Tue, 06/24/2014 - 13:57 - 128 Views

On 21 May 2014, the Gender and Society (GAS) Research Center – Hoa Sen University organized a workshop entitled "How gender equality is envisioned in the fourth most gender equal country in the world" with Ms. Märian Linnéa Nordqvist as guest speaker. 

Workshop participants included Dr. Thai Thi Ngoc Du – Director of GAS Research Center, lecturers and experts from various universities, research centers, organizations and students studying at HCMC, and especially, an expert coming from Vinh Long province.

Biography

Märian Linnéa Nordqvist is currently a student at Linnaeus University in Sweden, majoring in Political Science/European studies. She has also studied Criminology and Sociology, and studied at Georgia College and State University in the US for one semester. Since February 2014 she has participated as a volunteer for two local NGOs, including LIFE (Center for Promotion of Quality of Life) and SDRC (Center for Social Work and Community Development Research & Consultancy), where she writes proposals for funding research, edits documents, summarizes reports and teaches English.

Workshop proceedings

The workshop mainly aimed at bringing an overview on gender equality in Sweden to the audience. According to the annual report “Global Gender Gap Report 2013” published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland, Sweden ranked 4th among 134 countries in gender equality. Nowadays, Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy with a highly developed economy.  Sweden is the third largest country in the European Union in area, with a total population of approximately 9.5 million people. Sweden was the highest-ranked country in the Democracy Index Map by The Economist Intelligence Unit  and seventh in the Human Development Index by the United Nations. Sweden has been a member of the European Union since 1995, although it remains outside the Eurozone.

In order to benchmark the national gender gaps of countries in the world, the Global Gender Gap Index is based on four criteria: health and survival (including health care, women’s and men’s average life expectancy, sex ratio at birth), educational attainment (including the ratio of female literacy rate to that of males, vocational training and career guidance), political participation (parliamentary and ministerial levels) and economic participation (including the remuneration gap, the ratio of women to men in managerial positions and in the labor market). 

The government of Sweden made numerous efforts in the establishment of health and education policies in order to attain this high rank in gender equality. According to Ms. Märian Linnéa Nordqvist, Sweden is ranked 4th and the US is ranked 23th as women in these two countries are still not equal to men in two fields of political and economic participation. The ratio of women’s participation in politics is still much lower than men in the position of the state and government leaders and in the economic management.

Important Milestones in the Development of Gender Equality in Sweden

  • 1919: Swedish women obtained the right to vote (1906 for English women, 1913 for Norwegian women, and 1946 for Vietnamese women).
  • 1921: For the first time women could vote and run stand for election to office
    • This year five women entered parliament; they were: Kerstin Hesselgren, Elisabeth Tamm, Bertha Wellin, Agata Östlund, Nelly Thüring
  • 1925: Women were given, with restrictions, the same rights as men in civil service jobs
  • 1947: Karin Kock became the first woman to hold a minister position in Sweden
  • 1950: Both parents are considered as legal guardians of their children
  • 1955: The right to three months of paid parental leave for working women was stated by law
  • 1965: Marital rape is criminalized
  • Since the mid 1960’s, public child care has expanded and today all parents are guaranteed access to a daycare center for their children
  • 1971: Individual taxation replaces joint taxation. The payment of individual tax affirms that both couple are main breadwinners in the household, this encourages women to participate in the labor market, while previously only men were the main breadwinners and women were caregivers. 
  • 1974: Parental leave allowed parents to divide the leave between them. Since 1974, Sweden has become the most generous country in the world providing the largest number of paid parental leave at child birth. This policy allows parents to share child care work, provide the mother with favorable conditions to have more time for economic activity. In addition, this policy helped reframe the concept of “masculinity” which means the father also has the duty of child care.    
  • 1979: Law was passed against gender-based discrimination in the field of employment.
  • 1980: The eldest child of the Monarchy is the first in line of succession, regardless of gender.
  • 1999: The purchase of sexual services was criminalized. In order to mitigate this social problem, Sweden issued a ban  penalizing purchasers of sexual services, while decriminalizing  sex workers. Under this law a woman selling sex is considered disadvantaged and vulnerable.  For a man buying sex, he will be fined, will have his name publicized in the community and he may be in jail for a maximum of four years. This is seen as an action for supporting gender equality in Sweden.
  • The 1970’s and 1980’s were important years for promotion of gender equality in Sweden. Women have the right for full employment. Previously, with the traditional model where the father was the breadwinner and the mother acted as caregiver, the spousal couple was considered an appropriate tax unit. Therefore, with the change in the model on distribution of labor between men and women, where both women and men can be breadwinners, tax payment focuses more on the model of individualism. Women are now encouraged to do work for pay and they will also pay less taxes than they did previously.  
  • Since 1974, fathers have had the right to 50% of the paid parental leave days to take care of their newborn children. Both parents together have the right to 180 paid parental leave days for their newborn children.
  • 1995: Daddy month was introduced, which means that fathers are entitled to 30 days of paid parental leave, but the days cannot be transferred to the mother, a second daddy month was introduced 2002. Today parents are given 480 days of leave per newborn child, which they are supposed to divide equally between each other.
  • 1979: The Act on Equality between Women and Men was issued, it “prohibits sex discrimination in the labor market and requires that all employers, whether in the public or private sector, actively promote equal opportunities for men and women at work”.

A Summary of the Work Towards Gender Equality

  • Emphasized individualism (man, woman, husband, wife) instead of family.
  • Men and women have equal roles; both have equal rights to employment and equal working conditions, but also there is emphasis on equal distribution of the unpaid work.
  • Implementation of policies contrary to old norms concerning gender roles
  • Equal access to education. The percentage of female students is 60%, and statistics has shown that girls are obtaining a higher level of educational than boys. However, when entering the labor market, women face the cultural barrier of gender discrimination deeply rooted in society, thus men are preferred by employers; women only earn from 60% to 86% of what men earn (this varies between different professions) and women are not yet appreciated in political positions.
  • Approximately 82% of women are working compared with 89% of men
  • 30% of the women work part-time, compared with 10% of the men because women stay home with their children most often.
  • Sweden has never had a female Prime minister

Remaining Challenges

Although Sweden as a country is fourth in the world in gender equality Swedish gender activists are aware that if they only focus on the previous “success” and comparing with other countries, they will forget the remaining challenges, which include:

  • Discrimination of employment and wages
  • Policies and implementations have not had full effect
  • Old norms about gender roles still dominating: power structures; the myth of the Swedish gender equal man
  • Violence against women  

Discussion

A discussion session followed the guest speaker’s lecture. The following questions were asked: 

  • Please explain further the paid parental leave for 480 days per newborn child.

This means that for every newborn child, the parents together are entitled to 480 days. The father has to take a minimum of 60 days of parental leave, and then the mother may take the remaining days left from the father, in case the father has not yet taken all his 240 days, the mother will take the reaming days up to a total of 420. If the father did not take his minimum of 60 days, he will lose his paid parental leave, and he cannot transfer them to the mother. These parental leave days are working days. The validity of these 480 days is fixed for a certain time period and cannot be used many years later

  • Why do employers still prefer male employees although the  females have a better education?

This is a social stereotype and also because people think that men are stronger and cleverer than women.

  • Has the criminalization of purchasing  sexual services mitigated prostitution in Sweden?

More than 70% of the Swedish people supported this policy and the policy has been quite effective in reducing prostitution in the country. One can see that in Stockholm there are presently approximately 200 prostitutes, while there were approximately 300 prior to the issuance of the ban. In Malmo (the third largest populated city in Sweden), the number of prostitutes decreased from 200 to 67. However, in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, prostitution is recognized by the government as employment.

  • Since a higher percentage of women than men are working  part-time jobs, will this affect the women’s future when they retire?

 Once women decide to choose part-time jobs their salaries are lower than that of men and at their retirement their pension also will be lower.

  • How is the division of assets handled between husband and wife in divorce?

 According to the current law, after the divorce, all assets (house, money in bank) is divided into two equal amounts for both husband and wife. If, before their marriage, they had signed  a contract separately mentioning the husband and wife’ s ownership of property, then property will not be divided

  • Is there any gender training for boys in Sweden,?

Boys learn from their parents how to do woman’s daily chores such as cooking and cleaning of the house. In Sweden, it is special to have a gender-neutral pronoun “hen” to call all children instead of “han” (he) and “hon,” (she), and there is no distinction in the color of clothing worn among children, for instance girls wearing pink shirts and  boys wearing blue ones. Gender awareness is introduced in education programs once the children are 12 years old.   

The pronoun, “hen,” allows us to refer to a person without including reference to a person’s gender. It replaces the Swedish words “han” and “hon,” which mean “he” and “she” respectively.

The pronoun “hen” (pronounced like the English word for chicken) first emerged as a suggestion from Swedish linguists back in the 1960s.

Swedish people believe that true equality cannot be reached without gender neutrality. As long as the distinction is made, they argue, it reaffirms differences between male and female and perpetuates stereotypes.

When it comes to gender neutrality, Sweden is one of the most progressive countries in the world. Sweden has the highest percentage of working women, clothing stores do not always have separate sections for male and female attire, and there is even a preschool dedicated to eliminating gender.

(According to Kevin Mathews - Care 2 Make a Difference)

  • What is your thinking about gender equality in Vietnam?

Although Vietnam is ranked 74th in the world, if one considers Vietnam in the context of South East Asia, Vietnam has been making numerous efforts towards a positive change in the relationship and in the distribution of labor among men and women. The strategy on gender equality implemented by the government provides favorable conditions in economics, culture and society. It is promising that in the future, Vietnam will make more progress towards gender equality.

Reported by Nguyen Hoang Anh Linh

Translated by Le Thi Hanh