Mona Sahlin at the Progressive Governance conference in London (CC/image via Socialdemokrater on flickr)

Sweden is oft hailed as a progressive country in terms of gender equality and women’s rights. For instance, Sweden elected its first female Prime Minister in 1962, only two years after Sri Lanka elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and years before Lady Thatcher was elected in the UK (1979) and Gro Harlem Bruntland in Norway (1981).

Alas, if only this were true (We had you going there for a while! – ed)… The Lobby, for one, finds it quite surprising that Sweden has yet to elect a female Prime Minister, and with elections coming up in September of this year, a lot of commentators are asking: varför?

First things first: the closest Sweden came to electing a female PM was in 1995, when the then Social Democrat PM Ingvar Carlsson was widely seen as grooming his left-hand woman, as it were, Mona Sahlin for the position. However, scandal ensued (the so called ‘Toblerone affair’) and Sahlin was forced to throw in the towel. Since then she’s returned in force and became the Social Democrat’s party leader in March 2007.

Some of the major hurdles that Sahlin faced in 1995, disregarding the chocolate issue, can still be encountered 15 years later. The Swedish electorate has had an issue with young women in politics in the past, and recent events have shown that this is not necessarily a thing of bygone days. In addition, despite Sweden’s egalitarian approach to gender issues, women do seem to face a harder time when it comes to ‘paying their dues’ in Swedish politics compared to their male counterparts.

Today there is talk of the next Swedish PM being a woman. “It’s time” says Swedes whom The Lobby has spoken to in Brussels. The same mood seems to permeate the capital, Stockholm. But is Sweden ready for a female PM? We’ll have to wait and see, hopefully on 19 September Sweden will join the ranks of countries having elected female leaders, but this depends on what she has to offer, whom she’s up against, and whether she’s any good! After all, Sweden has done well in terms of female politicians in Brussels – just think of Wallström and Malmström! – and perhaps this is the problem; Sweden’s best female politicians aren’t even in Sweden!

– Emil

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