Breaking with the Male Breadwinner: Female economic empowerment for gender equality

What types of government policies are needed to achieve female economic empowerment? Banner image: Shutterstock/Imfoto

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders  from around the world and all parts of society  address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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The importance of gender equality cannot be overrated; it is important in itself. From a human perspective, it gives girls and women a better life and future. Studies performed in Sweden also show that an equal society means a richer life for boys and men as well. Unequal societies are less cohesive; they have higher rates of anti-social behaviour and violence. Countries with greater gender equality are more interconnected; their people are healthier and have better well-being.

Furthermore, gender inequality is also a question of economics. When more women work, economies grow. My own home country, Sweden, has gender equality to thank for a lot of our prosperity and economic growth. A study by PWC in the United Kingdom shows that increasing female employment rates in OECD countries to match that of Sweden could boost member nations’ GDP by over USD 6 trillion.

Women’s economic equality is good for business. Companies greatly benefit from increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women, as it improves both organisational effectiveness and growth. Businesses with at least 30% women in leadership positions tend to be 15% more profitable than those with only men.

The current Swedish government led by Stefan Löfven, a coalition between the Social Democrat party and the Greens, describes itself as the world’s first feminist government. A bold proclamation, but also important statement. It is meant to show our commitment to the ideals of gender equality: that it is central to the government’s priorities, in decision-making and in resource allocation. It means that 50% of ministers are women, and 100% of ministers are responsible for improving gender equality in whatever they are doing.

Gender Equality in a Pandemic Era: The lessons we have learned can shape the future by Natasha Mudhar, Founder, The World We Want

To understand the effect of our political decisions, Sweden has an equality analysis included in our state budget.  It is the “gender lens” through which we evaluate every political issue and policy matter.

The Nordic welfare system has been important building gender equality. By having a welfare state, the unpaid work is paid for—by all of us. In order to make it easier for women to enter the work force, you need good child care and elderly care. This also implies that the general welfare promotes both equality and job opportunities.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the Swedish experience—not just from the years with a feminist government but from all our work with gender equality—it is that the key is female economic empowerment. And in order to achieve this you need to recognise the individual, man or woman, as a single unit. That is to say that taxation, government benefits and rights are allocated to individuals, not to the nuclear family. As long as the man is seen as the “bread winner” or “the provider”, no true gender equality is possible.

In Sweden many women are working, but we do face challenges. For instance, we can see that women who are borne outside of Europe and have migrated to Sweden are at a bigger risk of unemployment. Therefore, we have made it easier to study the Swedish language for these women when they are on maternal leave. And we have now allocated more resources into programmes where you can combine studying a practical education with studying Swedish for immigrants.

Everyone benefits from equality, both men and women, boys and girls. Neither now nor in the future can we accept reports without including a gender analysis, or decisions taken in our parliaments without including gender-based evaluations. Having a gender perspective in our decision-making process will allow us to develop better policy measures and make better decisions.

Crises tends to worsen the inequalities that already exist. What we have seen so far is that women and girls have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, as they often have weaker safety nets. Moreover, increased violence against women and girls and teenage pregnancies with devastating consequences are now a fact, as well as increasing economic and gender inequality.

We need to continue the discussion in order to make more politicians aware of the large gains that can be made from more women working. Together towards increased gender equality!

Browse the OECD Gender Data Portal and see the latest OECD data, recommendations and policy advice on Gender Equality

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Tackling COVID-19 Gender Equality Income Inequality

Eva Lindh

Regular Member, Swedish Parliament

Member of the Swedish Parliament Regular member, 2018 – current

Deputy member Committee on Finance, 2018 – current

Member of the Swedish Delegation to the Nordic Council, 2018 – current

Member of Delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2020 – current

Chair Parliamentarian OECD-network, 2018 - current

Alternate member of the Swedish Parliament, 18 months in between 2015-2017

Deputy member Committee on Civil Affairs 8 months in between 2015-2017

Deputy member Committee on Social Insurance 10 months in 2016

Municipality councillor, Linköping, 2010-2017

Municipal leisure politician, 2002-2010

Social worker, 1995-2010