Council proposes new authority to advance gender equality

In late June 2001, Sweden's government-appointed Gender Equality Council for Transport and Information Technology presented its final report. The Council proposes among other measures that a new authority be established, to provide a national knowledge and resource centre for equality issues in the governmental area.

On 19 June 2001, the Gender Equality Council for Transport and Information Technology (Jämställdhetsrådet för transporter och IT, Jämit) delivered its third and final report to the Swedish government (SOU: 2001:44). One of the main proposals from Jämit is the establishment of a new governmental authority. This body should have the task of working as an independent resource centre to develop further throughout the whole of society Jämit's responsibility for moulding public opinion, collecting know-how, initiating studies and stimulating the development of methods to promote gender equality. The new authority should coordinate all gender equality work, construct a database with examples of good practice and establish cooperation with the social partners. "There is no institutional support today for any of the governmental authorities' work on the integration of an equality perspective," commented the chair of Jämit, Görel Thurdin as she submitted the final report.

Jämit was established in October 1999 (direktiv 1999:83) with the task of examining various gender issues in the transport and information technology (IT) sectors, in day-to-day terms as well as in the longer run. Ms Thurdin, the Council's chair, was previously a deputy speaker of the Swedish parliament and is a politician with long experience in the Centre Party. She is now chair of Save the Children Sweden. Two reports had been delivered earlier, the second of which contained a number of initial recommendations for the government to consider, relating to the IT sector (SE0007156F). With the submission of its final report, Jämit has now fulfilled its task.

Findings

There is a major lack of equality between men and women in Swedish society, Jämit states in the final report. To take one example, Jämit surveyed the management of the public authorities responsible for the transport sector and notes that they are dominated by men. There are no women on the executive of the National Road Administration (Vägverket), while the executive of the Swedish National Rail Administration (Banverket) consists of 92% men and 8% women. The management of the Swedish Maritime Administration (Sjöfartsverket) comprises 73% men and 27% women and the Civil Aviation Administration (Luftfartsverket) 93% men and 7% women. Of all 55 managing directors in the county and municipal bodies responsible for traffic, only five are women.

The trade and employers' organisations within the transport sector are principally run by men. In the 21 largest organisations, there is not a single female chair and only two female managing directors. Jämit remarks that there are thus practically no women in higher positions in the transport sector who can represent a female perspective on transport issues.

"Gender equality is important for leadership," Ms Thurdin stated in the official press announcement accompanying the report. Gender equality is not only an issue for representation and legislation, she stated. It is not enough that the government has reached the goal of 50/50 representation in the democratic institutions - this has to be followed up in governmental authorities and the organisations beneath. "Nothing happens within the structures now," according to Ms Thurdin, "there is a need for a firm grip of gender issues. The work on gender issues in the governmental area today is too scattered and it is difficult to get an overview perspective."

Proposals

With the aim of achieving greater gender equality, Jämit's final report makes the following proposals:

  • the creation of a new authority for gender issues in society, including the private sector;
  • greater control of public authorities. For example, gender equality goals and action plans should be established in the transport sector. In making annual financial grants to the authorities, the government should set a new gender equality goal for the transport system. Authorities with connection to the transport and IT sectors, such as the Labour Market Board (Arbetsmarknadsstyrelsen) and the Governmental Institute for Communication Analysis (Statens institut för kommunikationsanalys), should be told to draw up action plans and analyse gender equality issues in transport and IT;
  • targeting gender equality in legislation. Current legislation should be adapted to introduce equality measures in laws relating to communications, construction and the environment;
  • gender equality should be considered in public purchasing decisions;
  • in the process of considering proposals, the government should not pay as much attention to the opinions of "gender-unequal" organisations and authorities as to those of "gender-equal" organisations and authorities'
  • the Vinnova (Verket för innovationssystem) research authority should carry out a research programme on the lack of gender equality in working life; and
  • the process of applying for risk capital to start new enterprises should be "gender-equalised".

Commentary

Jämit was established in order to examine the status of gender equality in one traditionally male sector, transport, and in one "modern" area with certain ambitions to be gender equal, the IT sector. The results from both areas are quite unsatisfactory. In the IT sector (SE0007156F), for example, mini-case studies were carried out in a number of Swedish high-technology companies - ABB, Astra Zeneca, Autoliv, Electrolux, Ericsson, Sandvik, Scania, Telia, WM-data and Volvo Trucks. Jämit noted that only a few were able to produce information on the gender distribution of staff within their research and marketing departments. Many examples of inequality were also found in the transport sector (see above).

None of Jämit's proposals can be said not to be necessary. The government has promised in every annual declaration of its policy since 1994 to promote gender mainstreaming in all policy areas. This mainstreaming should aim to make gender perspectives clearer and should be considered in all areas of the government's work and within governmental authorities. Bearing this in mind, it might be a good idea for the government to create a new gender equality authority. In autumn 2001, the government intends to present a bill on infrastructure, and it remains to be seen if gender equality aspects will be taken into account in the way that Jämit proposes, or in any way. However, experience shows that dealing with gender equality issues is on the whole a slow and even rather reluctant process. It always takes a very long time before there are any real qualitative results to be seen. Certainly a new authority, with the ambition of creating a coordinated resource centre in the gender equality area, could be of great use. (Annika Berg, Arbetslivsinstitutet)

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