In the fall of 2016, the Swedish government decided to establish a separate gender equality agency. The agency’s main tasks will be to support, coordinate and assess the gender equality work undertaken in various organisations and domains.
‘The establishment of the agency will make the management of the national gender equality policy more coherent and efficient. Central documents and other material can be developed at the same time as opportunities to evaluate the methods used in the area of gender equality will be created,’ says the Swedish government’s special investigator Kerstin Alnebratt, who is in charge of the development of the agency.
The issue of establishing a special agency for gender equality policy has been discussed in Sweden since the early 2000s. Already in 2005, a commission appointed by the Social Democrat government proposed that an agency be formed. However, the agency never opened as a decision was made to instead invest vast resources in various gender equality projects. Ten years later, a new commission, now appointed by the centre-right Alliance government, again reached the conclusion that a special agency for gender equality policy would be beneficial.
‘Because a central organisation has been lacking, the gender equality work has in many cases lacked continuity and therefore has not had the desired effects. Projects with high ambitions are being launched, but when the project funding runs out, it’s hard to see any lasting effects. A few years later a new government will start a new project, but at that point the knowledge from the previous project is long gone,’ says Kerstin Alnebratt.
Sweden – a Nordic pioneer
The agency will be placed in the Gothenburg suburb of Angered and have a staff of about 75 with various backgrounds.
‘Since Swedish government agencies are highly concentrated to the Stockholm region, the government has said that new agencies should be placed elsewhere. Gothenburg, which is Sweden’s second largest city, hosts only two government agencies at the moment,’ says Kerstin Alnebratt.
Sweden will become the first Nordic country to establish a special national gender equality agency. Due to the lack of a central gender equality agency in the past, the Swedish government has traditionally commissioned universities, county administrative boards and other agencies to carry out projects related to for example gender mainstreaming, gender-related violence and human trafficking.
‘That structure makes the national gender equality work difficult to manage. It’s like one hand doesn’t always know what the other hand is doing,’ says Kerstin Alnebratt.
Focus on labour market policy
The Nordic countries have organised their national gender equality work in a variety of ways. In Finland, the gender equality unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for developing and implementing the government’s gender equality policy and following up on reforms of the national legislation.
The Danish Institute for Human Rights is an independent body tasked to ensure compliance with the country’s anti-discrimination and equal treatment legislation.
In Iceland, the Centre for Gender Equality is placed under the Minister of Social Affairs and Housing and is tasked to review the gender equality legislation and develop methods for implementing the government’s gender equality policy. In Norway, Bufdir, an agency under the Ministry of Children and Equality, works to promote equality and prevent gender-related discrimination.
One common feature of national gender equality work in the Nordic countries is the historically strong focus on labour market policy, says Kerstin Alnebratt.
‘Labour market issues are an important part of the Nordic model, which is based on a dual-breadwinner system and assumes that both men and women work. The organisation of childcare has been important in enabling both women and men to work outside the home while raising children.’