunities Ombudsman, DO, Box 3686, 103 59 Stockholm, SWEDEN, Phone: +46 (0)8 440 10 60, Fax: +46 (0)8 21 00 47, e-mail: do@do.se

Council on Equality Issues (Jämställdhetsradet):
since 1981; advisory body (approx. 40 people) to the Minister for Integration and Gender Equality; convenes four times a year; also includes women's organisations, political parties, employer and employee associations

The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR, predominantly in Swedish)
“The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions represents the governmental, professional and employer-related interests of Sweden's 290 municipalities and 20 county councils which include the regions of Gotland, Halland, Västra Götaland and Skåne. The Association strives to promote and strengthen local self-government and the development of regional and local democracy. The operations of the Association are financed by the fees paid annually by members according to their tax base.”

Strongly committed to gender equality/gender mainstreaming; initiated municipal pilot projects from a very early stage (from which the 3R method for GM was developed)

Regional gender equality experts:
since 1995; represented in all 21 county administrative boards/provincial governments; assist regional gender mainstreaming processes;

“Gender equality experts act as a resource for the provincial government executive in their efforts to introduce the equal treatment of women and men in every area of public administration. The strategies are key instruments and form the basis for future analyses and evaluations of the regional efforts undertaken in the field of gender equality."

National Mediation Office/Mediationsamt (In Swedish and English):
“The National Mediation Office is an agency for central government activities in the mediation field. Its task is to mediate in labour disputes and to promote an efficient wage formation process. It is also responsible for public statistics relating to wages and salaries. The Institute began its work in September 2000.”

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Nationella sekretariatet för genusforskning (English: Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research)
set up in 1998 on the initiative of the Swedish parliament through the Minister of Education and Research; located at the University of Gothenburg; works closely with the Women’s History Collections of the University of Gothenburg library (= documentation centre for women's, men's and gender research)

Task: to maintain an overview of gender research work being conducted in Sweden, to disseminate research findings in science and practice, to raise awareness of the significance of the gender perspective, to illustrate the status and means of development of the gender perspective in various fields of activity.
Publications: reports, magazines Genus/Gender Research in Sweden

Gender Studies:

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Description of state of source material:
Good source material; ample information, including in English; the government especially publishes numerous items on this issue on websites and in brochures;
good supply of information, including on gender research in Sweden (corresponding databases and publications); less detailed information in English on NGOs

Citing of relevant sources:
Internet sources: are cited directly under the relevant institution.

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  • Schwedisches Institut (Hg.) 2003: Die Gleichstellung von Frauen und Männern.  Tatsachen über Schweden [Equality of Women and Men. Facts about Sweden] (TS 82 m Ohj). Stockholm.
  • Sunnus, Milena 2003: EU Challenges to the Pioneer of Gender Equality: The Case of Sweden. In: Liebert, Ulrike (editor): Gendering Europeanisation. P. 223-253
  • Jalmert, Lars 2004: Männer und Geschlechterpolitik in Schweden. [Men and Gender Policy in Sweden] In: Gender Mainstreaming Konzepte – Handlungsfelder – Instrumente. [Gender Mainstreaming. Concepts – Fields of Action – Instruments.] P. 194-205
  • Article: The Reproduction of Gender Inequality in Sweden: A Causal Mechanism Approach, Bo Rothstein, 2010

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Useful reading:

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This study was conducted by Tanja Berger und Pamela Dorsch and comissioned by the Gunda Werner Institute of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in 2010. Last updated: 2013.

All images, except marked otherwise Public Domain CC0