With 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