Sweden - Gender equality

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

In 2020, Sweden spent US$2.5 billion (78%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on development activities that targeted gender equality in a principal or significant way (down from 85% in 2019), according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) gender equality policy marker (DAC average: 45%). This makes Sweden the third-largest donor to the area in relative terms (following Canada at 89% and Iceland at 86%), and the eighth 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$2.0 billion in 2016 to reach US$2.6 billion in 2019 (up by 32%), in line with overall increases in its bilateral allocable ODA. However, Sweden’s gender-related funding dropped by 7% in 2020 compared to 2019, despite the increase in its bilateral allocable ODA, suggesting a regression in gender-related focus in that year. 

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 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, 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$650 million, or 26%) in 2020, followed by humanitarian assistance (US$469 million, or 19%), and health and populations (US$289 million, or 11%).  

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 second-largest donor to the UN Populations Fund (UNFPA), with whom it has signed a multi-year contributions agreement of US$300 million for 2012-2025 (see sector Global Health). 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 fifth-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 fifth-largest donor in absolute terms, spending US$502 million in 2020, behind only the US, Canada, EU Institutions, and the UK. In relative terms, this corresponds to 16% of Sweden’s total bilateral allocable ODA, putting it behind Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, and Iceland in fifth place, but well above the DAC average (7%).  

Swedish funding for projects with a ‘significant’ gender focus stood at US$2.0 billion in 2020, a 6% drop from 2019. The remainder of Sweden’s bilateral allocable ODA in 2020 was spent on projects that did not target gender at all (US$535 million, or 17%, of Sweden’s bilateral allocable ODA) and projects that were not screened against the gender equality marker (US$165 million, or 5%). This is a low proportion compared to other members of the DAC: in 2020, the DAC average for bilateral ODA not targeted toward gender equality stood at 48%, and 7% for bilateral ODA not screened against the gender marker.  

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.