Is "better than Afghanistan" good enough?
Now and then, I hear from colleagues and friends in the U.S. that Sweden has “come so far” regarding equal opportunities. This is partly true. However, it’s not enough that we have “come far.” We either have or don’t have equal opportunities. And in Sweden we don’t. I’d like to share some statistics with you so you can make your own judgment. As I said to a friend in New York last month, “Why do you think that I write books like ‘Thoughts of a sexist’ and people buy them? Why do you think that companies and organisations pay me to give seminars and talk about these issues, if we no longer have any cause for concern?”
In late November, the Swedish Institute for Labour Market and Employment, Ifau, published a report with the ominous title, “Do you have to choose?” (The choice referred to is that between having a career and having children.)
According to IFAU, in Sweden:
Highly educated 45-year-old men earn 40% more than women with the same training.
One out of three female economists believes that parental leave has a negative impact on her career.
Women and men born in Sweden in 1962 do not have a different perspective on equality than those born in Sweden in 1945.
Men are responsible for 70% of the household income.
But, surely, men and women born in the 1980s must be different?
Equality is not even worth discussing because it is taken for granted.
Or is it?
Actually, there is nothing to suggest that such a change has taken place. Even in this age category we see pay inequity, and women are expected to assume primary responsibility for housework and child care. We are at a standstill.
And yet: Sweden is number four
on the World Economic Forum´s Global Gender Gap Report
, which measures opportunities for women worldwide.
That sounds great, but in practical terms:
When will parental benefits be equally distributed?
Sweden has one of the world's most equal Parliaments, with 45 percent women. That’s good—but we have never had a female Head of State.
The more women there are in a given profession, the lower the average salary. Women earn 85-90 percent of what men earn for doing comparable work.
Women are still taking more than three-quarters of parental leave, they are carrying out most of the unpaid work at home, and they are likelier to work part-time, particularly if they have small children. This has a negative impact on, among other things, their wages and pensions.
If Sweden maintains its current rate of progress, men may
be taking 40 percent of paid parental leave by 2025:
In Sweden, we are all aware
In 2000, young fathers used 24 days of parental benefits. Since then, that figure has been slowly but steadily increasing—to 34 days last year, according to national statistics.
The number of days used by fathers increased significantly less for men with children between two and eight years of age, from an average of 13 days in 2000 to 15 days last year.
In 2008, in order to encourage fathers to take advantage of their parental leave benefits, Sweden introduced a bonus and a tax deduction for men. It’s too early to say whether or not this has had any impact. (What?! Are you paying men to stay at home for a short period with their kids?? We are, because it’s a smart policy, and we can.)
of the facts above. (Most of us are, anyway.) And we have known them for years. But we’re still not sure how to change things—and most men don’t want to change. Trust me: if men wanted change, we would see change.
Reports come and go, but sexism is strong and present throughout our society. It infects the whole system, and gets passed on from father to son and mother to daughter. And it doesn’t matter that Sweden has “come a long way” compared with other countries. It’s not a contest; these issues are located at the intersection of democratic values and human rights. And, as most of us know, human rights have never been at the top of the agenda in any country, the occasional debate or discussion at the United Nations notwithstanding.
There is, of course, always a choice
: Career or kids? Or both?
But that choice is always linked to—and all too often, determined by—gender. In Sweden, as in other countries, it still comes down to gender.
Sure, compared with Afghanistan, Swedish society has “come far.” But should we really consider that good enough?
(All data in this post was collected from different official Swedish websites. For more information regarding my sources, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.)