Swedish feminists slam myth of country’s equality

Sweden's fledgling feminist party is for the first time setting its sights on parliament in a general election on Sunday, convinced the Scandinavian country does not deserve its reputation as a bastion of gender equality.

“We fully expect to enter the Riksdag (Swedish parliament) and thus allow those working on these issues (gender equality) to make themselves heard in the political debate,” the co-founder of the Feminist Initiative (Fi) party, Gudrun Schyman, tells AFP.

Schyman is a high-profile figure of the Swedish feminist movement.

The charismatic former leader of the Left Party, she became a maverick of Swedish politics in establishing Fi a year-and-a-half ago. The party was initially predicted to make a big splash in the election, but recent opinion polls suggest its support is not strong enough to win a seat in parliament.

“We do not talk of left or right, we talk of an entirely different approach, that of feminine ideology,” Schyman says.

“Everyone agrees that gender equality should exist so much that in the end everyone almost thinks it does exist, but it doesn’t,” she says, firmly rejecting the “myth” that Sweden is a model example of parity between men and women.

According to Sweden’s gender equality ombudsman, Claes Borgström, the Scandinavian country “has come a long way, but we are still not a country of genuine equality between the sexes.”

Salary differences between men and women, while less pronounced than in most countries, still exist in Sweden, where women earn on average 83 percent of what men make doing the same job, Borgström tells AFP.

While women are well represented in Swedish politics – half of the cabinet posts in the current Social Democratic government are held by women – there are only five women CEOs out of the 291 companies registered on the Stockholm stock exchange.

“In reality … things are going backwards, in the job market especially, but also in society in general. We see sexism spreading … pornography, prostitution and trafficking are increasing, and the numbers of cases of women being beaten by men are rising,” says Schyman.

The widely-held perception of harmony between the sexes risks obscuring the uncomfortable reality, according to Maud Eduards, political science professor at Stockholm University.

“There is a great deal of violence against women,” Eduards says, noting that there are more than 20,000 assaults on women annually and rapes are on the rise.

If Fi does get into parliament one of the first things it plans to do is propose the creation of a minister for gender equality “responsible for that and nothing else”, says Schyman.

The chances of there being any Fi MPs, however, look slim. Under the Swedish electoral system parties need to garner at least four percent of votes to enter parliament. Recent polls give Fi just 0.5 percent of voter sympathies.

According to Eduards, Fi’s weak support can be put down to few people being prepared to support a one-issue party on a question that most accept as a desirable goal.

“It’s the party itself which is perceived to be the problem, not the issues it raises … which feature in the manifestos of most of the other parties,” Eduards says.

Sophie Mongalvy