Sweden—The first feminist government
Photo Credit To Martina Huber/Regeringskansliet

Sweden—The first feminist government

Swedish Government consists of 24 ministers, 12 female ministers among them.


Sven Östberg
Counsellor, The Embassy of Sweden in Japan

JAPAN and the WORLD magazine conducted interview with Sven Östberg about the first in the world female government recently established in Sweden.

Sven Östberg, Counsellor, The Embassy of Sweden in Japan.
Sven Östberg, Counsellor, The Embassy of Sweden in Japan.

—This year Sweden was announced to launch the first feminist government in the world. How would you define “feminist government”? What does it mean in real words?

This is a well thought out idea undertaken by the government. They see gender equality as a fundamental human right that needs to be mainstreamed in all policy areas to boost gender empowerment.

The feminist government was elected in October 2014, which initiated what we call a “gender responsive budgeting” policy and a feminist foreign policy. Gender equality is a smart way of promoting growth and economic revitalization and employment. So Sweden has put a target of having the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union by 2020. Saying that, gender equality plays a big role in this achievement.

—According to the 2014 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap, Sweden is in 4th place (after Iceland, Finland, Norway). What is still to be done to jump into a higher position in the ranking?

There is quite a lot to be done in this regard. Sweden has come a long way in some areas in gender empowerment but we still have lots to do. For that, the government has set up four sub-goals for the next couple of years:

  1. Equal division of power and influence:
    To bring gender balance into the business management areas. Women still make up only 29% of board members of listed companies in Sweden. The government’s objective is that by 2016 at least 40% of the board members in listed companies should be women. The government has a 50-50 gender balance of ministers. The gender balance in the Parliament is today 44%.
  2. Economic equality:
    There are more women then men who work part-time in Sweden. In female dominated sectors of the economy, women’s wages are lower then in male dominated sectors. So the government is planning to reintroduce an annual survey on wage levels to compare facts and figures. It is a big responsibility since the government is not really involved in formulating wage policy because that is done between employers and trade unions.Under economic equality, gender bias is considered to determine social expectations of male and female roles. So to speak, gender division of social roles disturbs reduction of gender bias. The government now promotes a gender-neutral attitude. There is a debate in Sweden regarding our language and how not to differentiate between men and women, in particular. So in Swedish “han” is “he” and “hon” is “she”. But now it is popular to use “hen” as indicating both genders. It is a gender-neutral world.
  3. Parental leave:
    Three parental-leave-months for each parent. Swedish parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave. Of those 90 days are reserved for the dad.
  4. Decrease domestic violence against women:
    The government now allocates more resources to creating women’s shelter and other forms of support.

—Sweden has never had a female Prime Minister. Will new policies introduced by the feminist government attract more women into politics?

There are some issues of quite a high drop-out rate of females in local politics. On a municipal level it is very challenging to combine work and family life for women. We do have quite a lot of female party leaders. The biggest opposition party, for example, is now led by a woman. The current governing party’s president is led by a man but before that it was a woman. So it really depends on the votes in the end.

We have a long history with a man in charge of the country and the households, providing for his family. Sweden was one of the first countries to grant women suffrage at national level in 1921. During the 60s with the development of industry, which required both men and women were required to work. We also had very strong women’s organizations to push politicians to recognize women’s rights. We also had politicians that took initiatives to promote gender equality. One reform was to introduce individual taxation in the 70s (before that we had family based taxation). That was already a great achievement among other successful stories such as the government put resources to build up the social welfare system, childcare system, elderly care system etc. In addition, parental leave was introduced to facilitate women’s employment. These were our reforms to change the social gender division.

—Japan is heading toward decreasing the gender gap through the Prime Minister’s policies (womenomics) and movements (WAW!). What could Japan learn from Sweden to speed up women’s empowerment?

All changes must come from women themselves. It is a struggle, which must be fought by women. Of course men must play a part in the support of the struggle as do representatives of the public and private sectors. Swedish companies, for example, are more and more competitive due to employing females in management positions. Having a female perspective is essential. Why should you exclude 50% of your (female) customers? It makes no economical sense.

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