In the gender equality stakes, Sweden is rated highly. But some Swedes feel it’s being taken to extremes. It has the highest proportion of working women in the world and some two-thirds of university degrees are earned by women. New mothers and fathers both get generous parental leave.
Gender role neutrality initiatives, however, some feel are being exaggerated.
There’s a politician who proposed that men should be required by law to urinate in a sitting position – partly because it leaves toilets cleaner and promotes prostate health, partly as an appeal for reason.
That politician, Viggo Hansen, told us: “When my son was in kindergarten, they tried to force him to pee standing up, when we had taught him to pee sitting down. When the school let him sit down to pee, there was no problem. I had read about a school in Norway that officially banned boys’ stand-up peeing. Lots of people’s reaction was that was taking away boys’ right to be boys.”
Ann Helena Rudberg joined the feminist movement in the 1970s, to fight for women’s rights because she saw her mother suffer violence at home. Today she argues women have equal rights and that feminist political parties are taking things too far.
Rudberg said: “It’s a power struggle between men and women. And the effect of that is that on one side we have women and on the other side men. And this is not good for the children or for anyone.”
At a school in Stockholm named ‘Egalia’, teaching gender equality is a priority. Boys and girls are encouraged not to be limited by stereotypical roles or games. And since last year, there is a new word in the Swedish dictionary: “hen”, which is a neutral pronoun for “he” or “she”. Not everyone agrees about that.
School director Lotta Rajalin said: “They think we are going to change girls to boys and boys to girls and that’s of course not what we are doing. We like to give every human being the same rights, the same possibilities, the same responsibilities. And that is a question of democracy.”
Some critics say Sweden’s government is taking a feminist agenda to an almost radical level. Others who also take International Women’s Day seriously say the fight for gender equality is far from over.