Equality is something we all wish for, it may not impact you directly, but I am certain there isn’t a human being on this earth that has not dealt with some form of inequality, whether directly or indirectly. Striving for equality among the human race is essential to progression. Sweden is a country that values equality, in matters of gender, sexual orientation, and race.
Sweden has gone to great lengths for gender equality. The principle is that everyone, regardless of gender has the right to work and receive pay that will support themselves, a balance between career and family life, and freedom from abuse and violence. In the Global Gender Gap Report which was introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006, measures equality in education, health, economics and politics. This annual report has has ranked Sweden fourth or better in all the years since it has been published.
Gender equality is strongly emphasized in the education system starting as early as preschool, becoming second nature to children as they grow up in society and ensuring equal rights for girls and boys as they progress through school. It is also not uncommon to see the men with the strollers instead of women, walking through town or in their neighborhoods. Parental leave is not only paid but offered to both parents. Parents will receive about 16 months paid leave to be shared. While the majority of the time is still taken by women, about one fourth of the leave is taken by the father, allowing for bonding time by both parents. Measures have also been taken in the workplace, while there are still improvements to be made, it is a work in progress. The Discrimination Act has two main sections, one states that employers must actively set goals to promote equality. And second, the act prohibits discrimination and requires employers to investigate and take preventive action against any workplace harassment. There are many more examples of what Sweden is doing to enforce gender equality, and it is evident that this is widely accepted and embraced here.
Rights for LBGT Community
The LBGT rights in Sweden have been regarded as some of the most progressive in all of Europe. Additionally, Sweden is one of the most “gay-friendly” countries in the world. It seems unfathomable that there was a time when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness, Sweden declassified this designation back in 1979. Any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned since 1987. In 1995 laws were passed allowing same-sex couples to register for partnership benefits, and in 2009 Sweden became the 7th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage country-wide. In 2003, same-sex couples were able to adopt children, and in 2005 lesbian couples have equal access and rights to IVF/assisted insemination. According to a recent poll of Swedes, the majority shows support and acceptance of LBGT rights.
While these are all great steps forward, there is always room for improvement. As you can see in the above statistics the government has made continual steps towards equal rights, dating back to the 70’s, which is far more progressive then many countries. Swedes also have confidence in their government, and with any discrimination being illegal they feel confident that if they feel discriminated against, they can turn to the Equality Ombudsman, a government agency that works against all kinds of discrimination. It is the continuous effort for improvement and equality that makes Sweden one of the most gay-friendly countries. After-all who doesn’t want to live in a country where the people and the government support you?
Recently I have, as I am sure we all have, been inundated with news on “race issues” in Sweden due to the influx of immigrants from all over the world. This has not been my experience, in fact quite the opposite. Upon walking through the city of Malmö you have so much culture to take in. From different food vendors and shops, to diversity in the families, couples, kids, walking around enjoying a day in the city or working in a local restaurant or shop. This diversity is true whether you are in the city, or walking through the neighborhood communities. Sweden has embraced the rich cultural differences brought by recent immigrants, and does not want race to be viewed as a dividing factor. In fact, Sweden is making motions to remove the mention of race from any laws.
Erik Ullenhag, previous Minister for Integration said in an interview with Sveriges Television after announcing his plans, “We know that there aren’t really different human races. We also know that the fundamental grounds of racism are based on the belief that there are different races, and that belonging to a race makes people behave in a certain way, and that some races are superior to others.” This way of thinking is breaking down the walls that says race separates us. That said, it would be foolish to say that there is no racism, of course there is, as there is all throughout the world. The Swedish government simply believes that laws and legislation should not imply there are different races. Even the quote by Ullenhag, was met with some controversy, as not all are in line with his beliefs. It comes down to this, there are many different ethnicities now living in Sweden, and my observations are that the majority of Swedes are very excepting and welcoming, regardless of ethnic backgrounds. Additionally the government wants to break down the barriers that says we are divided by race by removing these terms from legislation.
Every human being, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic background should have equal rights wherever we live in this world. In the major areas that separate us as humans, Sweden is taking measures to close this gap, continuously taking steps forward.