Gender equality policy in Sweden

Equality between women and men is a fundamental constitutional norm and an explicit policy objective in Sweden. Gender equality issues became a separate policy domain in the early 1970s and have had a central position in the public debate ever since. The ultimate aim of Swedish gender equality policy is for women and men to have the same opportunities, rights and responsibilities in all areas of life.

The objectives and methods utilised in the national gender equality efforts have changed and evolved over the years. Gender mainstreaming has been a core strategy in Swedish gender equality policy since 1994. Gender mainstreaming means that all decisions in all policy areas and at all levels shall be characterised by a gender equality perspective.

The Swedish Parliament in Stockholm
The Swedish parliament in Stockholm

In 2006, a number of gender equality objectives set out in a government bill entitled The Power to Shape Society and Your Own Life: Towards New Gender Equality Policy Objectives (2005/06:155, only available in Swedish) were adopted with broad political consensus.

In November 2016, the cabinet handed over a document entitled Power, Aims and Authority – Feminist Policy for a Gender-Equal Future (2016/17:10, only available in Swedish) to the national parliament. The document set out the future direction of Swedish gender equality policy with an organisation for policy implementation, a system for follow-up, a ten-year national strategy for the prevention and elimination of men’s violence against women and two new policy sub-goals.


Gender equality policy goals

The overarching goal of the gender equality policy is that women and men are to have the same power to shape society and their own lives. To this end, six sub-goals have been specified:

  1. Equal division of power and influence. Women and men are to have the same rights and opportunities to be active citizens and to shape the conditions for decision-making.

  2. Economic gender equality. Women and men must have the same opportunities and conditions as regards paid work, which give economic independence throughout life.

  3. Equal education. Women and men, girls and boys must have the same opportunities and conditions with regard to education, study options and personal development.

  4. Equal distribution of unpaid housework and provision of care. Women and men must have the same responsibility for housework and have the opportunity to give and receive care on equal terms.

  5. Equal health. Women and men, girls and boys must have the same conditions for a good health and be offered care on equal terms.

  6. Men’s violence against women must stop. Women and men, girls and boys, must have the same right and access to physical integrity.

How gender equal is Sweden?

The Swedish Gender Equality Agency monitors and analyses the six gender equality policy objectives.

Important years for gender equality in Sweden

Compulsory elementary school is introduced for girls and boys.

Unmarried women (widows, divorcees) are allowed to work, but only in crafts and trade.

The demand for universal and equal suffrage had been a major issue in politics since the end of the 19th century. The first motion for equal political rights for women and men was raised in the Riksdag in 1884 but was rejected. The issue kept resurfacing, but without result.

The first bill on suffrage and eligibility for women in parliamentary elections was presented in 1912 but was voted down in the conservative-dominated first chamber. Outside the Riksdag, there was a strong campaign for women's suffrage i.a. through special associations.

Historically speaking, the right to vote is one of the major issues of the women's movement. On 24 May 1919, the Riksdag decided on universal and equal voting rights for women and men. The reform was carried out following proposals from a coalition government consisting of liberals and social democrats. In 1921, the first election is held where women could vote.

After the 1921 election, five women took a seat in the Riksdag. In the first chamber, Kerstin Hesselgren was elected by liberals and social democrats. In the second chamber, four women were elected: the liberal Elisabeth Tamm, the social democrat Agda Östlund and Nelly Thüring and Bertha Wellin, the Lantmanna- and borgare party. Women's representation in the Riksdag increased rather slowly in the following years. This was especially true in the first chamber, with its eight-year terms of office and indirect election method. In the second chamber, which was directly elected by voters every four years, the increase was somewhat faster.

The law stipulated that women, with certain specified exceptions, would be equal to men in terms of eligibility to hold office (civil service). The Act was passed in June 1923 and came into force in July 1925. The services exempted were mainly military and police. Special regulations applied to clerical positions. Many women's organisations had participated in the long-term pressure work that led to this reform, but particularly large efforts were made by the Association of Academically Formed Women, founded in 1904.