Numerous efforts to combat discrimination against women are made by many actors both in Sweden and internationally.
The UN Charter
Among the first initiatives taken by the UN following its establishment, was to set forth in its charter that human rights apply equally to women and men, girls and boys. Over the years, the UN has continued to consistently introduce the principle into a number of different conventions.
The CEDAW Convention
The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) offers a framework to ensure the equal rights of women and men. The convention highlights the obligation of governments to prohibit the most common forms of discrimination against women through appropriate legislative measures and practice.
Sweden was among the first countries to ratify the Convention, which entered into force in 1981. The Convention is the second most ratified of all human rights conventions. However, many States parties have entered reservations to the Convention in a way that contravenes the object and the purpose of the Convention.
Read the Convention
The European Union
In the EC treaty, through the adoption of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1998, protection against sex discrimination and gender equality have been given a more prominent position. For example, Article 2 of the Treaty provides that it will be the Community's task to promote equality between men and women.
Read more about the European Union's work on discrimination
Gender equality in Swedish policy
Using the CEDAW Convention as a starting point, a number of countries including Sweden are pursuing a range of issues aiming to draw attention to the lack of respect for women's rights. Sweden raises the issue of the rights of women and girls in the development policy dialogue and in discussions with government representatives in multilateral contexts. Several International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions by which Sweden is bound are also applicable to women’s rights; for example, Convention No. 100 concerning equal pay, Convention No. 111 concerning discrimination in the labour market, Convention No. 156 concerning workers with family responsibilities and Recommendation No. 170 on labour statistics.
The second chapter of the Instrument of Government (the Swedish Constitution) prohibits legislation that discriminates on the basis of sex unless the legislation is one of the measures taken to achieve gender equality or applies to military service or similar compulsory service.
The overall objective of Sweden's gender equality policy is that women and men should enjoy equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities in all significant areas of life. The objective is expressed in the Statement of Government Policy. Gender equality policy is based on the understanding that a power structure between women and men prevails in society in which men as a group are placed above women as a group. A precondition for any lasting change is that this understanding of the power relationship is accepted as a point of departure. Gender equality efforts should be incorporated into regular work at political and executive levels. The Division for Gender Equality, which comes under the Minister for Gender Equality Affairs, has a coordinating role within the Government Offices.
Monitoring compliance with rights
In Sweden, a number of ombudsmen accountable to the Government are assigned with tasks related to human rights issues. The prime responsibility for the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman is to ensure compliance with the Equal Opportunities Act (1991:433). The purpose of the Act is to promote the equal rights of women and men with regard to work, employment conditions as well as other working conditions and scope for professional development.
The Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman is also to provide advice and information with the aim of promoting gender equality in schools, universities, labour market training and other forms of education in accordance with the Ordinance with Instructions for the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman (1991:1438). In addition, the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman is to monitor compliance with the Equal Treatment of Students at Universities Act (2001:1286).
The UN CEDAW Committee
The Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee is an independent UN expert body whose task is to monitor the States parties' compliance with the CEDAW. Every four years the States parties to the Convention are required to submit national reports on legislative, judicial and administrative measures they have taken to comply with the treaty obligations. The reports are subsequently dealt with at the Committee's meetings, where representatives of the governments whose reports are up for discussion are called upon to present their reports and answer questions from the Committee. The Committee may also receive information from NGOs.
The Committee may also make suggestions and general recommendations, which include the Committee’s interpretation of the Convention. The recommendations, however, are not legally binding for the States parties. The Committee has, among other things, taken a particularly active part in issues concerning violence against women and reservations to the Convention.
Read more about the CEDAW Committee
Optional protocol on individual complaints
There is an optional protocol to the CEDAW, which gives individuals or groups of individuals the right to bring complaints before the CEDAW Committee. An important rule is that the Committee may only deal with complaints once national legal remedies have been exhausted. The Optional Protocol also allows the Committee to investigate, on its own initiative, serious and systematic violations of the rights laid down in the Convention.
The Optional Protocol was open for signature on 10 December 1999 and entered into force on 22 December 2000. Sweden ratified the Protocol on 24 April 2003.
Sweden's report to CEDAW
Report to the UN CEDAW Committee on measures taken by Sweden to eliminate discrimination against women in Sweden. (2005)