Sweden - Gender equality


Sweden is an international leader on gender equality; gender mainstreaming is a long-standing priority for Sida

In 2019, Sweden spent US$2.6 billion (85%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on development activities that targeted gender equality in a principal or significant way, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee's (DAC) gender equality policy marker (DAC average: 47%). This makes Sweden the third-largest donor to the area in relative terms (following Iceland at 91% and Canada at 89%), and the sixth-largest in absolute amounts.
Sweden has long been viewed as a global leader for gender equality and gender-focused development. It has backed this up with its funding for gender-focused projects which has steadily increased since from US$1.9 billion in 2015 to US$2.6 billion in 2019 (+39%), in line with overall increases in its bilateral allocable ODA (in 2015, funding for gender equality represented 87% of Sweden's bilateral allocable ODA).


Gender policy marker: Projects which “advance gender equality and women’s empowerment or reduce discrimination and inequalities based on sex” are tagged in the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database.

Recent research by Oxfam found that around 25% of projects self-reported by donors using the gender equality marker were mismarked. This has implications for the validity of funding figures.

The marker rates projects based on three possible scores:

1) principal, meaning that gender equality is the main objective of the project or program,

2) significant, for projects in which gender equality is an important and deliberate goal but not the main objective, or

3) not targeted, used in cases where programs do not target gender equality.

Not all projects are screened against the gender marker; this funding falls into the ‘not screened’ category.

In 2014, Sweden became the first country in the world to adopt a feminist foreign policy, allowing it to use all its foreign policy tools (including development cooperation) to address gender equality globally. The policy focuses on six areas: 

  1. Full enjoyment of human rights;
  2. Freedom from physical, psychological, and sexual violence;
  3. Participation in preventing and resolving conflicts, and post-conflict peacebuilding;
  4. Political participation and influence in all areas of society;
  5. Economic rights and empowerment; and
  6. Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Sweden mainstreams gender equality into its ODA programming, ensuring that every project incorporates a gender lens. In May of 2018, Sweden adopted its first development cooperation strategy for global gender equality and women's and girls' rights. The strategy focuses on the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and girls, (including through work on normative frameworks, discrimination, gender-based violence (GBV), safety, and security for actors and organizations that promote gender equality) and increased access and use of sex-disaggregated data and research. It is backed by a funding envelope of SEK1.0 billion (US$109 million) for 2018-2022. This envelope only includes funding for projects directly under the new gender strategy; gender-focused funding overall will continue to be much higher, due to the gender mainstreaming approach.

Sida, Sweden's development cooperation agency, uses a three-pronged approach for gender mainstreaming: 1) Targeted support to gender equality interventions; 2) integration of a gender perspective in all operations and sectors; and 3) highlighting of gender equality and women's rights in dialogue with partner organizations.
Because of its longstanding practice of gender mainstreaming throughout its ODA programming, Sweden's largest funding areas for gender equality correspond to its largest funding areas overall: government and civil society received the largest share of funding for gender-focused projects (US$699 million, or 27%) in 2019, followed by humanitarian assistance (US$437 million or 17%), and health and populations (US$220 million or 8%).
In addition to its bilateral funding, Sweden partners with multilateral organizations on gender equality, and is a large contributor to the United Nations (UN) system. It is the largest contributor in total resources to UN Women, and the third-largest donor to the UN Populations Fund (UNFPA). In line with its feminist foreign policy, Sweden strongly focuses on SRHR and supports initiatives such as 'She Decides' (a fund established by the Netherlands to counter the anticipated impact of cuts in US funding to SRHR programming in 2017). 

Sweden is the fourth-largest donor to gender equality as a principal goal

When looking at projects and programs that target gender equality as a principal goal, Sweden is the fourth-largest donor in absolute terms, spending US$537 million in 2019, behind only the US, the UK, and the EU. In relative terms, this corresponds to 18% of Sweden’s total bilateral allocable ODA, putting it behind Spain in second place and well above the DAC average (6%). 

Swedish funding for projects with a principal gender focus has steadily increased since 2015, with the exception of 2019 when it dropped to US$537 million from US$589 million in 2018. Funding for projects with a ‘significant’ gender focus has, however, maintained its upward trajectory, increasing from US$1.5 billion in 2015 to US$2.0 billion (+36%). 

The remainder (US$460 billion or 15%) of Sweden’s bilateral allocable ODA in 2019 was spent on projects that did not target gender at all. This is a low proportion compared to other members of the DAC: in 2019, the DAC average for bilateral ODA not targeted toward gender equality stood at 46%. 

MFA leads Sweden’s feminist foreign policy; Sida manages the implementation

As gender equality is a fundamental aim of Sweden's overall foreign policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is responsible for the implementation of the feminist foreign policy, including through the work of the Minister for International Development Cooperation and of the Minister for Foreign Trade, with responsibility for Nordic affairs (Sweden also adopted a 'Feminist Foreign Trade Policy'). Among the MFA's functional departments, the Global Agenda Department is responsible for the overall coordination within the framework of the 2030 Agenda, and for coordinating and developing the feminist foreign policy, including gender equality issues in development cooperation. Given that gender is a cross-topic priority, all departments are, in turn, responsible for integrating a gender lens into their policies. Within Sida, the most relevant department for gender topics is the unit for Global Social Development in the Department for International Organizations and Policy Support (INTEM). For country-specific programming, the respective regional departments take the lead.