Legislative and policy framework

Sweden’s Constitution seeks to combat discrimination, including on the grounds of gender in Article 2. In line with the Swedish Constitution, public institutions work to combat discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, national or ethnic origin, linguistic or religious affiliation, functional disability, sexual orientation, age, or any other individual circumstances (Article 2). [1] Legislation prohibiting gender-based discrimination in the labour market was adopted in 1997. The 1992 legislation on women’s and men’s equal rights in working life was replaced by the Discrimination Act in 2008. The purpose of this Act is to combat discrimination and promote equal rights and opportunities, using an intersectional approach, regardless of sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, or age.

The overall objective of Swedish gender equality policy (i.e. the national gender equality strategy) is to ensure that women and men have the same power to shape the country and their own lives. With this wider picture in mind, the government has six sub-goals, although there is no period indicated in the policy to achieve them or any associated targets.

Swedish gender equality policy sub-goals

  • Equal distribution of power and influence
  • Economic gender equality
  • Gender equality in education
  • An equal distribution of unpaid housework and provision of care work
  • Gender equality in health, care, and social services
  • Men’s violence against women must stop

The National Gender Equality Policy is the country's overall strategy for gender equality. Sweden has no national action plan on gender equality, as such. Rather, the 54 governmental agencies and 33 higher education institutions in the governmental developmental programmes for gender mainstreaming each have their own action plans, addressing specific gender equality issues depending on the sector and political areas. In 2020, 54 government agencies received a government assignment in their letters of regulation to form strategic action plans for their work related to gender mainstreaming from 2022 to 2025. In addition, in 2021, 33 state-funded higher education institutions received government requests to form strategic action plans for their work with gender mainstreaming for the years 2023 to 2025. The plans are to clarify how each governmental agency is to contribute to the gender equality policy goal and sub-goals in their specific areas. How the plans, and their focus areas, are designed varies by agency. However, their overall aim is to contribute to gender equality policy goals in their activities as well as in society.

Most action plans are not costed but financed through the agencies’ block grants. The action plans have goals but not targets that facilitate monitoring over time. The respective agencies report the progress of their work according to the plans in their annual reports to the government.

Gender mainstreaming is Sweden’s main strategy for achieving its gender equality policy objectives. Sweden has a history of gender equality legislation, with the first government bill solely focusing on gender equality in different spheres presented to the Parliament (Riksdag) in 1988 (Prop. 1987/88:105). Further, a Government Decision has been issued on gender mainstreaming. Decision A2021/01442 states that ‘Government offices shall integrate gender equality in its activities 2021-2025.’ It aims to incorporate gender into all aspects of policy and decision-making, including through the budget, law, and government control of agencies, EU and international work.


Governmental equality bodies

The governmental position with the highest responsibility for gender equality in Sweden is the Minister for Gender Equality and Labour. The Division for Gender Equality is one of two governmental bodies responsible for the promotion of gender equality. It is located within the Ministry of Labour which is headed by both the Minister for Labour and Gender Equality and Minister of Housing and Deputy Minister of Labour. [2]

The Division for Gender Equality Functions

  • Drafting gender equality policy for the government
  • Conducting gender-sensitive analysis of policies and legislation
  • Coordinating and/or implementing Government Decisions on gender equality as well as mainstreaming processes and methodologies, including gender budgeting
  • Integrating gender equality considerations in EU and international affairs
  • Publishing and disseminating gender equality-related information and training
  • Monitoring progress in achieving gender equality

Currently, the Division for Gender Equality employs 14 personnel who, as reflected in the scope of the Division, work exclusively on gender equality issues.

In addition, since January 2018, a second governmental body - the Gender Equality Agency - has been tasked with raising awareness of gender equality policy and gender mainstreaming, increasing coordination, contributing to knowledge and methods, and supporting implementation.

The overarching purpose of the Agency is to provide support and knowledge to reach the gender equality policy sub-goals. Moreover, all gender mainstreaming actions are guided by the objectives set out in the policy on gender equality The Gender Equality Agency currently has 104 employees.

By 31 March each year, the Gender Equality Agency must present, collect, and analyse the measures adopted by relevant government agencies and other actors, which are designed to reach the goals of Sweden’s gender equality policy. The expectation is that the Gender Equality Agency will ensure that the priorities in the government’s gender equality policy have an impact and contribute to more effective implementation of Swedish gender equality policy. Further, the Swedish Gender Equality Agency was commissioned to execute the ‘gender mainstreaming in Government Agencies’ (GMGA) programme. [3] The programme started in 2013 and now supports 60 agencies in their gender mainstreaming efforts. The Swedish Agency for Public Management was tasked with evaluating GMGA. The evaluation, presented in the second half of 2019, found that GMGA has contributed to more agencies carrying out extensive work, changing their working methods, achieving more results and consequently increasing gender equality among their target groups. [4]

In addition to the programme, gender mainstreaming is supported by an inter-ministerial working group on gender mainstreaming that meets quarterly. All 11 ministries have a gender equality coordinator in the working group, as does the Office of the Prime Minister.

In addition, Government Decision (A2021/01442) states that all employees have a responsibility for gender mainstreaming in their areas of expertise. Statistics Sweden does annual follow-ups on how well gender equality is integrated into the government’s offices. The 2020 results show that, for example, 100 % of the Official reports of the Swedish government, 96 % of the EU fact sheets, 82 % of the committee directives, and 70 % of the charts and diagrams in the budget bill mention gender equality.

Both the Division for Gender Equality and the Swedish Gender Equality Agency are part of a regular reporting system with the Swedish parliament for the promotion of gender equality in the country. In addition, the Minister for Gender Equality and Housing regularly informs and consults with the parliament. An official report is sent to the parliament through the Budget Bill [5] wherein the government reports on how its efforts have led to results related to the overall target for Swedish gender equality policies, including the sub-targets on power, influence, finances, education, work, men’s violence against women and physical integrity. Results on gender mainstreaming are also included in the Budget Bill.

Independent equality body

The Equality Ombudsman (DO) in Sweden is an independent government agency that works on behalf of the Swedish parliament and government to promote equal rights and opportunities and combat discrimination. [6] The mandate of the DO also encompasses transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, and age. The DO’s tasks are to influence, guide, and encourage employers, agencies, municipalities, and others to minimise discrimination. In general, the DO receives about 2 000 reports each year, around 200 of which result in supervision (i.e., they are investigated for their compliance with the Act on Discrimination).

The Equality Ombudsman (DO) Functions

  • Publishes and disseminates gender equality-related information and conducts training
  • Provides legal support for victims of discrimination on the grounds of sex or gender
  • Decides on complaints of discrimination on the grounds of sex
  • Conducts gender-sensitive analysis of policies and legislation
  • Coordinates and/or implements anti-discrimination (on grounds other than sex or gender) policies for the government

Government departments or ministries frequently consult the DO about new or existing policies, laws, or programmes, where the Ombudsman's involvement leads to the adjustment of policies or legislative instruments in up to 50 % of the cases. The recommendations made by the DO on reducing discrimination in the future are not legally binding, although they may result in a change; for example, removing a discriminatory rule or bringing in a new way of working to prevent discrimination. Currently, 104 personnel are employed at the office of the Equality Ombudsman.

Parliamentary body

The committee responsible for gender equality is the Labour Market Committee (Arbetsmarknadsutskottet). [7] However, the relevant committee regarding discussing gender equality law depends on the nature of the issue at hand as such issues can be presented to the Justice Committee, for example, particularly concerning questions regarding men’s violence against women.

Regional structure

Sweden has 20 county councils (landsting), which are self-governing local authorities and one of the principal administrative subdivisions. These county councils are governed by a county council assembly (landstingsfullmäktige), which is elected by county constituents every four years, in conjunction with general elections.

Each county has a county administrative board (länsstyrelse), a Swedish government agency that is responsible for government administration at the county level. Through ordinances, the government has assigned county administrative boards responsibility for developing county gender mainstreaming strategies for the period 2018-2020. [8] They have an important role to play as coordinators of regional action to prevent violence against women (by men), honour-related violence and oppression, prostitution and trafficking for sexual purposes, and protection of children subjected to violence. They are also important partners in the new Gender Equality Agency.

The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) (Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting) represents the government’s, professionals’, and employers’ interests vis-à-vis Sweden's 20 county councils/regions and 290 municipalities. [9] The SALAR adopted the European Charter for Equality of Men and Women in Local Life to actively promote gender equality in its capacities. By signing the charter, SALAR has adopted the strategy of gender mainstreaming.

Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions Functions[10]

  • Provide support to increase the number of women in the highest political positions
  • Promote gender equality in working life, including working conditions and wages
  • Contribute to the work against men’s violence towards women, and strengthen the focus on preventive measures in municipalities and county councils
  • Mainstream gender into municipal and regional decision-making and services

In numerous municipalities and county councils, the elected councils have also adopted the Charter, similarly undertaking to achieve gender equality in their operations.

Consultation with civil society

Consultation with civil society happens through a variety of means. One way is through hearings for reporting to the UN on progress in fulfilling articles of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As part of this process, there are formal hearings with many women's NGOs.

The NGOs are given the opportunity to reflect on the Swedish government’s shortcomings both orally to the State Undersecretary and/or to the Minister for Gender Equality and Labour, as well as the opportunity to submit written statements to the Swedish government. The Swedish government also regularly initiates specific councils with NGOs depending on the topic at hand, for example, men’s violence against women. The NGOs themselves also regularly request and are granted meetings with the Minister and/or the Undersecretary to discuss relevant issues.

In addition, the Government Offices of Sweden has an inter-ministerial working group for collaboration with civil society organisations. Meetings between the working group and civil society take place at least four times annually, coordinated by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs A national body for dialogue and consultation between the government and civil society (NOD), with 665 member organisations and 17 umbrella organisations meet regularly, as per a treaty signed in 2018. The NOD aims to help public actors and civil society to cooperate, and to provide relevant organisations with meeting points to support dialogue. The NOD is a resource for method development and the arranging of consultative meetings on specific societal issues. This national body is active in all areas of society, facilitating meetings and dialogues. The platform is also administrating long-term processes and dialogues. The government grants large funds annually to women’s rights NGOs with national and international operations.

Methods and tools

Note: the methods and tools listed under this section were the focus of EIGE's 2021 assessment. If certain methods and tools are not mentioned in this section, this does not necessarily mean that they are not used at all by Sweden.

Gender impact assessment

There is a legal obligation to undertake an ex-ante gender impact assessment when drafting legal instruments, policies, plans or programmes. [11] To avoid designing gender-neutral policies, but rather to construct gender-responsive policies, gender impact assessments are given utmost importance. [12] Also, to strengthen the effectiveness of gender-responsive budgeting, the Ministry of Finance introduced a formalised requirement in the budget circular to include a gender-equality impact assessment as part of all ministries' proposals put forward to the Ministry of Finance. The government has also reinforced support and capacity-building measures to improve practices in conducting gender-equality impact assessments. In addition, Government Decision A2021/01442, and Government Offices Decision A2021/01442 stipulate that a gender evaluation and assessment is required for all initiatives that originate from the government offices (i.e., bills, proposals, decisions, etc.).

Gender budgeting

There is a legal obligation to undertake gender budgeting for a ministerial budget or the budget of other governmental institutions. [13] The Swedish government implemented gender-responsive budgeting to incorporate a gender perspective at levels of the budgetary process, thus working towards achieving the government's gender equality objectives. Hence, the practice of gender budgeting is widely used in most ministries. The government provides a clear statement of gender-related objectives in respect of budgets and each proposal in the Budget Act is accompanied by a gender impact assessment. Data on gender equality budgetary allocations are published.

Training and awareness-raising

Government employees, including officials at the highest political level, employees of the government’s Gender Equality Unit and most employees in other ministries, participate in gender equality training on an ad-hoc basis. The training includes general sensitivity to gender issues, as well as specific training on gender mainstreaming, understanding, and performing gender impact assessments, and gender budgeting. The training takes up to four hours a year, except for the employees of the government’s gender equality body, who receive eight hours of training per year. However, the training is not compulsory.

Gender statistics

Since 1994, official statistics related to individuals must be disaggregated by sex unless there are special reasons for not doing so (Section 14 of the Official Statistics Ordinance, 2001). There are also national regulations on the quality and evaluation of official statistics. Statistics Sweden has certified its entire production of statistics according to the international standards of marketing, opinion and social research, ISO 20252. The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) collects and reports a wide range of statistics on their members' activities (including a number of these are disaggregated by gender).

The production of official statistics is decentralised, and several agencies produce relevant statistics within their different fields of expertise. Official statistics include only part of the statistics produced by government agencies. Several agencies currently have requirements related to sex-disaggregated statistics in their instructions, including for non-official statistics. For example, under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information), regulation SI 2017/172, in force from 6 April 2017, requires employers with more than 250 employees from the private and voluntary sector to collect and publish gender pay gap information.

Statistics Sweden has a specific unit in charge of promoting the production of sex-disaggregated data which has been active since 1983. Statistics Sweden has a webpage dedicated to gender statistics that includes a breakdown of statistics by population, health and social care, education and research, time use, parental insurance, unpaid work, income-generating employment, entrepreneurship, wages/salaries, income, influence and power, and crime (including violence against women). Data can be downloaded directly from the webpage in Excel format to facilitate the use of the data. There are also links to regular publications, including ‘Women and men in Sweden. Facts and Figures’ (På tal om kvinnor och män) which has been published bi-annually since 2006. [14] Similar measures have also been rolled out at regional and local levels.

Monitoring progress

Indicators for monitoring progress on institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming in the EU, under Area H of the Beijing Platform for Action

This section analyses the scores achieved by Sweden for data collection in 2021 for the four officially agreed-on indicators on institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming to monitor progress on Area H of the Beijing Platform for Action. It also analyses scores under an expanded measurement framework, which includes the role of independent gender equality bodies and assesses the effectiveness of efforts to disseminate statistics disaggregated by sex. Institutional mechanisms refer to national machineries that implement, monitor, evaluate, and mobilise support for policies that promote gender equality and gender mainstreaming. All indicators and sub-indicators are available on the Gender Statistics Database here, including metadata about how the scores are calculated.

For Indicator H1 on the status of commitment to the promotion of gender equality and taking into account only the governmental commitment in line with the officially adopted indicator, Sweden scored 8.0 out of a possible 12, above the EU average of 7.2. It lost 3.0, points out of a possible maximum of 5, on sub-indicator H1e on accountability of the governmental body because no national action plan is in place.

Under an expanded measurement framework, which includes sub-indicator H1f on the mandate and functions of the independent gender equality body, Sweden scored an additional 1.5 points, out of a possible 3. It lost 1.0 point because the mandate of the independent gender equality body is gender equality combined with other non-discrimination areas, rather than exclusively focused on gender equality. The overall score for the expanded H1 indicator was 8.5 out of possible 15, below the EU average of 9.1.

Indicator H2 analyses the personnel resources of the national gender equality bodies. For sub-indicator H2a, regarding the governmental body, Sweden scored the maximum of 2, along with three other Member States (DE, EL, ES), against an EU average of 1.0, because there were 100 or more employees working on gender equality in the governmental body. For sub-indicator H2b, regarding the independent body, Sweden scored 1.5 points, against the EU average of 0.8, because there were 25-100 employees working on gender equality in the independent body.  For both sub-indicators, the maximum 2 points was awarded where the number of employees was over 100 as an indication of the body being sufficiently resourced.

Indicator H3 relates to gender mainstreaming. Here, Sweden scored 10.5 out of a maximum possible 12, which was above the EU average of 5.1. Sweden scored uniquely highly on sub-indicator H3c regarding the commitment to and use of methods and tools for gender mainstreaming where it was the highest scoring Member State with 5.0 points out of a maximum of 6. It lost a point for government gender equality training provision which is conducted on an ad-hoc rather than regular basis.

Under an expanded measurement framework which includes sub-indicator H3d on consultation of the independent equality body, Sweden scored 11.0 points out of a maximum of 14, which was the second highest score received by any Member State and twice the EU average of 5.4. Under sub-indicator H3d Sweden scored 0.5 points because the independent gender equality body is only consulted by departments or ministries on the gender impact of new or existing policies in majority cases, and those consultations, but only leads to relevant adjustments in some cases.

For Indicator H4 on the production and dissemination of statistics disaggregated by sex, Sweden scored the maximum of 6 points. This was almost twice the EU average of 3.4. The high score is because Sweden has measures in place, including a legal obligation in place on the national statistical office to collect statistics disaggregated by sex and the national statistical office has a section of its website dedicated to gender statistics which facilitates effective dissemination.