Efforts for gender equality are prioritised - excerpt from the Budget Statement

Here you can read about the Government’s gender equality policy – excerpt from the Budget Statement.

Economic policy is crucial for women’s living conditions. How it is shaped, how resources are distributed and what is considered important and is prioritised has a major effect on women’s lives and conditions. Sweden’s government is a feminist government. The overall objective of the Government’s gender equality policy is equal power for women and men to shape society and their own lives. Gender equality is ultimately a question of justice and democracy. At the same time, gender equality is also important for jobs and growth. To safeguard jobs, all skills must be put to good use on the labour market and women’s employment rate and working hours must increase. The equal worth of all people is one of the fundamental principles of the Government’s policy.

A feminist government is not content to merely analyse the consequences of its political decisions – it carries out the analysis before decisions are taken, to ensure that decisions are taken with the gender equality perspective in mind. This also leads to more effective actions. In view of this fact, the Government has begun work on gender-responsive budgeting (see the  box entitled ‘Gender-responsive budgeting’ for more details). Economic policy is to be used to increase economic equality and help increase gender equality in society.

One clear expression of the lack of gender equality in society is the persistently large income disparities between women and men. In 2014, women’s incomes were more than 13 per cent lower than men’s incomes, if all women and men had worked full-time. However, a much larger proportion of women than men work part-time, which means that the difference in actual earned incomes between women and men is approximately 25 per cent.

Women’s work is valued less than men’s work. Sectors dominated by women often have lower income levels. Income disparities between women and men can also be explained by gender segregation on the labour market and the fact that the equalising effect of the welfare systems has declined. The use of parental benefit days is currently unevenly distributed. The objective is completely gender-equal sharing of parental benefit days. This is important for tackling women’s less favourable working conditions and lower incomes. The education and labour market authorities also have an important task in promoting work in professions outside traditional gender roles. The Swedish Public Employment Service has therefore been assigned the task of tailoring its activities to promote gender equality and combat gender divisions in the labour market.

It is also important to eliminate unjustified gender pay differentials. Reintroducing the requirement of annual pay surveys is an urgently needed action. Social partners’ responsibility for wage formation is a cornerstone of the Swedish model. It is important that wage formation leads to closing the gap between women’s and men’s incomes.

Another expression of inequality in working life is that women are under-represented at the very top of the business world. Although the predominance of men on the boards of listed companies has dropped since the early 2000s, women only made up 29 per cent of board members in these companies in June 2015. The Government’s objective is that the proportion of women on the boards of listed companies should be at least 40 per cent by 2016. If this aim is not achieved, the Government will propose legislation on quotas.

A more even distribution of unpaid housework and care work is crucial for achieving the objective of economic equality. Women often taken greater responsibility for care of relatives and children. Many women reduce their working hours to do so. According to Statistics Sweden’s labour force survey, 170 000 people, mostly women, work part-time to take care of children and/or an adult relative. To achieve a more even distribution of parental benefit days, the Government has submitted a proposal to the Riksdag to introduce a third reserved month of parental insurance for each parent. Currently, two months of the parental insurance are earmarked for each parent, and cannot be transferred to the other parent. The Government wants to see a more gender-equal division of parental benefits days, and a third earmarked month will be proposed to promote gender-equal parenting. Gender-equal parenting is important in terms of a child’s right to both parents, but it also contributes to increased gender equality in the labour market. In addition, the Government wants to review the parental insurance system as a whole. The Government has also announced funding for increased staffing levels in elderly care and targeted resources to stimulate access to childcare during unsocial working hours.

Single parents, particularly women, often have weaker finances than parents who live together. The Government has therefore raised the national maintenance support that is paid to single parents who do not receive child support from the other parent. The Government also proposes to raise the basic level of parental benefit, which would mean a higher amount of parental benefit for people on very low or no incomes. The Government has also submitted proposals to abolish the municipal child-raising allowance, as it tends to counteract economic equality between women and men. The child-raising allowance is a cash payment that municipalities can give to parents with children aged 1–3 years, if the parent stays at home with the child instead of the child going to preschool. More than 90 per cent of the parents who receive the child-raising allowance are women.

Men’s violence against women is one of the ultimate expressions of inequality between women and men. This violence must stop. Preventing and combating violence and other abuse against women is a top priority for this Government. As announced in the Spring Fiscal Policy Bill, the Government therefore proposes that funds be allocated to non-profit women’s and girls’ refuges.

In the area of health and medical care, unacceptable differences between women and men persist. Illnesses that affect women more than men tend to be less prioritised in the health care system. In light of this, the Government proposes several investment initiatives in women’s health. The Government is proposing further reinforcement in this area through a targeted primary care initiative for women’s health, and free mammography screening. To safeguard young women’s right to their own sexuality without unwanted pregnancies, the Government also proposes that contraception that comes under the pharmaceutical reimbursement system be offered free of charge to people under the age of 21 (see Section 1.6).

The Government intends to conduct a survey of the work environment and working conditions in the household services sector, in response to reports of shortcomings in the work environment in this sector.

Gender-responsive budgeting

Sweden has a feminist government that works to achieve gender equality between women and men at all levels of society. The budget process and the Budget Bill are of key importance in realising the Government’s policy and it is therefore important that budget work is conducted in a way that includes the effects and consequences for gender equality when taking decisions on the direction and distribution of resources.

Gender-responsive budgeting means that choices of priorities, direction and allocation of resources should as far as possible promote gender equality and make a tangible difference in people’s daily lives in the short or long term. It is a matter of justice, but it is also an important prerequisite for economic growth, the development of the labour market and welfare.

To produce a central government budget that contributes to gender equality, this perspective must be included at the earliest possible stage, and in all areas of the budget process.

Since the 1990s, gender mainstreaming has been the central policy strategy for achieving a gender-equal society. This means that a gender perspective is to be included in all policies at all levels and at all stages, by the actors normally involved in policy-making. Gender-responsive budgeting is the application of the principle of gender mainstreaming in the budget process. This means evaluating budget policy gender equality effects, integrating the gender equality perspective at all levels of the budget process, and redistributing revenue and expenditure to promote gender equality. There can be a variety of solutions to the challenges and problems facing society. Gender-responsive budgeting makes gender equality an active part in resolving problems, and, if necessary, investigating alternative solutions, so as to ultimately choose the alternative that best contributes to equality between women and men.

Development work is under way at the Government Offices to strengthen gender-responsive budgeting efforts. In spring 2015, the focus was on methods development and implementation of gender analyses, which formed part of the decision-making data for the reforms presented in the Budget Bill. The Government has also set new goals on how gender equality is to progress in key areas, and indicators to follow up this progress. Work is progressing on developing guidelines for how gender analyses should be carried out and included so as to better integrate gender-responsive budgeting in the ordinary budget process.

With the aim of maintaining serious, knowledge-based development work, the Government is allocating resources specifically to evaluating and developing efforts on gender mainstreaming and gender-responsive budgeting from 2016. The conclusions and analyses that emerge in the evaluations will be fed back into and put to use in the work being conducted in the Government Offices and government agencies. The aim is for efforts now being made to develop work on gender mainstreaming to lead to clear progress on gender equality.