The great equality debate – whither Swedish women?

As usual, this week's papers met what seems to be an unofficial quota of stories on the equality debate.

Tuesday’s DN reported shocking findings from a survey carried out by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Federation of County Councils. It found that about a fifth of all local and regional politicians have been threatened with or subjected to violence over the last two years, but that women were far more likely than their male counterparts to face such abuse.

The survey also found that the higher up you are on the political ladder, the more likely you are to face violent threats.

Although men outnumber women in senior political posts, 23% of women in such posts at local level have received threats, versus 14% of men. The figures at county level are 20% and 16% respectively.

Over 30% of women holding top political jobs at county level have considered quitting due to the fear and stress caused by violent threats. Karin Karlsson, speaker of the county council in Västmanland and deputy member of the Federation of County Councils’ board, commented: “Senior politicians are being threatened with their lives for taking important, but difficult decisions. That’s unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, in Sweden’s corporate boardrooms, it’s hard to tell how companies are doing in meeting the much publicised target of 25% female representation on their boards by the end of 2004. That was the goal set by former equality minister, Margareta Winberg, in 2002, with the threat of introducing quotas if it wasn’t met.

Tuesday’s SvD reported the findings of a survey conducted by the European Professional Women’s Network of 270 of Europe’s leading companies. Norway and Sweden topped the league table of female board members with 22% and 20% respectively.

In a reference to the presence of quotas in Norway and threat of quotas in Sweden, leading EPWN member, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, said: “The common denominator for countries at the top of the list is a political will and a public desire to see more women in senior positions.”

However, the picture is slightly misleading. SvD pointed out that the survey only included 11 Swedish companies and that the true national figure is only 14.6%. Even more disappointing, about a third of the 20% reported in the survey are made up of union representatives, a group not included in a number of the other countries surveyed. And that means that Sweden may be back in the pack, rather than a proud pace-setter after all.

All of which is, no doubt, grist to the mill of Kajsa Wahlström, an ‘equality pedagogue’ (only in Sweden). She was asked to comment on a finding from GP’s youth survey that girls are taking over at school. 85% of Gothenburg’s Year 9 girls aim to continue in education after high school, compared to 74% of boys. Surely a victory for equality, enthused the paper on Saturday.

“It’s nice that girls are now in the picture, things can start to change,” conceded Wahlström. “But we can’t sit back and think equality has won the day,” she continued ominously. “They get affirmation by being good students rather than by being themselves. There’s a risk that girls will burn themselves out at high school trying to live up to the demands.”

This is the new ‘women’s trap’, according to Wahlström, claiming its victims before the youngsters have even had a sniff of the corridors of power.

The advantage of being a woman, of course, is that you can get paid for taking your clothes off. Aftonbladet’s contribution to the great debate was to start an in-depth investigation into the massive increase in young women wanting to get their photographs taken whilst wearing very little.

They concluded that many of the girls have ambitions of being models, pop stars or docusoap celebrities; and that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. They also sensationally reveal the analysis of leading photographer, Bingo Rimér: “Loads of girls are exhibitionists. Some get a kick out of posing nude. It’s different strokes for different folks and we should all respect that.”

It may be a full house at Bingo’s studio, but the debate rolls on.