Magdalena Andersson’s appointment marks another milestone for women in politics, but there is still much to do.
Birgitta Ohlsson directs political parties at National Institute of Democracy. He was Minister of European Union Affairs for Sweden from 2014-2018, and Member of European Parliament from 2002-2018.
My four-year old daughter Stella said to me, “You can’t become a prime minister if you’re a minister when you were working in the Swedish government.”
While I was still pregnant with her, I was elected Minister of European Affairs and Democracy of Sweden. This caused quite a stir. Conservative politicians and experts said that I was “irresponsible”, as though being pregnant with her made me ineligible to be in government. They took inspiration from the patriarchal script, and signaled loudly that women should not be too ambitious or professional.
Despite the protests of the chattering men, the Swedish public supported me. When I was asked how I could have a career and be a mother, I replied, “I am married not to a dinosaur, but to a modern man.”
Now, 11 years later—that is, 100 years after our parliament decided to introduce universal suffrage and equal voting rights—Sweden has finally elected its first female prime minister, Magdalena Anderson, the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Harvard Education. Anderson was appointed Treasury secretary in 2014 and had to resign within eight hours. The Green Party decided to leave her alliance. Anderson is back in power, with the support from the party that supported her first, and is planning to form a new coalition government.
How did Sweden, a world champion of gender equality, overcome this political wall? Why is Sweden the last country of Northern Europe to grant women the right and power to vote in the country’s leadership?
Finland has three female prime minsters and one President, while Denmark and Norway have two each, while Iceland has two prime minsters and one president-Vigdis Fibergadotier, who is the first female president in the world.
Sweden’s relatively slow path to a female prime minister—despite progress in its social customs and feminist government, with women accounting for 47.5% of parliament, 54.5% of government ministers, and approximately 43% of city councillors—highlights some barriers to deter and discourage women Participate fully in politics around the world.
On the one hand, Sweden’s main political parties are rarely led by women. Throughout Sweden’s modern history, the Social Democrats and Moderate Parties, which have often held the post of prime minister, have very few female leaders. This has not changed over the past ten year. Just like other countries, women in Swedish politics must face double standards. If you do this, you are damned. But if you don’t imagine, damn.
It is often the party that creates the barriers to entry when it comes down to meaningful representatives. My work at the National Institute of Democracy promotes comprehensive gender equality through projects that are carried out in over 70 countries and regions around the globe. We see many common barriers faced by women, regardless of whether they are institutional restrictions or obstacles. Opportunities for women to participate in politics; social culture, which discriminates based on gender social norms that support women’s inequality; or individuals, shaped by their own confidence, abilities, and relationships—resources needed to effectively participate in political fields that women usually lack.