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Nordic women have gained a little more power since last year.

Nordic women have gained a little more power since last year.

| Text: Björn Lindahl, Photo: Scanpix

Women in the Nordic region are slightly more equal on 8 March this year compared to last year. The Nordic Labour Journal’s gender equality barometer shows they have climbed to get 61 of the points we have allocated for government minister posts and other positions in society. That is one point more than last year. 100 points would be full equality.

The largest change for 2012 came as Wanja Lundby-Wedin stepped down as President for the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions. Iceland got their first female Minister of Finance and a female bishop.

NLJ’s gender equality barometer tries to reflect women’s influence in 13 government ministry posts, major labour market organisations and other symbolically important positions like head of state, commander-in-chief and central bank head. 

Looking exclusively at the number of women in governments, the Nordic countries all sit at around 50 percent:

Country Ministers Women Percent
Iceland 9 5 55.6
Sweden 24 13 54.2
Norway 20 10 50.0 
Denmark 23 11 47.8
Finland 19 9 47.4
Nordic region 95 48  50.5   


Since certain ministers have more power than others, or are symbolically more important, this is a rather unclear measurement of equality. We have chosen to give all ministers one point while the Prime Minister gets five, Finance Minister three and Foreign Minister two points. We have compared the 13 ministers who participate in the Nordic Council of Ministers or who normally are part of a government. The President of the Confederation of Trade Unions gets four points, while the leaders for the professional and academic trade unions get two points each. On the employer side we have given two points for board directors and two points for CEOs. See here for a full list.

All surveys have weaknesses. Earlier we have given women points as long as a woman held a government minister post for more than one month in that year. But when Kristin Skogen Lund went from being the board director to President of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, this would mean she counted twice in 2012.

We have therefore adjusted our barometer to measure who sits in a certain position on International Women’s Day, 8 March, each year. This makes our gender equality graph a bit longer than before. The biggest difference is that Finland’s first female Prime Minister Anneli Tuulikki Jäättenmäki, who served between 7 April 2003 and 24 June 2003, does not make it.

At the same time things are moving faster than we thought they would. When we presented our first barometer three years ago, we looked at which positions women had not reached in any Nordic country, and which positions were not held by women in the individual countries. 

One such Nordic position unconquered by women was archbishop. Since then, however, Helga Haugland Byfuglien has been elected bishop in the Church of Norway (on 2 October 2011) - the closest thing to an archbishop you get in Norway. Iceland has only one bishop, also now a woman, since the ordination of Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir on 24 June 2012.

Three years ago Denmark had never had a female Prime Minister, Finland had never had a female Finance Minister and Norway had never had a female head of the employers’ association. All these posts have since been held by women.

Never a female chief of defence in the Nordic region

The one remaining symbolic function never yet held by a woman in any Nordic country is chief of defence.

However, there are still many positions where the first woman is still to be appointed:

Denmark – never had women leading the Confederation of Trade Unions or the employers’ association. There has also never been a female bishop of Copenhagen (there is no archbishop title in Denmark), a head of police or supreme court leader. 

Finland – has the worst gender equality of all Nordic countries when it comes to labour market organisations. Neither the Confederation of Trade Unions, the Confederation of Professional Employees nor the employers’ association have ever been led by a woman. Finland also has no female archbishop, supreme court leader or head of police.

Iceland experienced a gender equality boom in many ways after the finance crisis, when many men were blamed for the collapse of the country’s banks. Although there is a female Prime Minister, many government ministries have never been headed by a woman. Here too there is a lack of gender equality among employers, in the police and in the coast guard (since the country has no standing army). The Left-Green Movement recently changed their party leader – Katrín Jakobsdóttir took over from Steingrímur J. Sigfússon. Just before that, however, Iceland’s Social Democratic Alliance changed their party leader. Árni Páll Árnason took over from Johánna Sigurðardóttir, who continues as Prime Minister. On 27 April Iceland holds parliamentary elections. 

There are elections in Norway too, on 9 September. This year Norwegians have celebrated 100 years of female voting rights. The aim is a particularly high number of women voters this year. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s seat is not safe, according to opinion polls. The country’s next Prime Minister will therefore not unlikely be a woman - Erna Solberg from the Conservative Party. In May the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions will also elect a new leader after Roar Flåthen.

Sweden has never had a female Prime Minister, the top position of power in the Nordic region still never held by a woman. The head of state has never been a woman either, but at least one is now lined up. Neither the church, the central bank nor the police have had female leaders. The fact that the head of the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions, Wanja Lundby-Wedin, was followed by Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson gave the largest swing on the NLJ’s gender equality barometer - because that position counts for four points. 

Iceland still on top

Portlet Iceland 8 March 2013


A new female Minister of Finance in 2012 gave extra points to Iceland, which was already top of the Nordic countries with 18 points. That is only two points away from complete gender equality.

Denmark a good second

Portlet Denmark 8 March 2013


Thanks to a female Prime Minister and head of state, as well as many female government ministers, Denmark gets many points and is only one point behind Iceland.

Sweden fell after changing LO leader

Portlet Sweden 8 March 2013


Wanja Lundby-Wedin’s retirement from the top LO job lost Sweden four female points. 

Norway low down despite change of ministers

Portlet Norway 8 March 2013


A government reshuffle meant a new female Minister of Justice - yet at the same time a man took over as Minister of Social affairs. The result was no change in points for Norway.

Finland from top to bottom

Portlet Finland 8 March 2013


Gender equality in positions of power has fallen fast in Finland as both the posts of prime minister and president went from being held by women to being held by men.

How we calculated

50 percent female government minister representation might look like gender equality has been accomplished. But it also depends on which positions are being held by women.
We have distributed 200 points - 40 for each Nordic country. 100 female points equals full gender equality.

We have looked at 13 government minister posts. Each gives one point except prime minister (5), finance minister (3) and foreign minister (2).

We have also included leaders of the largest trade unions and employers' organisations:

Leaders of confederations of trade unions (4), leaders of service industries unions (2), leaders of trade unions for academics (2), leaders of employers' organisations (2) and  managing directors at employers' organisations (2).

And finally six important symbolic positions:

Heads of state, supreme court presidents, heads of central banks, arch bishops, police commissioners and commander-in-chief. 

Heads of state get three points, while the others get one each. We have not included leaders of major companies because they are not considered to be employed as a result of a democratic process.

This year we have only been looking at who held the positions on 8 March each year.

Download the list here: Nordic Women in power in the Nordic region 1970-2013


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