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.
Equality at school
The Swedish Education Act, the law that governs all education in Sweden, states that gender equality should reach and guide all levels of the Swedish educational system. From pre-school level onwards, many schools use teaching methods that counteract traditional gender patterns and gender roles. The aim is to give children the same opportunities in life, regardless of their gender.
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.
The Equality Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen, or DO) is a government agency that fights discrimination and protects equal rights and opportunities for everyone.
The Equality Ombudsman primarily oversees compliance with the Discrimination Act.
Gender Equality Minister
In the Swedish government, the Minister for Gender Equality (who is currently also minister for children and the elderly) is ultimately responsible for gender equality issues.
However, all ministers are required to ensure that a gender equality perspective is mainstreamed into their ministries and their areas of responsibility.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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 from 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.
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. The Swedish government has commissioned the Swedish Gender Equality Agency to support 58 government agencies and one organisation 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.
The Act on VAW
The Act on Violence against Women came into force in 1998. The law states that each blow and/or instance of sexual and psychological degradation against a woman is taken into account, i.e. the violence is assessed cumulatively.
Prohibiting sexual services
In 1999, Sweden introduced its Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services, the first of its kind. The act made it illegal to buy sexual services in Sweden – along with procurement, which was already forbidden – without punishing the prostitute. In 2005, the offence was incorporated into the general Criminal Code.
The Abortion Act
Since 1975, women in Sweden have the legal right to decide for themselves whether to have an abortion during the first 18 weeks of pregnancy, without having to give a reason. After week 18, an abortion may be performed if there are special reasons for doing so, up to week 22.
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.