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'Don't force mothers to stay at home'

The Local · 25 Feb 2010, 16:24

Published: 25 Feb 2010 16:24 GMT+01:00

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Though the year is 2010, in the eyes of many European politicians parenthood remains synonymous with motherhood. The EU Commission has proposed for maternity leave to be compulsory for the first six weeks after childbirth regardless of the wishes of the mother. Put simply, new mothers are to be banned from working. The issue is now in the hands of the democratically elected European Parliament, which is set to vote on the maternity leave directive in March.

The Alliance government is critical of the proposal as it risks diluting Swedish equality. On a personal level, if the proposal were to come into force it would prevent me from working. As a mother-to-be I would have had to turn down my new job as Swedish Minster for EU Affairs.

At the same time, we must bear in mind that the legislative proposal has a noble aim. For example, the legislative package promotes the right of mothers to take eighteen weeks' leave. In many member states, parental leave is woeful. In Austria, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, for instance, mothers' right to leave is less than eighteen weeks. But a maternity leave directive incorporating forced leave is the wrong path to take.

The directive is also problematic in that it only mentions mothers as parents. We have to encourage parents to share both their parental leave and responsibility for their children. Europe needs more egalitarian dads, and the Commission's proposal is sending the wrong signals.

Family policies are dreadful in many parts of Europe despite the fact that equality between the sexes is a commonly held value in the EU. It is also a necessary prerequisite if we are to achieve the Union's goals for growth, employment and social cohesion.

Millions of women in Europe can't work at all, or at least not as much as they'd like to, because they are forced to take responsibility for their families. And several of the EU's member states don't offer childcare for children under the age of three. Also, state care for the elderly is often minimal, which means women often feel obliged to take care of ageing family members. Furthermore, joint taxation - which holds women back from the marketplace - remains a fact of life in many countries.

Many women in the EU now choose either not to have children and focus on their careers, or to give up their careers entirely when their children are born. Statistics show the effects: the EU has the world's best educated housewives. With ever more elderly men and women, the Union's population risks turning into Jurassic Park unless more children are born. Access to childcare is crucial if more people are to be able to combine their family and professional lives. In my view, we should not legislate on childcare at the EU level, but more EU countries do need to recognise the connection between childcare and economic growth.

Getting more women into the workplace is a pressing challenge for the EU. The untapped potential for higher GDP could be put to good use: more people working and paying tax would bolster the financing of our common welfare in a competitive global climate. Currently, an average of just six out of ten women in the EU are in gainful employment, dropping as low as four out of ten in certain countries. Men earn almost 20 percent more than women, and four times more women than men work part time.

Women in the EU also earn less than men, meaning that women's economic freedom is more limited. Ever since the 1700s, power over one's own wallet has been a cornerstone of liberal feminism. It's high time that politicians in Europe were inspired by our history. Women should not have to depend on their partners for an income.

Story continues below…

The EU has official goals stating that women and men should have the same opportunities when it comes to combining work life, private life, and family life. It's time for Europe's politicians to start delivering. At my first EU meeting as Sweden's EU minister on February 22nd, I raised the argument that an equality perspective must become part of the Union's growth strategy. I am pleased to have received the support of EU Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and Spanish Foreign Minster Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Increased equality is one of the EU's great challenges and more people need to wake up. Sweden is a pioneer when it comes to feminist issues, with radical family policies in an international perspective. We should not point the finger but we can inspire other countries in the EU. It should be a voluntary right for parents, not maternity leave by force.

A Swedish version of this article was published in Aftonbladet (24/2). Translation: The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

18:53 February 25, 2010 by xavidx
I believe in the freedom to have options.

By saying that I mean, anything forced is bad. Each family should deside themselves how they want to raise their children or in some cases how they want the state to raise their children.

Also the polititians always talk about what is best for the wife or husband. But I never hear anything about what is best for the child. I would like to hear what a child psychologist has to say.

my two cents
19:34 February 25, 2010 by Chuy
xavidx...I agree, let the mothers decide.
23:23 February 25, 2010 by Alex Coman
child psychologist:

Some mothers want to escape from home (out of post natal depression or just boring or just trying to escape), but this is not good for their children. Kids needs their mothers. Mothers can t decide whilst some of them don t know the scientific facts. Kids are growing better with their mothers. How can a mother in post-partum depression know what is good for her family???

Kids needs their mothers for a better mental or physical growing, even if they live in not so good family environment caused by some not so happy parents.

Birgitta Ohlsson must learn the facts before she speaks. Those leftist kind kind of views...
23:30 February 25, 2010 by zircon
Swedes an international perspective on maternity leave or equal rights at home. This is interesting.
01:18 February 26, 2010 by trula
for women is natural to stay with the kid and take care. for that shouldn't be any order guideline. 6 weeks is absolute minimum for a woman to take rest after delivery, otherwise she risks health problems. but it is common sense
01:27 February 26, 2010 by kirtle
Too much to say for the comment section so wrote a blog post in response: http://ramblingsofakirtle.blogspot.com/2010/02/forced-maternity-leave.html
14:33 February 26, 2010 by Bebop et cie
Enforced maternity is not healthy at all and threatens gender equality... Are we still in a world where women's choices related to their own health have to be decided by others? Women and men should have the choice to deal with how they will cope with the newborn and how they feel, not being forced... I think this is very good article that will interest people here in Québec (Canada). Following the Swedish model, we have a lot a gender equality measures...

By the way, I'm really fed up of people trying to decide what's good for us, women... It's counterproductive, often cruel and definitely passé...
16:49 February 26, 2010 by Texrusso
If a woman can not stay at least six weeks at home to care for her baby, then there is no need for her to have a child anyway. She could concentrate on her career. Only God knows what women want. Haaaaa!
20:48 February 26, 2010 by Alex Coman
@Bebop et cie

You got it all wrong.


At least you re not the only one wrong. Minister for EU Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson doesn t understand the real problem, and she take money for her job.

The mother s touch is the most important thing for babies health!!!!!!!!!

There s a lot studies proving that. I m not giving you any link, find em yourself. It will help you. It is right for you to have control of your life, but please, don t try to save the women of this world against their babies. Most of them are happy living with their babies.

Oh, not to forget, it will help you to be a free person, to find the right man. But it will be your duty to take care of your babies no matter what your man thinks and does...
23:22 February 26, 2010 by Puffin
What about women who work from home or could take their baby to work - are they to be banned as well?

I think that parental leave is something that families should decide for theselves
00:56 February 27, 2010 by Blackman_for_Blondes
Like this as I can stay at home with my blonde...great law I love Sweden and the women are tops pity Bob Marley is dead he should live here...peace and kindness
02:37 February 28, 2010 by tenorlove
Six weeks off, how spoiled can you get? Women in the U.S. try not to take more than a few days off, even if they have a C-section, because their jobs won't be there otherwise. With unemployment up around 10 percent, employees are expendable.
11:29 February 28, 2010 by Alex Coman
My wife just finished her 2 years maternity leave. Two years. That s the law here, in Romania. That s because we love our children!
15:45 February 28, 2010 by Jan M
Interesting article. If Birgitta is correct then this won't be enforceable anyway. She states:-

'On a personal level, if the proposal were to come into force it would prevent me from working. As a mother-to-be I would have had to turn down my new job as Swedish Minster for EU Affairs.'

Any piece of legislation that has the effect of preventing a qualified person from taking up a post would class as discriminatory under existing EU legislation. I suspect however that what she is doing her in reality is stating that she would decide to turn down the post otherwise why get so stressed about something to contestable? At some level she needs to sort herself out.
10:19 March 1, 2010 by Puffin
Here in Sweden you get 16 months of child leave - each parent takes 2 months and then they decide themselves how to split the rest of the time - the question is not parents staying home but when the EU should tell parents which parent should be at home
12:46 March 1, 2010 by Audrian
I find Birgitta Ollsson patently greedy, and one who does not deserve to be in a position of power. She has interpreted equality of the sexes to mean promoting her interest. She is confusing her interest with the interest of womenfolk. If she is not ready to be a responsible mother she should not have been pregnant in the first place. For her types adoption would give a better outcome. The majority of women would like to embrace this law with open arms. In the US, maternity leave is two weeks; mothers go back to work before they fully recuperate or nurse their infant to strength. We need to be more progressive than US type of elitism!

World Health Organization has recommended three to six months of exclusive breastfeeding because breast milk is far superior to the formula which Ollson is planning to feed her baby with. Breast-milk protects the infant from many types of infection such as ear and throat infections and common cold (also many more other benefits). Formula fed infants have a higher chance of being fat as adults. In the US about 20% of mothers breast feed. (They are mainly highly educated and better off population, and mainly whites, who breastfeed.) In Sweden the corresponding figure for breastfeeding rate is about 60%. Again the majority who are keen to breastfeed in Sweden are educated folks. The obesity rates for the two countries are 60% for the US and 20% for Sweden.
14:22 March 1, 2010 by Uncle
I really do not get the problem. I think that femininsts are so much into feminism that they start harming women with their passion for feminism.

6 weeks? What is the problem? Month and a half is a problem to stay with a baby, who is by definintion of nature is underdeveloped and should have been in the stomach for few months longer, if not our "walking on two" decision?

Will month and a half harm careers of the career women? Will this abscence kick her out of being up to date on the work and therefore - expandable? What kind of bull is this?

In that case, these kind of women should not have children. They will anyways invest very little time and attention for the kids and the children will be only a hinderance on the way of these women to the top of the world (oh, yeah, the little bastards actually have genetical predisposition to seek attention of their mothers more than fathers the first few years)! What is the point then?

This law does not only defend women to keep their workplace, but also makes irresponsible women to sit and try and bond with the result of a drunk night and forgotten pill. Could not be better.
15:38 March 1, 2010 by Alex Coman

"Will month and a half harm careers of the career women?"

"In that case, these kind of women should not have children"


Minister for EU Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson is so far away from the people who pays for her salary. Away from the scientific facts. Away from common sense.
21:27 March 1, 2010 by stenhuggaren
nature, nurture, nature, nurture...

"Yesterday evening I saw a film about the British author C.S.Lewis and his life in Oxford during the 1950s. In one scene Lewis takes his American fiancé to the university Christmas party and they engage in a discussion with one of Lewis' colleagues. The colleague holds a long monologue on the differences between men and women and argues that which the man has in his head the woman has in her emotional life, that men's rationality is equivalent to women's emotionality. In response to this Lewis' fiancé replied: 'Are you being rude or just mere stupid?'

So my question to you Alex Coman, Uncle et al - Are you being rude or just mere stupid?
22:03 March 1, 2010 by Uncle
stenhuggaren - may I ask you, where was the part where I was talking about male/female nature/nurture? I would say that I mentioned the feelings of the babies whose mother does not feel that the little screaming annoyance shall stand on the way of her wonderful career, which surely would be hurt enormously if she would stay full 6 weeks at home! (Oh, my God, like eternity!)

I have a feeling that whenever a person expresses not exactly feminist views here in Sweden, the females start be all shocked and bang about unrelated stuff. So say, stenhuggaren, what was so rudely disregarded in my little chauvinist mind? What didn't I consider when I plunged women so willfully into the 6 weeks of this hell of taking care of their newborn?

I would even agree and legally make men stay 6 weeks at home in the second year of the child's life.

Feminists are so f... dumb, square and conformistic that even the word "woman" disturbs them. So far, women are becoming more and more stressed, depressed, miserable, lonely, addicted, conflicting, while men just work less and less, invest more into their hobbies, do not feel uncomfortable with leaving the family, become less stressed and have more time to invest into their kids.

Idiotic trade, that most of women do not support at all. Disregarding obvious things leads women from one vulnerable position into a worse one, while feminists continue to press on women in order to achieve "mental equality".
08:31 March 2, 2010 by stenhuggaren

The minister is not arguing against parental leave, she is arguing that legislation is not the best way to decide how care is given to a child - the parents own that right.

Birgitta Ohlsson is neither saying that her own child will fend for itself - she has repeatedly said that she is married to a modern man who is more than able and willing to ensure that together they are able to provide the child the care that it needs.

If you really think depression, stress, vulnerability, isolation, loneliness, paternal absenteeism are post-feminist phenomena then let's start with something simple - watch a movie - I would suggest two - The Hours and Far from Heaven.

Not that it is any of your business - my partner and I each spent 9-12 months at home with every one of our three children. It didn't keep all of the conditions to which you refer above entirely away but it sure gave us the energy and time to deal with it.

Now as the minister is patently not saying what you claim, and your anti-feminist diatribe is simply logically implausible, I refer to my previous question - Are you being rude or just plain stupid?
16:17 March 2, 2010 by Gustav- Fælbönnran
I would like to point out that Birgitta is looking great these days, and based on that, I agree with everything that she is saying.

Keep up the good work, Birgitta.
20:39 March 2, 2010 by Alex Coman
@Gustav- Fælbönnran

Yes, man, you said it, she is good looking. But somehow, she need to be much more than that.


How sad it would be to see a feminist without hysteria symptoms...

I understand you know things from movies. Ok, but that doesn t help much, I see. Do something good for you, read some books about child psychology, about how much a child needs his mother.A child deprived temporary of a mother loses all sense of direction, security, and love. It is almost impossible to imagine the emotional scarring which takes place or the possible ramifications. It does not matter whether the loss is permanent or temporary-the result is the same!

I wander,in the first 9-12 months of your children life, were you, or your husband with them?

Lady, people are not just stupid or rude. Some of us are different by those you know.

Not to forget-it will help you not to insult people you don t know.
22:32 March 2, 2010 by stenhuggaren
you have both more than adequately answered my question.
23:35 March 2, 2010 by Uncle
stenhuggaren - as it has been said by Alex, you seem to have spent the 12 months not with your child, but in front of a TV (not that it is any of my business, as you so proudly mentioned).

The parents do NOT own that right, stenhuggaren. The government is actually taking kids from parents whose decisions are inadequate, according to the opinion of the government. Leaving a newborn with the male partner in the first 6 weeks of his/her life is precisely the inadequacy that some members of the government define as unacceptable.

In addition, you have clearly not read the article, because Birgitta is banging on about the unfairness towards women in Europe for 3/4 of this article. Should I quote an article just above, or would you like to read it in the commercials time? (I would not like to distract you from the next movie). Let me help: "Millions of women..." "Career or family..." "Getting women into the workplace..." bla bla bla.

Birgittas opinion is that the law should not specify the 6 weeks because of a feminist PRINCIPLE. Not common sense, will of the majority of the population or childrens' needs. A PRINCIPLE. Therefore her opinion is rubbish. Your opinion is not even in the right direction and my anti-feminist diatribe is more than logically plausible.

BTW, how is it going for Feminist Initiative? Scraped 2% yet, or not?
07:27 March 3, 2010 by stenhuggaren
as I said - you have both more than adequately answered my question.
12:54 March 3, 2010 by Uncle
Oh, God. How I love the internet, where one can say whatever one thinks and not just sweedishly bend over and agree whenever a brainwashed by movies feminist starts claiming what "women deserve" and what "men must do".

And btw, I just read in Metro an article by Hillevi Wahl who talks of female depression issue. She brings the words of a psychologist Christin Mellner who says that a direct connection between more extensive equality and lower self-esteem and depression with women was proven by recent research. So even the all winning "movie" argument was shoved into the toilet here.

14:09 March 3, 2010 by stenhuggaren
aha och nu är vi framme med research. So you've watched the films and are ready to try your hand at a little intellectual combat?

Before we start - important to remember that research is about testing a hypothesis and not simply coming up with one. I will not pretend to "prove" anything, just point you gently in the direction of further research - there's plenty, don't worry.

Let's start with something gentle - from Time (people actually pay for that one):


Here's a book - http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/mar/13/the-spirit-level - not really about the subject at hand but hey it is research.

and here's another one from Hillevi on the roaring success of the women's movement: www.metro.se/2010/02/23/35607/tidningarna-inte-mer-rumsrena-an-teat/index.xml

not perfect, but a start...
19:36 March 3, 2010 by Alex Coman
I say, do they, women, usually get pregnant?

Do women usually, not men, breastfeed their children?

Do their bodies usually made different hormones, than men bodies?

Are women somehow specially designed, or better designed, to raise their chidren, by nature?

How come all these simple things are, de facto, somehow, neglected by feminist movement?

They want the same ... what? The feminist agenda is set to fight everything to achieve the final victory, even against common sense?

Is just a strong belief of mine that men , ussually, could t be better prepared do raise their children than their mothers could do?

Or is this is the reallity.

Earth to Stenhuggaren!

We come in peace, don t take us to your leader!
20:32 March 3, 2010 by AnaB
My baby is already one year and three months, I had four months of maternity leave (one and half months before and two and a half after birth), my mom moved into my house for a month and a half after my leave ended we could not get to someone who take care of my baby during my work schedule, so that at four months old try a nursery, only lasted two weeks (it was very painful for my husband and me), so I decided to send the baby with my mom, could visit only on weekends because my mom lives four hours away. At that time I was determined to quit, but it prevented me that we would not be able to sustain the costs of the baby. When I found a nanny who accepted the job, I could finally breathe freely, so far, so good, but if i had not been able to find a nanny I think the story was totally different.
23:47 March 3, 2010 by Uncle
Ahaa hahhahaa I am dying stenhuggaren.

Aren't you ashamed? No, really - AREN'T YOU?

You give me an article about sexual harassment of women in theater and try to present it as something that answers to my arguments? Are you nuts?

Also, what is the connection of the wonderful articles there to the issue? They do not disprove that women nowadays in the western world are more stressed and depressed than everywhere else. They neither argument that a woman shall not stay with her baby for the first 2 months at home.

These articles are a tool for slow and not so bright women to assist them arguing that feminism improved the situation of women. However you are not listening. Nobody said that taking the woman from half-slavery and making her a real member of the society is not good. The argument is that it has gone too far. It is as relevant as fighting for the rights of slaves in US. THERE ARE NO SLAVES in US.

Parties like FI are irrelevant. They make women work harder and harder and be lonelier and lonelier. They hurt women more directly than any chauvinist man ever dreamed of. No one votes for FI. WHY not, if they are so wonderful?

The law above protects children.

THEY are the most important and not YOU. You live in order to make better versions of yourself and not in order to eat popcorn in front of the TV and think that you are so wonderful because you are a woman.
08:02 March 4, 2010 by Guinn
I am in the US, and was able by frugal living, to stay home with my 3 children. I always called myself a stay home mom, but in actuality I worked part time all but 3 years - each a year one of my children was born, and only returned to full time once they were all in school. I was very very lucky.

Now, with health insurance here being as expensive as it is, sometimes as much as a house payment, I think it is very hard for young mothers here to do that. Be happy that you still can.
08:58 March 4, 2010 by stenhuggaren

While obviously you never stopped being rude, your reference to research in a previous post I took to mean that you were prepared to do something about your stupidity - I was clearly mistaken.

I am going to let you go now - clearly your problems run far too deep to be addressed here.
10:56 March 4, 2010 by Uncle
Oh, God. I never argued with such a limited person... "You mentioned research, so I presented you research..." The fact that the research is about the agricultural advances in the coconut business in India, does not play any role, as long as this is research, right?

In regards to rudeness, instead of answering me, go and scan your postings before - starting FROM THE VERY FIRST ONE. Or is it that for the fragile female it is OK to refer to people like drunk truck driver? Oh, I forgot - in real life no one actually answers to your insults. Welcome to the internet. Enjoy your stay...
20:15 March 4, 2010 by Tutu
we live in an era where we talk about right but ignoring responsibilities, we talk about freedom without considering the rules guiding the freedom. Why would a woman want to get pregnant when she would not have time to take care of the child. It is know that babies need their momma. I think the F1 one thing is being taken too far. I think someone Schyman and her feminist team need a reality check
22:56 March 4, 2010 by Byggare Bob
No one, anywhere, is saying that children do not need their moms - Schyman is the mother of two for starters. All that is being said is that they need both their parents - whatever gender they may be.

No one is either saying that women could not, should not, will not take care of their babies. Bigitta Olsson here is saying just what Tutu appeals for above - that the responsibility for the care of the children lies with the parents, not with the state. Anyone who knows anything about BO's politics will realise that this is utterly consistent with her liberal (in the UK English sense) views.

This law will not make an abusive, neglectful parent into a good one. And for you biologists up there - if it was all just animal nature, why would anyone see fit to need this law in the first place?
08:53 March 5, 2010 by johnnyrebel
Once upon a time, the mother stayed home and cared for the young. It was a simpler time and there was no discussion about it. Then the woman rebelled from her natural position…as in the Garden of Eden…and now we witness the results. Its mans way.

In nature…in the woods, the cow elk still takes care of the calf. Somehow in the harsh winter she finds food and a place to rest to keep her offspring safe. The family structure is still intact. Its natures way.
10:33 March 5, 2010 by Sjayna
Many of my friends who have children, are not so happy with their situation, they feel stressed,sad leaving the child to daycare etc, but they don't dare to make chances in their daily life because of the social outlook. Its strange, that in Sweden you will be almost stamped as an 'imbecile', if you as a woman wants to stay at home and take care of your OWN children. Many of the differences between the sexes are biological and can't easily be changed by social learning so maybe we should follow more our inner voice,intuition...rather than forcing ourselves to apply the 'socialization theories'.
12:25 March 8, 2010 by stenhuggaren
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