This article is a counter to this piece on BBC about women’s equality in Sweden. Feel free to read the two in either order, but know that the below piece is as factually correct as that on BBC. In other words, this isn’t made up (except from some of the names, which were fictionalized to demonstrate). Keep that in mind as you read.
Is Sweden the best place to be a man?
By Ayami Tyndall
Not a Swedish journalist
Is Sweden really one of the best places to be a man? That is the view of many men outside Sweden, as well as some of us who live here. But is it a myth or a reality?
Let’s face it, we are no longer topping the charts as we used to, when it comes to gender equality. Sweden has gone from the first position to fourth, according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index.
Nevertheless, we do stay in the top cluster with the other Nordic countries Iceland, Finland, and Norway.
However, Sweden still has a long way to go.
The latest edition of the report from Statistics Sweden, Women and Men in Sweden: Facts and figures, hints at various areas of concerns.
Both in education and in the labour market, the genders are not equally represented.
Men made up just 35% of higher education graduates in 2008/2009.
Swedish men still work more hours per week on average than women. And among those employed, 22% more men work full-time than women because society still expects men to be the primary breadwinner in a relationship and because many women still struggle with the idea of an at-home partner.
Shall I go on?
In Sweden both men and women are entitled to 480 days of parental leave but the latest Daddy Index, published by the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO), a trade union umbrella group, shows that men use only one fifth of their allowance.
Recent studies in other European countries indicate that most men who do not take paternity leave wish to do so, but various social and employment constraints keep them from doing so.
The move towards both men and women have the chance to take equal parental leave is at a snail’s pace.
I can hear the incredulous gasps from men around the world who are not entitled to such generous parental allowance systems. So, yes, I accept that compared to other parts of the world, the parental allowance system does make Sweden a good country in which to be a man.
As does the government’s decision, taken in 1972, to make equal opportunities between the sexes a central political issue.
However, sometimes that policy can get twisted. The Danish sociology professor Gosta Esping-Anderson once wrote: “In Sweden, maximum female labour-force participation is a principle of social policy.” It is important to keep the focus on equal opportunity, not equal outcome.
In Sweden, society makes it possible for each and everyone to earn his or her own living.
Well-built systems of child care and geriatric care, gender-neutral parental insurance, generous school opening hours and – not the least – individual taxation, have all contributed to this.
And yes, Sweden does have one of the highest employment rates in the world for women. But if you bring out the magnifying glass, you’ll see that many women are working part-time in jobs which do not contribute greatly to the national or family economy.
According to the Statistics Sweden report, among blue-collar workers, the majority of full-time workers are men and men also take less sick leave than their female counterparts in every age category.
Earning loads on men increase even more when they choose to have children.
This reliance on fathers earning stops men from fully participating in their families.
There is an on-going discussion about how at home differences between the sexes can be counterbalanced by equal opportunities in the work force.
Swedish men – like men around the world – are often still blocked from playing a lead role on the family stage.
So, how to make gender equality work at home?
The government is already providing some tax relief to households for using services for cleaning, laundry and gardening, but should it do more?
Should the government provide more child care?
Or should it allocate parental leave equally between the father and mother and force them to use it?
The debate on this issue is intense in Sweden.
Gordan Skiiman, leader of the Masculist Initiative party, claims that there is a political unwillingness in Sweden to see this debate in a wider societal context.
He wants politicians to see this imbalance as a profound societal conflict, which is the result of the power structure that has to be fought and corrected, just like human rights’ violations.
The mascuist political philosopher Sean Mauler Pokin once said that a fair society is a society in which men and women participate in more or less equal numbers in every sphere of life.
I would say that equality between the sexes should be the benchmark by which a society is judged as a good or bad place.
And in that sense I suppose you could say that Sweden is a fairly good place to be a man.
But more needs to be done. It’s still an unfinished business.
There you have it. All factually true, based off the same studies used by BBC, but with a different viewpoint. Is it fair to blame women for not working and earning as much as men, as I have written about here? Is it fair to blame men for not doing as much at home as women, as BBC has done in their piece?
Who is really at fault?