“Not a day for giving women flowers”
Although Sweden may enjoy an international reputation for gender equality, there are still big income differences between men and women.
On average Swedish women earn 85 percent of a man’s salary or US$700 less per month.
Areas dominated by female workers – education, health, childcare, services – continue to have low status, and low pay.
“There’s an impression abroad that Sweden has achieved equality, but that’s not the case. Questions related to women are dealt with as special issues in Swedish politics,” Gudrun Schyman, the founder of the Feminist Initiative political party told Radio Sweden.
“We’re proposing to create a fund that all employers, including the state, would pay into in order to top up salaries in sectors where women are in a majority.”
Burned a hundred thousand kronor
Gudrun Schyman created an outcry last year when she publically burned a hundred thousand kronor (about US$15,000) in a protest against the income gaps between men and women.
So why, despite progress in other gender equality areas - such as parental leave for men – do Swedish pay scales continue to be unequal?
Annelie Nordström, head of one the main public sector trade unions, Kommunal, blames “value” discrimination which means that male dominated occupations attract higher salaries. That is why, she says, a mathematics teacher earns less than an engineer, or a truck drivers earns more than someone working with the disabled.
One in four teachers consider quitting
The situation within teaching has become so serious that one in four teachers is considering quitting, according to the Swedish Teachers Union, which wants the government to set up an equalities commission to do something about the pay gap.
Susanne Fransson, is a law professor at Gotenburg University who has researched male and female pay trends – she says there has been next to no progress since the 80s in narrowing the income gap between the sexes.
“It’s always been the case that work done by women is valued lower. If we look back a hundred years it was natural for women to be paid half that of men for the same work,” she said.
“But today men and women tend to work in different areas that are in turn valued differently. For example men are much more likely to work in the private sector and the pay levels are higher than the public sector.”
'Equal Pay – Empty Words'
Launching a new report entitled “Equal Pay – Empty Words” on Tuesday, Gudrun Schyman called on Sweden’s main political parties to honour their election promises and tackle the income gender gap.
She said it was hard not get worked up about inequality in the workplace on International Women’s Day.
But will women’s day have any impact?
“No, it doesn’t make any difference by itself,” she said
“But it’s good to have a day when you concentrate on this question and I hope it can give more people inspiration to work with this every day,” she added. “This is not a day for giving women flowers. This is a day for political action.”