Perspectives on Sexual Equality in Sweden

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1990.tb01813.x
Published date01 May 1990
Date01 May 1990
THE
MODERN
LAW
REVIEW
Volume
53
May
1990
No.
3
Perspectives on Sexual Equality in Sweden
David
Bradley"
The strong emphasis placed on a broad concept
of
sexual equality has been a prominent
feature
of
social democratic collectivism
in
Sweden. This article considers the evolution
of
policy aimed at reducing inequality between the sexes in the context of a broad range
of
initiatives which demonstrate the egalitarian ethos of contemporary Swedish social policy.
The professed objective of these initiatives has been the general development
of
a more
equal society, not merely the modification of sexual inequality. From one perspective they
have
been seen as marking
the
transition in Sweden from political and social democracy
to industrial and economic democracy.
Sexual equality has not been attained in Sweden. Reference
is
made in this article to
the limits
of
what has been achieved to date, and to recent initiatives of the Swedish
government in this field.
In
addition, attention is drawn to mechanisms which have been
seen as perpetuating inequality.
In
particular, consideration is given to the interdependence
and tension between the promotion
of
sexual equality and wider aspects of equality, including
inequality
of
wealth and class inequality in Swedish society.
Equality and Social Democracy
An emphasis on equality is a pervasive feature of social and economic policy in Sweden.
A
manifestation of this ethos is the view that education should be:
based on the dignity of
all
human beings. At the same time there is an awareness
of
the existence
of
differences between individuals and between groups, owing to differences
of
social, economic
and cultural background. Schools must actively counteract differences of this kind.
I
So
also:
the term social welfare policy
.
. .
refers to various measures aimed at leveling out the differences
in people's economic, political and social resources. These resources not only determine people's
current living conditions, but are also important in determining their chances
of
changing these
conditions
. . .
The public sector has to take into account the social welfare ramifications
of
all its decisions
.
.
.
it must try to achieve greater equality in people's living conditions.*
*London School of Economics and Political Science.
I
am very grateful for co-operation and assistance from many individuals and organisations in Sweden, and
for the easy access
to
information. Errors and opinions are mine.
1
Y.
Ericsoon
&
R.
Jacobson
Side
by
Side. Repon
to
Third
UN
Wornens Conference.
(Stockholm, Gotab.
1985) p36.
2
M.
Forsberg
The Evolution
of
Social Welfare Policy in Sweden
(Stockholm, Swedish, Institute. 1984) p5.
The Modern
Law
Review
53:3
May 1990 0026-7961
283
me Modem Law Review
[Vol.
53
Both these prescriptions can be applied specifically to the promotion of sexual equality.
But they also indicate a more general concern with eradicating other aspects of inequality
in Swedish society, and the means by which this objective has been pursued.
A
commitment
to equality of opportunity is apparent from policies such as the opposition to educational
selection. This has been intended to assist children from poorer families, or those lacking
an educational background. Moreover, beyond the establishment of formal equality of
opportunity, there has been a preoccupation with equality of result which can be traced
back to the rise of labour unions and earlier traditions in the Nordic co~ntries.~
Promoting equality through the welfare state has been a high priority in the Nordic
regi~n,~ and income transfers have been financed by high taxation. In addition, Swedish
labour market policy, superimposed on the social security system, has been a practical
means of advancing equality.6 The maintenance of full employment, reinforced by
expansion
of
the public sector, has been a cornerstone of contemporary political
programmes. Swedish trade unions have operated a wage solidarity policy in collective
bargaining aimed at the reduction of income differentials. The strong ties between unions
and the Social Democratic Party are apparent in the latter’s support for wage solidarity
in its labour market p01icy.~ Parity in private and public sector incomes has also been
an objective. The consequences of wage solidarity and maintenance of this policy were
elements, alongside social control of investment and broader ownership of capital, in
controversial proposals formulated in the
1970s
for wage-earner funds.* Laws providing
for security of employment, protection
of
union officials and worker participation in
corporate decisions were also enacted at this time.9
Wageearner funds and a more egalitarian power structure in industrial relations involved
the pursuit of industrial and economic democracy
-
a third stage after political and social
democracy in Sweden.l0 Swedish political institutions have also been modified in the
interests of a more egalitarian society: immigrants who are foreign nationals, but satisfy
a residence qualification, are entitled to vote in municipal and regional elections.”
Finally, reforms of domestic relations law demonstrate the modification of traditional,
divisive moral conventions.
l2
This persistent emphasis on equality has been an indispensable feature of Social
Democratic Party policy in Sweden, and in the ideology of Swedish social democracy.
It is
an
ideology which has had a favourable environment in which to operate. Alva Myrdal’s
comment was that
if
democracy could not develop successfully in Scandinavia with its
advantageous conditions, it would probably not work anywhere.
l3
An
insistance on equity
has broadened into the pursuit of equality and, it
has
been suggested, has now been instilled
in the social fabric.I4 However, although equity and equality have been described as
3
See
F.
Fleisher
7he New Sweden
(New York, McKay. 1967) p324;
F.
Parkin
Chs
Inequality
and
Political
4 See Einhorn
&
Logue ‘The Scandinavian Democratic Model’ (1986)
9
Scandinavian Political Studies
5
See
B.R. Andersen
Two
Essays
on
the Nordic Werfare State
(Copenhagen, Amtskommuemes og
6
See
H.
Ginsburg
Full Employment and Public Policy
(Lexington Mass, Lexington Books. 1983) p122.
7
See
H. Milner
Swedish Social Democracy
in
Practice
(Oxford, Oxford UP. 1989) p107; H.
Heclo
&
8
See
W.E. Paterson
&
A.H. Thomas,
The Future
of
Social Democracy.
(Clarendon, Oxford. 1986) p200.
9
See
Milner
op
cir
note 7, pp138, 146.
10
See
Einhorn
et a1 op cit
note 4, p197; N. Elvander
Scandinavian Social Democracy: Its Strengths
and
Weakness.
(Acta Universitatis Uppsaliensis, Uppsala. 1979) p20.
11
See
T. Hammar
Immigrant Voting Rights and Electoral Turnout.
(Stockholm, Swedish Institute, 1985).
12
See
Bradley ‘Radical Principles and the Legal Institution of Marriage.’
International Journal
of
Low and
the Family,
(forthcoming).
13
See
A. Myrdal
Nation and Family
(New York, Harper. 1941) p15.
14 See Milner,
op
cit
note 7, p67.
Order
(London, Granada. 1971) p113.
193-208, p203.
kommuernes forskningsinstitute. 1983) p23.
H. Madsen
Policy and Politics in Sweden
(Philadelphia, Temple UP. 1987) pl17.
284

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