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OFFBEAT

Skirts off for train driver men as shorts ban lifted

A Swedish train operator has bowed to pressure and decided to let male drivers in Stockholm show a little leg after a group of skirt-wearing male train drivers caused a worldwide media storm to protest their employer's ban on shorts.

Skirts off for train driver men as shorts ban lifted

“We noticed that a lot of our staff members see this as an important issue, so we have decided to give them what they want, so there will be shorts soon the Roslagsbanen line,” Tomas Hedenius, head of communications at train operator Arriva, told The Local on Monday.

“I am not sure when exactly this will come into place, but we will have a discussion with the union this week.”

News that Arriva will allow its male drivers to wear shorts comes after train driver Martin Åkersten took to Facebook to explain that he and 12 other male drivers had taken to wearing the skirts to cope with the 35C heat in the cabins on the vintage rail cars of the Roslagsbanan commuter rail line which services northeast Stockholm.

IN PICTURES: See Martin Åkersten at work in his skirt

The male drivers skirt protest spawned headlines in Sweden before going viral, getting splashed across newspapers worldwide, which was somewhat overwhelming news for Åkersten, whose story was first reported on in Sweden by the local Mitt i newspaper.

“It feels really strange to think that it just started out as a small thing in my local newspaper and now it’s gone out into the global media… it’s a crazy feeling,” Åkersten told The Local on Monday.

“My intention from the beginning was just to explain to the people why we look like we do.”

IN PICTURES: See some other men around the world who have famously chosen to don skirts

Hedenius at Arriva was not impressed that the skirt-wearing train drivers appeared to have been bigger world news than the wedding of Sweden’s Princess Madeleine and Chris O’Neill on Saturday.

“This isn’t good for us, but it’s understandable – it’s very amusing news to read,” he told The Local.

“Of course, we would like to be talking about buses and trains instead and all the good things we do in Stockholm.”

The last time Arriva made world news was when one of its trains crashed into a house in the outer Stockholm suburbs. The accident, initially thought to be the fault of a cleaning lady who accidentally set the train off during a late-night cleaning shift, is still under investigation.

SEE ALSO: Photo gallery from Arriva train crash into Stockholm house

“There is nothing new there, we’re waiting for the prosecutor to make a decision. The investigation is ongoing,” Hedenius explained. The house, meanwhile, is still being repaired.

Meanwhile, Åkersten was thrilled to learn that he and his colleagues would soon be able to take off their skirts and instead come to work wearing shorts.

“That’s fantastic news! This means the publicity helped,” Åkersten told The Local upon hearing the news the ban had been lifted.

“I’m not going to miss the skirt though, I like shorts – that’s the whole reason I started this thing.”

When asked how it felt to have the most famous legs in Sweden, Åkersten could only laugh.

“It’s crazy,” he responded with a chuckle. “Absolutely absurd!”

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

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RELIGION

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.

GENDER IN SWEDEN:


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

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