Gender, Sexuality, and Equality: A Swedish Perspective

In Sweden, a couple who just welcomed their new son or daughter into the world does not have to worry about maternity or paternity leave. As Swedish citizens, both parents have a combined 480 days of paid parental leave that can be used up until their child is 6 years old, and after that, childcare and education is free. 

In 1972, Sweden was the first country in the world to allow for legal gender change and recognition. Sex education is a mandatory part of a child’s education, and the biology of the reproductive organs is presented to children starting at a very young age. Gender-neutrality is becoming more accepted in Sweden, as they have adapted a new pronoun into their language to help those who are non-gender conforming to have a word that better represents their identity.

In Stockholm, the city I spent a good chunk of my summer, I was never afraid to be out at night or to take public transportation on my own. I never had to worry about cat-calls or stares from strangers. 

From this description, Sweden seems to be a progressive paradise of acceptance and gender equality. But even Sweden isn’t perfect. Although the parental leave is extremely helpful to many people, the policy just isn’t as intersectional as it could be-- completely leaving out transgender and same-sex couples. Also, the free education comes from high tax rates which some argue make it less appealing.

Although Sweden was the first country to permit legal gender changes, they had extremely restrictive and strict rules for those looking to change their gender. The Swedish government forced anyone looking to legally change their gender to be sterilized, and this was mandated until 2013. Sweden continues to hold restrictive rules and is falling behind both Norway and Denmark who both let people change their gender based on self-determination, not by being “diagnosed”. And although Sweden is known for their openness to all sexualities and identities, they again fall behind their Scandinavian counterparts who allow for “X” to be the gender markers on official documents like passports, a move that Sweden has yet to take.

(Photo Courtesy of Sweden.se)

Although Sweden does have a past paved by less than progressive ideas and continues to promote more conservative policies (in comparison to other Scandinavian countries), it still is on the top of many lists and is paving the way for gender equality. This can be seen in the high number of women holding seats in Parliament. For this reason and many more, the United States could learn a lot from Sweden’s more inclusive policies.