Alongside the other activities of the Swedish Gender Equality Agency, we are monitoring and analysing the development and consequences of the new coronavirus and Covid-19. As well as establishing the impact on the economy, the climate and mental health, it is also important to understand what it means for gender equality. We are therefore assessing the consequences of recent developments for women and men.
The situation is new and events are moving quickly. All assessments carry a degree of uncertainty since statistical data is often lacking. What we can see is that the pandemic and the measures that the government is taking are affecting all six of the areas covered by Sweden’s gender equality sub-goals. Below are our comments on what this means for gender equality, based on the knowledge we have at this time.
Prostitution and human trafficking are complex issues and the need for cooperation and victim support is large. In 2009, the Swedish government therefore commissioned the County Administrative Board of Stockholm to coordinate and strengthen the Swedish work in the area. The National Task Force against Prostitution and Human Trafficking (NMT) was started within the framework of this assignment.
NMT consists of government agencies that work against prostitution and human trafficking and serves as a strategic and operative resource for the development of the coordination of government agencies and NGOs. The goal is to prevent prostitution and trafficking for all purposes in Sweden. An important part of the work is to improve the protection of victims and increase the prosecution of perpetrators. To read more about the support, go to NMT:s webpage (opens in new window).
A special support structure designed to assist the government agencies in their work with prostitution and trafficking has been developed within the framework of NMT. The support structure includes a telephone helpline, a re-migration programme (operated in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, a UN body) and a number of regional coordinators against prostitution and trafficking who offer victim support. NMT also offers support and training for municipalities, government agencies and NGOs.
The Swedish Gender Equality Agency is responsible for coordination
On 1 January 2018, the coordination task was transferred from the County Administrative Board of Stockholm to the Swedish Gender Equality Agency. The transfer also included the responsibility for the work carried out within the framework of NMT.
Human trafficking for sexual purposes is considered one of the worst forms of men’s violence against women. Human trafficking occurs in many forms, and girls, women, boys and men fall victim to this type of crime in several different ways in Sweden.
The Swedish Gender Equality Agency has the authority to work against all forms of human trafficking. The work against human trafficking for the removal of body organs, military service, forced labour or other activities that imply an emergency for the victim (for example exploitation through forced begging, criminal activity etc.) will fall within the coordinative responsibility of the Swedish Gender Equality Agency.
Two factors are emphasised in the strategy: the importance of preventive measures and men’s participation and responsibility in the work against violence. But it also stresses the need for stronger protection for abused women and children, more effective law enforcement and improved knowledge, approaches and methods. The national strategy also prescribes efforts to combat violence in same-sex relationships, prostitution, sex trafficking, honour-related violations and destructive masculinities.
A successful outcome of the work will require improved coordination among relevant actors in society. The Swedish Gender Equality Agency will spread awareness about the strategy, increase the coordination and contribute knowledge, methods and support in the implementation.
For the work to have an impact and in order to reach the national gender equality goals, the organisation must systematically highlight and analyse the impacts of various proposals and decisions for women and men, respectively. The resulting knowledge shall in a next stage inform the design of the planning, implementation, follow-up and development at all levels of all public operations.
A general strategy
Thus, gender mainstreaming does not refer to a single method but rather to a general strategy aimed to structure the gender equality work. A multitude of methods can be used within the framework of the strategy; read more about them at includegender.org.
The same strategy is used in many other countries and was adopted by the United Nations already in 1995. People’s right to gender equality had already been recognised in Swedish law for a while at that point, but following the gender mainstreaming decision, it became integrated into the regular and daily work in all policy areas. Gender equality was identified as an overarching perspective and all ministers were instructed to promote it in their respective policy areas.
To strengthen the gender mainstreaming work in municipalities, county councils, regions, county administrative boards, academia and other public domains, the Swedish government has in recent years handed out various assignments to gather experiences and develop knowledge and methods for the ongoing gender equality work.
In Sweden, the term gender equality became established when the issue of legislation against gender discrimination entered the political debate in the early 1970s.
Sweden’s first gender equality law was passed in 1979, mandating equality between women and men in the labour market.
An ambition to increase the gender equality in society is an ambition to give all people an opportunity to shape their own lives without being limited by gender stereotypes. The overarching goal of the gender equality policy is that women and men are to have the same power to shape society and their own lives.
More than gender equal distributions
Gender equality is not a simple matter of achieving equal gender distributions in various contexts; it also refers to attitudes, norms, values and ideals that affect the lives of women and men in the many areas of society. The work to improve gender equality is therefore carried out with two different focuses, where one helps us to create a clear picture of different situations and conditions using measurable factors, while the other problematises and examines what norms and values generate the reported figures.
Neither women nor men constitute homogeneous groups. People’s opportunities in life are also affected by the socioeconomic groups they belong to, where in the country they live, their ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, ableness and other factors. As a result, an important task in gender equality work is to consider how all of these categories interact with and influence each other. Only then is it possible to understand how various causes of inequality and discrimination may lead to differing conditions for groups or individuals – an understanding that is needed in order to design appropriate interventions.