Swedish newspapers and TV were floooding over this week with details about how the Social Democratic party leader Håkan Juholt had requested too much reimbursement for his apartment rent. Being a real man, Juholt stood straight and claimed innocence, despite the enormous media hunt, and claims that he should resign. In the end his party backed him up, lawyers found out that he did not make any mistakes, but just followed the rules, and he stays on.
Years ago, another Social Democratic party member and then minister, Mona Sahlin, had bought Toblerone and Pampers, and maybe other household items, with her government credit card. She had a stressful time then, trying the hard puzzle of being a good politician and a good mother. Of course she paid all the money back, but the press of the media and the criticism from her fellow social democrats was so strong that she was forced to take ‘time out’ and to keep a low profile for a while. When she came back and gradually became party leader, the Toblerone and Pampers ‘scandal’ kept following her. But it was not only Toblerone and Pampers that made life hard for her, she also was criticised for how she dressed, and for the handbags she carried around. Focus was often not on the political questions she addressed, but on her as a person. Ironically Håkan Juholt was among those who were the first to claim that Mona Sahlin should resign as party leader after a few years and after two lost elections.
It is quite interesting to compare the two cases. Two politicians, two social democrats, a man and a woman, both doing something that is regarded as immoral, i.e. taking tax payers’ money (although the sums were tiny compared to how our bankers stuff themselves with money) and being careless or neglecting about it.
The woman ‘is forced’ to give up, and take ‘time out’, while the man stays on. The woman is honest and stands to what she has done, while the man claims that he had done everything correctly and according to rules. Obviously he did follow the rules, because there are no rules that describe how one should be reimbursed for rent of an apartment if shared with one’s partner! There are, however rules that say that Toblerone is not to be bought on a government’s credit card.
Sweden is always portrayed as a society that is conscious about gender and gender equality. I think much of this is just polish. If it were not, we would have by now a female prime minister (Denmark has one, Germany has one, Norway and Finland had one, and even the Swiss have managed to increase the number of women in their federal council to four out of a total of seven!). We would not see female politicians being judged based on what they wear and what the colour of their lipstick is, but on what their political message is. We would have equal pay for equal work; and we would have equally shared parental leave. We would not force women to quit their job and allow men to stay on.
Sweden has still a long way to go.