Andrew MitchellFCO Director for 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, London
Guest blogger: Mette Kahlin, Political Attaché in Stockholm
Today is International Women's Day. The day was first marked in 1911. Men and women attended rallies calling for women to be allowed to vote, hold public office, and enjoy equal opportunities in the workforce. The world has moved forward significantly since then, but it is still a day that gives us much to think about.
Compared to many countries, Sweden has made considerable progress towards gender equality. Men and women are almost equally represented in the Swedish parliament and government, and in the Swedish job market. Fathers are taking an increased share of parental leave (from 0.5 % in 1974 when introduced, to 12.4% in 2000 and up to 22.3 % in the latest released figures from 2009).
Sweden is a country the UK can learn from when it comes to gender equality, and particularly when it comes to parental leave. The British Government recently announced that it will implement a new system of parental leave as of this April. It will allow mothers and fathers more flexibility to share time off after a baby's birth. The proposed system of parental leave mirrors the system in place in Sweden in many ways.
A policy aimed at allowing men to stay at home with their child is, of course, beneficial for men in many ways, but equally so for women, as well as society as a whole. The economy and future growth depend on women’s participation in the labour market. The combination of an ageing workforce and a more skill-dependent economy means that countries will have to make better use of their female populations. But the UK acknowledges that a more equal share of parental leave won’t solve everything. It will therefore be holding a consultation in the next couple of weeks that will look at extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. This is another policy aimed at encouraging more women into the workplace.
Much more remains to be done before there is full gender equality within the labour market, not only in the UK but also in Sweden. Gender discrimination in both markets can be seen in different pay rates within male and female-dominated professions, different hiring and promotion prospects, and unequal sharing of responsibility for home and family.
Despite Sweden being ahead of the UK in many ways, International Women’s Day is still a day worthy of consideration in both countries.