Equality and human rights

Last updated: 28 9 2018

This material is from the book About Sweden.

Equality means that all people have the same worth and must be treated equally, regardless of e.g. ethnic background, sexual orientation or functional impairments.

The word equality comes from the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is about all people having the same dignity and rights. All people have a right to say what they think, believe in whichever god they want and choose whichever partner they want to live with.

The Declaration of Human Rights applies to all people in the world. A modern democracy does not function well if human rights are not respected. The state must be able to protect its inhabitants from discrimination and oppression. In Sweden, human rights are protected by three fundamental laws: the Instrument of Government, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. These laws state that the State and the municipalities must work to protect the right to work, housing and education of all inhabitants.

European Convention on Human Rights

There has been a European convention on the protection of human rights since 1950. It is called the European Convention on Human Rights. A convention is an agreement between two or more countries. Some examples of the rights in the Convention are:

  • the right to freedom and personal safety,
  • the right to a fair trial, and
  • the right to respect for private and family life.

It became law in Sweden in 1995. The State, the Government and the municipalities have to ensure that the European Convention is complied within Sweden.

Gender and gender equality

Gender equality concerns equality between women and men. Women and men have to have the same rights and opportunities. They also have to have the same amount of power to influence society and their own lives. When someone is treated worse because they are a man or a woman, this is discrimination on the basis of gender.

Gender is not a uniform category. There are people who don't identify themselves as either women or men, or who have a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. All people, irrespective of gender, are influenced by a society's gender norms and by what worth society attributes to women as a group and to men as a group.

Feminism as a term covers both the social analysis and the movement founded on the view that women in general are subordinated to men in society – a state of affairs that both want to change. The feminist political movement also works in various ways for women and men to have the same opportunities, rights and obligations in society. Practical gender equality measures can include changing discriminatory rules, counteracting sexualised violence, increasing women's representation in decision-making positions, and drawing attention to the ways in which other forms of oppression are linked to gender.

Gender equality in politics and in the home

At the beginning of the 20th century, the differences between women's and men's rights in Sweden were considerable. Women could not vote or be elected to the Riksdag before 1921. Similarly, married women were only emancipated, or given full legal capacity, in that year – meaning, for example, that only then could they themselves decide how to spend their incomes. Today there is roughly the same number of women as men members in the Riksdag. Among government ministers there are as many men as women, and among elected politicians in Sweden's municipalities about 43 per cent are women.

In the past, most married women looked after families' homes and children, but in the 1970s more preschools and day recreation centres were built for children. This period also saw the introduction of generalised parental insurance, which gave parents the right to divide parental leave between them when they had children. These changes made it easier for women to work and earn their own money. The 1970s was also the era in which the law on free abortion was passed, giving a woman who becomes pregnant the right to decide for herself if she wants to have the child or not.

It used to be the case that much of the housework in a family home was carried out by the woman. Housework includes looking after children, washing clothes, cleaning the house and washing up. Housework has become more gender equal, but women still do more of it than men.

Gender equality in school and at work

In 1927 girls were given the same opportunities as boys to receive a state education. In compulsory (9-year) and upper secondary school today, a curriculum describes what education must include. The curriculum states that teachers must promote gender equality, which means that they must treat girls and boys equally. However, the choices that young people today make in their studies and work show that perceptions of what it is appropriate to do are still governed by gender.

The 1980 Equal Opportunities Act was primarily about gender equality at work and equal pay. Today about 80 per cent of all women between the ages of 20 and 64 are in work. Still, the labour market is not yet gender equal. There are considerable differences in pay between men and women, with women earning 87 per cent of men's salaries on average. Part of the reason for this is that salaries are higher in professions that employ more men than women. More women that men also work part-time, take longer parental leave and care for sick children. This makes the difference between men's and women's annual incomes even greater. It continues to be the case that more men than women become managers and start businesses.

Sweden's gender equality policies

In 2006 the Riksdag decided that the overall goal of gender equality policy in Sweden should be that women and men have the same power and opportunities to influence society and their own lives. This overall goal has six intermediate goals:

  1. An equal distribution of power and influence. Women and men must have the same rights and opportunities to be active citizens and to shape the conditions of decision-making.
  2. Equal economic opportunities. Women and men must have the same possibilities and conditions for paid work that provides financial independence throughout life.
  3. Equal education opportunities. Women and men, and girls and boys, must have the same opportunities and be subject to the same terms regarding education, study choices and personal development.
  4. An equal division of unpaid house and care work. Women and men must take equal responsibility for housework and must have opportunities of giving and receiving care on equal terms.
  5. Equal health. Women and men, and girls and boys, must have the same prospects of good health and be offered care and nursing on the same terms.
  6. Men's violence against women must stop. Women and men, and girls and boys, must have the same rights to and prospects of physical integrity.