Sweden’s gender wage gap persists: study

The wage gap between men and women persists in Sweden despite efforts to eradicate it in a country that prides itself on promoting gender equality, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Sweden's gender wage gap persists: study

“The total income in all age groups is lower for women than for men,” Statistics Sweden (SCB) said in a statement on the release of its annual report on gender equality.

In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, the median income for men aged 20 and above was 35 percent higher than for women, the agency said.

Graphs show a significant gap at the beginning of working life, reaching 37 percent for 20- to 24-year-olds, before gradually narrowing until retirement (26 percent for 40- to 44-year-olds, 24 percent for 60- to 64-year-olds), after which it balloons to 40 percent for 80- to 84-year-olds.

“Women are more educated than men,” SCB said, noting that this means they enter the job market later in life. Women between 20 and 64 years old currently have a 77-percent employment rate, compared to an 83-percent rate for men.

“An important factor for equality between the sexes is the possibility to combine parenting with a job,” the SCB said.

“One way to measure this is to look at the amount of parental leave taken. The men’s share continues to grow, but it’s nevertheless women who take the greater share” with 76 percent in 2011, it said.

That ratio is down from 80 percent in 2005 and 88 percent in 2000.

Sweden’s minister for European affairs, Birgitta Ohlsson, a frequent commentator on feminist issues, welcomed the report.

“More parental leave taken by men!” she wrote on social networking site Twitter.

Sweden has one of the most generous parental leave systems in the world, with 480 days that can be claimed by either parent until the child turns eight. However, one parent can only use 420 of those days, with the 60 remaining days being forfeited if they are not used by the other parent.

Another explanation for the difference in income could be that around a third of all Swedish women work part-time, compared to only one in 10 of all men, SCB said.

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Inside the Church of Sweden, where women outnumber men as priests

Women now outnumber men as priests in Sweden, but there's still gender inequality within the Swedish Church, those working in it admit.

Inside the Church of Sweden, where women outnumber men as priests
Visby's cathedral. File photo: Anders Wiklund/SCANPIX/TT

Her white clergy robes flowing behind her, Sandra Signarsdotter walks down the aisle of Stockholm's Gustaf Vasa church greeting parishioners, a ritual of hers and a familiar sight in Sweden.

In the Scandinavian country, often hailed as a champion of gender equality, the statistics are clear. As of July, 50.1 percent of priests are women and 49.9 percent are men. It's very likely the first Church in the world to have a majority of women priests, according to the World Council of Churches.

In the Protestant Lutheran Church of Sweden, which has 5.8 million members in a country of 10.3 million and where ministers hold the title of priest, “women are here to stay,” insists Signarsdotter, who was ordained six years ago.

Since 2014, even the head of the Church is a woman, Archbishop Antje Jackelen.


Archbishop Antje Jackelen. Photo: Pontus Lundahl / TT

At the Gustaf Vasa church, a smattering of worshippers wait for the service to begin.

“This Sunday, the service will be conducted by three women,” the 37-year-old priest says proudly.

Coincidentally, it was in this imposing white church in the heart of Sweden's capital that another woman, Anna Howard Shaw, an American Methodist pastor and suffragette, became the first clergywoman to preach in Sweden.

That was in 1911, at an international women's suffrage conference, and long before women could be ordained in the Church of Sweden, in 1958.

“The men didn't allow her to go up there,” explains Signarsdotter, pointing to the marble pulpit above her. “She was allowed only on the floor,” she says, standing at the altar as if to mark the spot.

This Sunday, the service will be held by Julia Svensson, a 23-year-old theology student whom Signarsdotter is mentoring — and she will give her sermon from the pulpit.

The feminisation of Sweden's priesthood is also seen at universities, where the 4.5-year theology studies required to become a priest are dominated by women.

Protestants generally believe that a priest is an expert, a theologist who tends to a congregation, and not a calling, in contrast to the Catholic Church which opposes women priests.

The rising number of women may be due to priests' changing roles over the years, suggests Signarsdotter.

“The priest's role today is not what it was before. There are other requirements, (such as) kindliness … (and) being able to handle many different situations.”

“Historically men have held it for themselves but now we see it happening all over the world. Things are changing and new paths are open to us as female priests and women in general.”

Outside the Gustav Vasa Kyrka in Stockholm. Photo: Ali Lorestani/TT

One who has benefitted from the rising number of female priests is stylist Maria Sjodin, who designs vestments for women and whose business is booming.

In her atelier in a southern Stockholm suburb, the designer recently welcomed a regular customer, a female priest looking for a new collared top. One could say divine intervention landed Sjodin here: in 2001 her daughter
made a new friend at kindergarten, whose mother was a priest.

“She asked me to make her a priest shirt, because she didn't like the male shirt that she had to wear,” she recalled.
The piece remains one of the most popular in her collection.

'Still a way to go'

But while women priests now outnumber men, inequality remains.

Women priests earn around 2,200 kronor (213 euros, $253) less a month than their male counterparts, according to the specialised newspaper Kyrkans Tidning.

And fewer women reach top positions within the Church. Of the country's 13 dioceses, only four are headed by women.

“We haven't reached equality yet,” says Signarsdotter. “There's still a way to go.”

Her protege Svensson chips in: “We must be a representation of all people.”

After a moment of silence, Signarsdotter admits that sexism still stalks the cloisters of the Church in Sweden.
“One day, a colleague told me 'What a nice ass you have'. I am still seen as a body and not a professional.”

She says things will not change as long as “patriarchal structures (remain) in the walls and the structures of society, and the Church as an organisation.”

But she is not giving up hope. “When I retire I will look at Julia as an archbishop and will be like 'damn, we did good'.”                             

By Nioucha Zakavati