What You Need to Know About Women’s Rights in SwedenWith the 20th largest GDP per capita in the world, the affluent Scandinavian nation of Sweden is often seen as the quintessential nation for equality and liberalism. With its strong history of leading reforms promoting social welfare in Sweden, the country ranks first in Sustainable Development Goals out of the entirety of U.N. member states. Of these reforms, many work to increase women’s rights in Sweden with a focus on ending the gender disparities seen in many other Western nations.

Reforms in Sweden Ending Gender Disparities

Sweden has been championing gender equality for centuries. In one of the earliest known cases in Europe, women in Sweden were granted suffrage in local elections in 1718. In 1842, girls were allowed to be educated in schools that used to be restricted to males only. Then in 1919, women gained full voting rights in a movement led by suffragist Elin Wägner. Reforms would continue throughout the 20th century with the legalization of birth control and abortions in 1938, the passing of legislation for mandatory three months paid maternity leave in 1955 and the abolition of joint taxation in 1971.

Most recently, the Swedish government outlawed gender discrimination in the workplace in 1980. These laws were further expanded on through the passing of the Swedish Discrimination Act in 2009 and its expansion in 2017 that added protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community, the disabled, racial and ethnic minorities and religious minorities.

Female Representation in Government

Because of the centuries of reform, the advancement of women’s rights in Sweden can be seen even at the highest levels of government. As of 2019, women made up 46% of the Swedish parliament and 50% of the cabinet, including that of the position of Minister of Gender Equality, held by Åsa Lindhagen.

In comparison, women account for 23.7% of today’s United States House of Representatives out of a total of 537 seats. Women also make up only 20.8% of President Donald Trump’s 24-member cabinet.

Sweden’s almost even distribution between male and female government officials represents how far women’s rights in Sweden have advanced. In fact, feminism is now seen in Sweden as an official government policy rather than a social movement with gender equality being “central to the government’s priority” according to a government statement.

Continuing Gender Wage Gap

However, despite these reforms the gender wage gap, like in many other developed nations, still persists. In a 2018 study by the European Union of the gender pay gap in EU countries, it was shown that women earn 12.2% less income than men in Sweden.

While this pay gap is significantly lower than the United States’ 18% or the European Union average of 14.8%, it is also significantly higher than the 5% wage gap in Italy and Luxemburg.

Many experts describe this presence of a wage gap in gender-equal countries as a paradox. It’s unknown why this phenomenon occurs when such measures have been taken to assure women’s rights in Sweden but it is assumed that culture around gender norms and roles plays a part.

Sweden’s historic reforms and the committed government has led it to become one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. Mandating paid maternity leave, legalizing birth control and abortions and increasing women’s representation in parliament have all contribute to this success. However, Sweden still struggles to close the wage gap between males and females even amid the ever-evolving policy promoting women’s rights in Sweden, this is bound to one day be an obstacle to overcome.

Aidan Sun
Photo: Flickr 

5 Ways COVID-19 is Disproportionately Impacting Women WorldwideThe COVID-19 pandemic has socially, mentally and economically impacted billions of people across the world. However, COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting women worldwide, including factors such as mental health, income loss and inadequate food provisions. As the pandemic continues to affect populations, it is becoming more apparent that women are facing greater hardships and systemic inequalities. This article discusses how COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting women across the globe, and how governments can go about fixing these inequalities. Although women have persevered and have adapted in inspiring ways, this pandemic has exposed structural gender inequalities in health, economics, security and social protection.

5 Ways COVID-19 is Disproportionately Affecting Women

  1. According to a survey by the non-profit CARE, 55% of women reported that they lost their jobs and/or their primary source of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, women are more likely to be employed in service and informal sectors, such as vendors and traders, that COVID-19 is hitting the hardest. Even within the formal sectors of employment, women are facing the impact of unemployment at greater rates than men. For example, in Bangladesh, women are six times more likely to lose paid working hours than men. Women also have fewer unemployment benefits. In Zimbabwe and Cameroon, women make up 65% of the informal workforce—a workforce not entitled to unemployment benefits.

  2. A lack of access to online education is significantly affecting Indigenous, refugee and low-income household communities and greatly adding to education inequalities. Young women and girls are greatly impacted by gender-based violence due to movement restrictions, especially without access to schools and public services. This gender-based disparity is largely due to boys being prioritized in many poverty-stricken countries. Because of this, girls are likely to be pulled out of school before boys in order to compensate for increased domestic work and care and to alleviate the economic burden of schooling.

  3. Women are nearly three times more likely to report mental health impacts from COVID-19. This statistic is backed by multiple reasons, including how women are facing the burden of unpaid care work, increasing mobility restrictions and increased threats of violence. In fact, the CARE survey showed that 27% of women are experiencing an increase in mental health issues, anxiety and stress due to COVID-19, compared to 10% of men. In Lebanon, 14% of men spend their time on housework and care, as opposed to 83% of women. Gender roles and expectations of women have increased during this pandemic, thus causing a greater gap in mental health issues between men and women.

  4. Female refugees are at greater risk of violence, income loss and mental health impacts. Refugees are already living in precarious situations with a lack of food, income, health security and home safety. When considering various countries, especially those with a large migrant population, it is clear that vulnerable populations are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in Afghanistan, 300,000 refugees have returned because they have lost their jobs and income. In Thailand, migrants report losing 50% of their income. Both of these statistics also offer an idea of why mental health issues have increased during this pandemic. COVID-19 has led to a loss of income and jobs for the 8.5 million domestic migrant workers, as well as the dismissal of their health and safety.

  5. As compared to 30% of men, 41% of women reported having an inadequate supply of food as a result of COVID-19. This difference reflects the gender inequalities in local and global food systems, as well as the expectation of women to buy and prepare the food for their families. Additionally, this pandemic is causing many disadvantaged households to make less nutritious food choices. In Venezuela, 61% of people have access to protein-filled foods and vegetables, while 74% only have access to cereal.

Although it is clear that women and girls typically endure a greater burden from the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, there are ways governments and individuals can help alleviate COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on women. These include investing in women leaders, funding non-profit organizations that work to promote women’s rights and committing to organizations that work to close the gender gap.

– Naomi Schmeck

Photo: Flickr 

Protesting Period Poverty in ThailandThailand’s taxation of menstrual products has contributed to period poverty in Thailand. Pads and tampons have a 7% value-added tax. If a Thai woman earning minimum wage uses five pads a day, she spends more than 12% of her daily salary on menstrual care. Many working-class women experience period poverty in Thailand, which means their income is too low for menstrual care.

Gender Equality in Thailand

Thailand is one of the most gender-equitable countries in Asia, yet women are not represented in the government, police force or military and are excluded from certain schools in each sector. The leader of the 2014 coup, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, runs the national committee of gender equality but has sparked protests for his “male supremacy” actions.

Since July 2020, pro-democracy rallies have erupted in Thailand, millions demanding a voice in the government after the military seized power in the 2014 coup and rewrote the constitution to control the 2019 elections. In Thailand, people caught criticizing the king are sent to jail, so the protestors are risking their freedom.

Women are the main organizers, speakers and participants, and they use the platform to expose gender inequality. Some issues they protest include reproductive rights, the price of menstrual products, sexist school dress codes, the wage gap and rape culture. The pro-democracy rallies turned into Thailand’s first gender-political movement, one feminist pointing out to The New York Times.

At a protest in August 2020, activist Kornkanok Kamta said, “We cannot claim to be a true democracy when decisions about our bodies and reproductive health are still controlled by the government.”

Sunny Cotton

Kesinee Jirawanidchakorn operates a brand called Sunny Cotton that produces and sells reusable pads. When she sold her products in Chiang Mai, a city in Thailand, older women approached the booth excited to see that the cloth pad was coming back in style. In hopes of breaking the stigma around menstruation, Jirawanidchakorn’s company encourages women in Thailand to talk about their periods.

The Sunny Cotton cloth pads are slightly more expensive than disposable ones, but they are much cheaper in the long run. Customers will never again feel the anger and oppression of paying taxes on a basic necessity, and the products are luxurious and sustainable, making the one-time tax seem reasonable. Sunny Cotton also boosts Thailand’s economy by creating jobs as Chiang Mai villagers make the products. In the future, Jirawanidchakorn plans to donate the products and share her period knowledge with girls, underprivileged women and women in prison.

Looking Ahead

Eventually, Sunny Cotton hopes to uplift Thai women out of period poverty by giving them free access to pads and the confidence to talk about their periods. Period poverty in Thailand is just one aspect of the patriarchy that protestors hope to dismantle. While organizations like Sunny Cotton are working to alleviate period poverty in Thailand, more action needs to be done to lift women out of poverty and establish gender equality.

– Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

South AfricaWomen in South Africa are not treated in the way that they wish and need to be treated. This fact was stated throughout August, International Women’s Month when protests have been taking place in order to raise awareness of violence against women. There are several organizations facilitating female empowerment in South Africa to help South African women to be the best version of themselves. Despite the fact women are told to “know their place,” these organizations are fighting against this and ensuring female empowerment in South Africa by making their voice heard.

Women’s Empowerment Foundation for Southern Africa 

This is an information-based organization whose goal is to strengthen women’s voices, give means to women to speak out, empower women with information to change their lives and advocate for a gender-sensitive representation of women in the media. This organization also prioritizes empowering rural women in Zimbabwe with information in order to gain economic independence to meet their own basic needs. Through information about women empowerment, the question of how to give women their voices make them use them has been answered. The practice of eliminating challenges that women face, such as hunger and sanitary needs leads them to realize their economic and social rights and therefore causes them to eventually speak up about this injustice in their communities. Women’s Empowerment Foundation for Southern Africa work in a way that it firstly help women gain their voices, and then it facilitates their expression through communities and the government, as well as working to change society’s negative picture of women through the media.

Thuthuzela Care Centre

This network provides support for women across South Africa who have been victims of rape and sexual assault. It gives these women a support so that they do not experience tributary trauma while pursuing justice, counseling and medical treatment. By late 2014, 56 of these centers have been established. These centers provide emergency medical care, post-exposure prophylaxis, counseling, court preparation as well as many other services. Thuthuzela turns victims into survivors. USAID supports a public awareness campaign to inform the public of South Africa about these centers, the services that they provide and how to access them. Grants are also given to NGOs for after-hours care, HIV related care, as well as giving support to sexual offenses courts.

United Nations Development Programme

The purpose of this programme is to support the Government of South Africa in order to achieve gender equality and promote women’s empowerment in economic and social circles. This program currently has two areas in focus: women economic empowerment and closing the gap between policy and implementation. There is a study presently occurring that is striving to identify hindrances of women-owned enterprises from accessing loans and is determined to come up with recommendations for removing these barriers. The goal of this study is to expand women’s access to financial services and investing differently in women. The United Nations Development Programme has worked with numerous organizations in order to achieve the goal of women being able to be the main subject in their own lives.

Female empowerment in South Africa still has a long way to go, but these three organizations have pushed this effort past the starting gate, which will cause more and more people to get involved. The hope is that these organizations will slowly close the gender gap in South Africa and allow women to use their voices in positions of power, rather than succumb to the voices and the money of their husbands. This can happen with the help of the people who recognize that there needs to be something done in order to achieve women’s equality in South Africa.

Megan Maxwell
Photo: Flickr