Swedish deputy PM Isabella Lövin signing a climate bill, surrounded by her closest female colleagues, in 2017. The photo went viral after Lovin tweeted it in an apparent dig at US President Donald Trump's machismo approach
Swedish deputy PM Isabella Lövin signing a climate bill, surrounded by her closest female colleagues, in 2017. The photo went viral after Lovin tweeted it in an apparent dig at US President Donald Trump’s machismo approach

There are not many countries in the world where more than half the ministers and over 40% of the Members of Parliament are women. Sweden scores on both fronts. But, then, Sweden is not like any other nation. It proudly calls itself the world’s first ‘feminist government’ where gender equality tops everything else.

Facts first. Twelve of the 22 ministers are women, so are 46% of Parliamentarians. The figures stand tall when compared with the global average of women’s participation in Parliament (24%) and the European average of 28%.

Sweden’s motto is simple: Build a society where women and men, girls and boys can live their lives to their full potential sharing equal rights. The Swedish principle for gender equality gives both women and men the right to work and support themselves. For Sweden, gender equality is a matter of human rights, democracy, and justice. It is also an engine driving social development and creating genuine change in society and in people’s lives.

The idea of feminism in Sweden dates back to 1947 when Karin Kock became the first woman in the Swedish government. Swedish women’s status is considered high compared to other EU countries. Sweden is on top of the European Union Gender Equality Index. While the highest score one can receive on the index is 100, Sweden has scored 82.6. That’s an impressive index considering the EU average is 66.2.

While Sweden boasts of these achievements in governance, the corporate sector paints an entirely different picture. More than 80% of management positions are held by men. Likewise, only 6% of top executives in the country are women.

According to estimates, two-thirds of Swedish company boards are packed with men. Some studies say the proportion of women representation on the boards is improving and, if it keeps up with the current pace, the boards of listed companies in Sweden will be gender-neutral in 10 years flat. There’s a hitch, though: nine out of 10 people who appoint the board members are men.

On the bright side, most companies offer generous parental leave provisions, granting up to 18 months leave with full pay.

True, there are other countries with better women representation in Parliament than Sweden. Rwanda tops the list with 61% , followed by Cuba and Bolivia with 53% each; Mexico (48%); and Grenada (47%). Namibia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica share the same value as Sweden at 46%, according to World Bank statistics. However, what sets Sweden apart is the conscious effort to correct the gender skew in government, corporate world and elsewhere in society.

How does India fare in terms of gender equality? It is unfair to compare India with Sweden but here’s a look. While one can’t say India’s numbers are impressive, the percentage of women representation in governance is certainly improving. Currently, there are 78 women Members of Parliament. This translates into 14% of the 544-seat Lok Sabha. Out of 58 ministers, six are women. While there were seven female ministers in the previous government, led by the same Prime Minister, this time the crucial finance portfolio has been given to a woman minister, signalling that the glass ceiling may have already been broken.

However, the same cannot be said about Indian society in general as men unabashedly claim dominance in most areas. India cuts a sorry figure when it comes to women’s rights. Women in India face unspeakable hardships in the form of sexual violence and gender bias. Perhaps it’s time India tried the Swedish experiment to disrupt the social mindset and make the men’s world women’s, too.

The author is an educationist and a supporter of women’s rights.

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