Women’s rights and gender equality

Last updated: 24/11-2023

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about women’s rights and gender equality. Gender equality means that women and men have to have the same opportunities, rights and obligations. This implies, among other things, that women and men have to have equal amounts of power, equal opportunities to go to school, and that they have to share the responsibility for their home and their children. In Sweden, we have reached quite a high level of gender equality, but there is still much to do. Many women still get paid less than men even though they have the same qualifications and work tasks, for example.

Gender equality illustrated as a pair of scales with a woman and a man on either side and evenly balanced.

Among other things, the text talks about gender equality and men’s violence against women. It also describes what Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag, is doing to make Sweden more gender equal.

Feminism, gender equality, and equality

Feminism is a movement whose goal is to make society gender equal. This means that feminists want men and women to be treated in the same way and have the same rights and opportunities.

Gender is not the only factor that affects a person's opportunities. Not all women have the same living conditions just because they are women. Neither do all men. Factors such as ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, religion, or functional impairments can also influence people's opportunities and conditions in society.

Equality means that all people are of equal worth and dignity and must have their rights upheld equally. Equality is a broader concept than gender equality.

Living conditions can also have to do with financial circumstances and education. Can you give an example of when one woman has better living conditions than another woman?

Why is that?


Human rights principles state that women and men should have the same rights. Yet women are often treated worse than men. An example is that many women are denied the right to an education and to be paid an equal salary for equal work.

The UN has therefore drawn up a convention to protect women's rights called the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW for short. Almost all of the UN's member states have signed it. This means that all those countries are obliged to do everything necessary in order to end discrimination of girls and women. Sweden signed CEDAW in 1980.

The purpose of the convention is for countries to work towards achieving gender equality. Achieving gender equality includes giving girls and women the right to primary, secondary, and higher education. It also means that women must have the opportunity for gainful employment, to make decisions about their personal life, and about who they want to marry. And they must not be subjected to violence perpetrated by their husband or other intimate partners or family members. All women and girls must have these rights and be able to make decisions about their own lives.

Can you give any examples of discrimination against girls and women?

Sweden's gender equality policy

There are many examples of how society is not gender equal. Here are some:

  • Women most often earn less than men even if they are doing the same work.
  • Women do more unpaid work, such has household chores and looking after children.
  • Significantly more women than men are subjected to sexual abuse.

In order to make things more gender equal, the Swedish Riksdag has decided that Sweden must have a gender equality policy. The goal of this gender equality policy is for women and men to have the same power to shape society and their own lives. There are two legal genders in Sweden – woman and man. These are the two genders that the gender equality policy is based on. But there are also people who define themselves as neither women nor men or who have a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth.

The government, government agencies, regions and municipalities have to work towards achieving the goals of Sweden's gender equality policy. The policy has six sub-goals, which focus on areas where the differences between men and women in Sweden remain considerable.

1. Gender equal division of power and influence

Today, power is unevenly distributed between men and women in many parts of society. There are more men than women in top positions at university colleges and universities, and there are more men running companies. There are also more men than women in positions with a lot of power. An example is that Sweden has only had one female prime minister. Before Magdalena Andersson became prime minister in 2021, every prime minister had been a man. Sweden’s first prime minister took office in 1876.

2. Economic gender equality

The labour market looks different for women and men. More women work in care, nursing and schooling, for example, while more men work in industry and in technology professions. Salaries are often higher in professions with lots of men compared with professions with lots of women. Even when women and men do the same work, men often earn more. More women than men work part-time, and women take out more parental leave than men. Women also look after ill children more often than men. In many cases, this makes the difference between men's and women's salaries and pensions considerable.

3. Gender equal education

Men and women may be influenced in their choice of education and profession by what gender norms dictate. This contributes to making the labour market different for women and men. Learning outcomes show that boys do worse than girls at school and have lower grades. Girls are often more stressed at school and have health issues.

4. Gender equal distribution of unpaid housework and provision of care

Women do more housework than men, such as cleaning, cooking, and looking after children. Women also look after family members more than men – even their partner's family members. These are reasons why many women work part-time. As a result, women often earn less money than men.

5. Gender equal health

Health care is not provided on equal conditions to women and men. Diagnoses of mental health disorders are more common among women than men. Women's sickness absence from work is almost twice that of men. More men than women have problems with alcohol or drugs. More men than women commit suicide.

6. Men's violence against women must stop

A large part of the violence perpetrated against girls and women occurs within the family. Most often, the violence is perpetrated by men. More women than men are subjected to sexual abuse. Every year, several women are murdered by men with whom they have or have had a relationship.

Among the things that are needed in order for gender equality policy goals to be realised are political decisions and changes to the law. Here are some examples of changes to the law that have made Sweden more gender equal:

  • Three months of parental leave is reserved for either parent in order to encourage more parents to divide their parental leave more equally.
  • Employers are obliged to compare women's and men's salaries in the workplace once a year in order to remove unfair differences in women's and men's pay.
  • Sweden has introduced a sexual consent law. This law says that anyone who wants to have sex with another person must always be sure that the other person wants it too. The purpose of the law is to prevent sexual abuse.

Men's violence against women

Violence in intimate relationships and honour-related violence and oppression occur all over the world. Efforts to stop this violence are an international concern based on several conventions, including CEDAW and the Child Convention. Sweden has passed several laws to make all types of violence illegal, both against girls and women and against boys and men.

Violence is common and can be many different things, including being beaten, being called nasty names, or being forced to have sex against your will.

Violence in intimate relationships

Being treated badly by someone who is close to you is known as violence in intimate relationships. This includes a person being subjected to violence by their husband, wife, cohabitant, partner, parent, or some other relative.

Violence in intimate relationships is often a mixture of psychological, sexual, and physical violence. It might be that someone calls you demeaning things, like useless, whore, or idiot. It might be having your belongings destroyed, not being allowed to have your own money, or not being allowed to have your own password to digital accounts. It can also be that you become subjected to rape, serious threats, and assault.

Can you give any examples of psychological violence?

What is meant by a mixture of psychological, sexual, and physical violence?

Honour-related violence or oppression

Some families have very strong opinions on how women and girls should behave. These might be family rules that regulate who they can socialise with, what clothes they can wear, and that they must remain virgins until they get married. They might also be rules about what sexual orientations the family accepts. Sometimes, just the suspicion that something has happened can be enough. If a person is punished for breaking the family's rules, this is known as honour-related violence or oppression.

Honour-related violence and oppression is a form of men's violence against women. Often there are several people who perpetrate the violence or oppression together. The perpetrators are not necessarily the person's partner. Instead, they might be parents, siblings, relatives, or even friends of the family. The family uses violence to restore the honour that they feel they have lost. The people participating in the oppression can themselves be subject to it, such as mothers and young men. Not only women and girls are subjected to honour-related violence and oppression – boys, men, and LGBTQI persons can be as well.

Violence can take different forms. It can be physical violence, serious threats of physical violence, and in extreme cases, deadly violence. It can also consist of controlling behaviour and surveillance. For example, being forced to marry even though you don’t want to. In Sweden, it is against the law to force anyone to get married against their will and to marry off anyone who is under the age of 18. These crimes are called the crime of forced marriage and the crime of child marriage. It is also a criminal offence to subject girls or women to genital mutilation or to force anyone to travel abroad in order to be married or undergo genital mutilation. The social services are empowered to impose a prohibition on leaving the country if there is a risk of forced marriage and/or genital mutilation.

Hedersförtryck.se has a video about the genital mutilation of girls and women. It is an information video for parents and guardians and is available with dubbing into several languages.

Nationellt centrum mot hedersrelaterat våld och förtryck (the National Centre Against Honour-related Violence and Oppression) has a brochure about genital mutilation of girls and women. The brochure is available in several languages.

What distinguishes honour-related violence from other violence committed in intimate relationships?

Help is available

If you or anyone you know has been subjected to violence, you should report it to the police by calling 114 14. Call 112 if it is an emergency. You can also contact the police station in the area where you live.

The municipality is responsible for protecting people who have been subjected to violence. This might include offering sheltered accommodation, for example. The social services can provide support to children, women, and men living with violence in intimate relationships or honour-related violence and oppression.

A women's shelter is an organisation that offers support and protection to women and children who have been subjected to violence in intimate relationships or honour-related violence and oppression. There are also girls' shelters for younger people. Most women's and girls' shelters are run by non-profit organisations. There are women's and girls' shelters all over the country.

Many municipalities also have crisis reception centres (krismottagningar) for women and children. These centres help people who have been subjected to violence. There are also special crisis reception centres that help men to stop using violence. Men who are subjected to violence can also be given help.

If you are subjected to threats and violence, you can call Kvinnofridslinjen, the National Women's Helpline. It is open around the clock, every day. Calls are free of charge and you do not have to state your name when you call. The number is 020-50 50 50.

If you are under 20 years of age, you can also contact ungarelationer.se. They provide support and information to you if you are being subjected to violence in your relationship, if you have a friend who is, or if you are the person perpetrating the violence. It does not matter if the situation is ongoing or if it happened earlier. They also have a webchat function if you need to talk to someone.