‘Don’t fear the word power’: equality minister

Gender equality has fallen off many Swedish citizens' list of top-priorities, several speakers noted at a labour and equality conference in Stockholm on Thursday.

'Don't fear the word power': equality minister

“Saying that you want power kinda sounds like you want to get into a fight, which is why internationally people have talked about ‘influence’ instead,” Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni said at the conference, which was organized by Sweden’s labour ministry.

“But power is good, it’s fantastic, it gives you influence.”

Sabuni spoke at the conference alongside two previous equality ministers – retired Liberal Party MP Bengt Westerberg and former Social Democrat Equality Minister Margareta Winberg.

When he served in the 1990s, Westerberg was hailed both as a superhero and scoundrel from opposite sides of the debate when he introduced a reform mandating that one month of parental leave had to be taken by the father.

Today, he is in favour of splitting parental leave evenly between the parents.

“It is one of the few tools left for politicians to influence the structure at home, which is were gender equality begins,” Westerberg said.

Strictly divvying up parental leave is not on the cards for the current government, however.

His successor, Margareta Winberg, said that, among Swedish voters, the question of gender equality was not ranked as important.

“Gender equality is not among the top five issues that Swedes think are important as election issues,” she said.

“So there’s a need to build up the topic, to shape public opinion.”

She joked that when she went on to become agriculture minister, which overlapped for two years with her ministerial post overseeing equality, the then Left Party leader Gudryn Schyman, who went on to create the Feminist Initiative party, used to call her “the minister for women and heffers”.

Winberg, when she headed the Social Democrat women’s association (S-kvinnor) in the early 1990s, is famous for pushing her party to strictly alternate between male and female candidates on the party list before elections (Sweden has proportional representation election system).

The alternate policy, dubbed “varannan damernas” (‘every other for the ladies’), was later adopted by most political parties in Sweden and is widely credited for making Sweden’s parliament the most gender equal in the world at the time.

Wrapping up the debate on Thursday, Winberg turned to Sabuni, who’d earlier in the discussion admitted her ministry does not do a good job at publicizing the work they do, and challenged her to improve her efforts.

“Please get better at communicating,” said Winberg.

Ann Törnkvist

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Riksbank deputy ‘open to reconsidering raising rates in April’

Martin Flodén, the deputy governor of Sweden's Riksbank, has questioned whether the central bank needs to bring in further rate rises in April, following bank runs on two niche banks in the US and a crisis of confidence at Credit Suisse.

Riksbank deputy 'open to reconsidering raising rates in April'

Uncertainty in the financial market following bank runs in the US and a crisis at Swiss bank Credit Suisse could have changed the playing field, he told TT in an interview. 

“It affects which level the key interest rates need to be in order to have a contractive effect,” he said, referring to the recent days of financial market turbulence. “We can’t just look at key interest rates by themselves. It’s the key interest rate in combination with all of these developments which determines how tight financial policy will be.”

He said it was not yet obvious what decision should be taken. 

“It’s clear that monetary policy needs to stay tight, but what level of interest is that? We need to assess all of the current developments there.” 

‘Could go in different directions’

In theory, there could be such a serious financial crisis, with such a severe effect on lending and banks’ financing costs, that the central bank would be forced to adopt supportive measures, even lowering the key rate.

Flodén doesn’t think Sweden is in that situation, although he thinks there’s a possibility it could happen.

“It’s not something I can see happening right now, at least, although this could go in different directions.” 

He added that he doesn’t see any reason for any “special concern”, toning down the risk that a crisis for two smaller niche banks in the US and at Credit Suisse could affect the Swedish financial system.

“Of course, it could lead to some stress, but there aren’t actually any particular signs in Sweden, which are worrying me,” he said. 

Flodén is one of six members of the Riksbank executive board, led by Riksbank chief Erik Thedéen, responsible for making a decision on whether interest rates will go up again at the end of April.

The Riksbank has indicated that a rate hike of between 0.25 and 0.5 percent from the current 3 percent rate could be necessary.

Flodén described the most recent inflation statistics for February, where inflation unexpectedly rose to 12 percent, as “not good at all”. So-called KPIF inflation, where the effect of mortgage rates is removed, rose from 9.3 percent to 8.7 percent in January. The Riksbank’s goal is 2 percent.

“It’s clear that inflation is still far too high and that monetary policy needs to be focussed on combatting inflation,” he said, adding that inflation statistics for March will be released before the central bank is due to make a decision on whether to raise rates or not in April.