Encounter Gender Equality in Sweden

After looking at a trivial aspect in Swedish national health care system in my previous blog How to book an appointment with doctor in Sweden, I will talk about another signature of this great country: gender equality.

Everyone knows that Sweden is always listed on top in terms of gender equality, which is an important indicator of human development. Therefore, I will not elaborate further on this fact; instead, I will tell you something about my personal experience of gender equality in Sweden!


Unisex washrooms, unisex student hostels……

When I was an undergraduate student in Hong Kong, girls’ floor and boys’ floor are segregated; visitors of the opposite sex is often strictly limited in a girl-only hostel. In Sweden, not to mention that students share the same corridor irrespective of their genders, you may imagine how surprised/confused  I was when I first saw washrooms with this label:

It means that anyone may use it in regardless of their sexual identity. How prevalent are these gender-neutral washrooms? They are indeed the majority here and can be found in all public areas! The only two exceptions I can think of are those at university libraries and Vasa museum.

Respect is the first thing to learn, the last thing to forget

In order to learn Swedish, I register for free Swedish course at Swedish For Immigrants (SFI). I still remember, on my first day at SFI, the first paper I have to read and sign was:

……Lagen i Sverige säger att ingen person får diskriminera en annan person på grund av: (Law in Sweden states that no one is allowed to discriminate another person because of: )

Kön (Gender)

Könsidentitet eller Könsuttryck (Sexual identity or Sexual expression)

Etnisk tillhörighet (Ethnicity)


Sexuell läggning (Sexual Orientation) ……”

Also, in all of the universities in Stockholm,  students are required to fill in an evaluation form upon the completion of a course. In this survey, the last question is always “Have you ever been harassed due to gender/religion/……”. It allows the education panel to keep track of the gender inequality and protect students from negative experience in the campus.

Parental Leave

Dads with baby carriage is a unique phenomenon on Swedish streets. There is a reason: in 1974, Sweden became the first country in the world to replace maternity leave with parental leave. From then on, fathers are equally encouraged as mothers to take a leave and stay with their newborns. For example, at the place where I do an internship, my colleague Maria just came back to work from her maternal leave: now, it is her husband’s turn to stay at home and look after their little Alexandra.

Dads with their kids in baby carriage on a street in Stockholm


First Female President Ever

Maybe you don’t know: our president Prof. Sigbritt Karlsson is the first female president in the history of KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and also the only female president in the leading 50 tech universities in the world! Without a doubt, this is a great achievement in the male-dominative field of technology. At KTH,  Prof. Karlsson aims at bringing more innovation, internationality through diversity!

The President’s blog on KTH official webpage

A Job Interview  at EIT Digital

A fun and insightful experience happened to me was in last November, when I was accidentally invited to a job interview by EIT Digital, a pan-European innovation organization, whose major academic partner in Sweden is KTH. On the Friday before the interview, I was asked to prepare for a presentation about one of the topics in ICT (Information and Communications Technology).

The question is, as a life science student, I never heard of ICT before! Therefore, I chose “Woman in ICT”, which seems to be the most “non-ICT” topic for me (but later I was absolutely wrong!) . Surprisingly, the presentation was unexpectedly amusing: with the interviewer I exchanged views on opportunities and challenges confronted by females in ICT. The interviewer, who is also a female, told me that this topic is now one of  the focal points in the industry and academia: people like her are doing more and more to attract females to study, work and research in ICT.

The powerpoint “Woman in Tech” I prepared for the interview

Girls-only Tech Fests

Also during that interview, I heard of the local Tekla Fest at KTH and the international Girls in ICT Day with EIT Digital for the first time. They are both annual technology festivals organized exclusively for teenage girls, in order to encourage them to devote in technology-related subjects in the university. These two examples are good embodiment of the tremendous effort people put in the issue of gender equality in education, but they are not the sole cases: more and more is coming! Take KTH as an example, the campaign of KTH GIANTS and “What would you say to your 15-year-old self?” are on going, so make sure you check  the links and keep a closer look at the update!

Gender equality is such an important as well as interesting issue in the society; on the basis, it is essential not to discriminate everyone according to their gender identities. For me, I will keep observing, thinking, writing and most importantly: respecting people around me. Let’s hope gender equality continue thriving in and outside Sweden!

Below are some links you may find interesting:

1. “Unisex toilets” from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unisex_public_toilet

2. BBC’s Report about Parental Leave in Sweden: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35225982

3. Blog of Prof. Sigbritt Karlsson (President of KTH): https://www.kth.se/blogs/president/2017/02/innovation-closely-linked-to-research-infrastructure/

4. News about Tekla Fest 2016: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/robyn-to-perform-at-second-tekla-fest-encouraging-women-in-technology-20160218

5. Official Website of Tekla Fest 2017: https://www.teklafestival.se/in-english/

6. To participate in “What would you say to your 15-year-old self”:  https://www.kth.se/en/wwys15

6. More about EIT Digital: https://www.eitdigital.eu  and EIT Digital at KTH: https://www.kth.se/en/forskning/sarskilda-forskningssatsningar/eit-1.63977

7. International Girls in ICT Day, event  in Sweden last year: https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Digital-Inclusion/Women-and-Girls/Girls-in-ICT-Portal/Pages/events/2016/Europe/Sweden-2016.aspx

8. International Girls in ICT Day 2017, event webpage in Swedish: http://myinicio.org/girlsinict

4 thoughts on “Encounter Gender Equality in Sweden”

  1. Nice blog post Tianlin! For us Swedes it is good to be reminded that gender equality is an ever on-going process but we have come a long way. In addition, we now see more and more awareness on trans-gender equality as the sign for “hen” changing rooms start to appear (http://gamla.hbl.fi/nyheter/2015-04-18/751893/har-har-vi-hen) . I am also glad that you learned about ICT, encouraging more women to work with ICT and the Tekla festival at your visit to EIT Digital. We will again organise an event on the international Girls in ICT day on April 27th. Keep in touch and see if you want to join us!

  2. Hey Marianne thank you for your sharing! It reminds me of the recent controversy over a new gender-neutral washroom at my home university in Hong Kong. Can’t imagine how those people will react to a “hen” changing room! Clearly, there is a long way to go towards the realization of gender equality for us….
    Indeed, a similar event to “Girls in ICT Day” was one of my solutions in my presentation “Woman in Tech”! Therefore, tell me if there is anything that I can do to support it;) It would be so meaningful!

  3. Thank you for the update 🙂
    I added the link at the end of this blog

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