The overarching goal of Sweden’s gender equality policy is to enable women and men to have equal power to shape society and their own lives. To achieve this goal, women and men must have the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities in all areas of life.
The Swedish Government has formulated four main objectives that are to inform the national gender equality policy:
- Equal distribution of power and influence
- Economic gender equality
- Gender equality in health and healthcare
- Gender equality within education
- Equal distribution of unpaid household and care work
- Men’s violence against women must stop
Gender mainstreaming is the Swedish Government’s main strategy to achieve the national gender equality objectives. Each minister is in charge of gender equality matters within his or her respective domain. The Minister for Gender Equality is in charge of coordinating the gender equality policy. The Gender Equality Division – operating under the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs – also work with the coordination of the Government’s gender equality policy. At the regional level, all county administrative boards have special staff with gender equality expertise. The county administrative boards are required to promote the fulfilment of the national gender equality objectives at the regional level.
The Equality Ombudsman is a state agency under the Ministry of Culture tasked with ensuring compliance with the national anti-discrimination and parental leave legislation and promoting equal opportunities for all people. The Ombudsman also reviews gender equality plans and develops methods to prevent discrimination for actors such as employers, higher education and schools. The Ombudsman recognises seven grounds for discrimination, of which gender is one.
The Board against Discrimination is tasked with examining issues regarding financial penalties pursuant to the Discrimination Act. Only the Equality Ombudsman and central employee organisations can bring a matter before the Board.
Gender mainstreaming has been the Swedish Government’s main strategy to achieve the national gender equality objectives since 1994 and was first presented as such in Government Bill 1993/94:147, Gender Equality Policy: Shared Power – Shared Responsibility. Gender mainstreaming aims to facilitate integration of gender equality in all government policy. Gender mainstreaming is combined with special policy measures in order to stimulate, develop and expedite the work of change in prioritised areas.
At the national level, the development programme Gender Mainstreaming in Government Agencies (GMGA) was initiated in 2013. Sixty government agencies are currently (2016) involved in the programme, the purpose of which is to support the participating agencies in their gender mainstreaming work and in so doing help them contribute to the achievement of the national gender equality objectives. The agencies are offered support by the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research at the University of Gothenburg.
The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, SALAR, is both an employers’ organisation and an organisation that represents all municipal, county and regional governments in Sweden. SALAR supports its members in their gender mainstreaming work and was granted SEK 245 million in state funding 2008–2013 to implement the Programme for Sustainable Gender Equality, designed to that end. SALAR is currently carrying out the state-funded project Kunskapsspridning genom modellkommuner (‘Dissemination of knowledge through model municipalities’). This project further strengthens the gender mainstreaming work among the participating municipalities and reinforces the knowledge and experiences gained through the Programme for Sustainable Gender Equality. The project was initiated in 2015 and will end in 2018.
The research report “Kvinnors liv och arbete” (the Life and Work of Women) from 1962 marked the beginning of organised gender equality policy in Sweden. The concept of gender roles was introduced, and the first motions for coherent legislation against discrimination were made in the mid-1960s. “Delegationen för jämställdhet” mellan kvinnor och men (the Government Commission on Equality Between Women and Men) was appointed in 1973. Several studies have identified this event as an integral part of the institutionalising of Swedish gender equality policy. The institutionalisation was further strengthened with the introduction of an act on gender equality in working life in 1979 and the first comprehensive gender equality act in 1980. Then came a new gender equality act in 1991, which was subsequently replaced with the Discrimination Act in 2009.
Two official government inquiries have had a particularly strong impact on the country’s gender equality policy: “Delad makt – delat ansvar” (Shared Power – Shared Responsibility) from 1994 and “Makt att forma samhället och sitt eget liv: jämställdhetspolitiken mot nya mål” (Power to Shape Society and One’s Own Life: Gender Equality Policy Towards New Goals) from 2005.
From 1974 to 1991, gender equality matters were handled by the Ministry of Employment. The responsibility has been transferred many times in subsequent years, including to the Ministry of Culture (1993), Ministry of Health and Social Affairs (1994-95), Prime Minister’s Office (1995, 2003-2004), Ministry of Public Administration (1996), back to the Ministry of Employment (1996-1998), Ministry of Agriculture (1998-2003), Ministry of Justice (2003-2006), and Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality (2006-2010). The post of Minister for Gender Equality has also changed over the years, and has often been combined with responsibilities spanning several other policy areas.