What have Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland had – but Sweden hasn’t?

To date there is something that Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland has had, but that Sweden hasn’t. And it’s quite intriguing as to why. The UK has had two. India has had one. Norway has had the most of any country. Currently 27 countries have one. In fact, 76 countries in the world have had one.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Elected and appointed female heads of state and government.

In the long history of Swedish politics, there has never been a female Swedish Prime Minister. There are female party leaders, mostly of the smaller political parties. Sweden currently has a female Deputy Prime Minister and a female Foreign Minister. But never the head of state.

According to Wiki, ‘Khertek Anchimaa-Toka, of the Tuvan People’s Republic, is regarded as “first ever elected woman head of state in the world” in 1940. The first woman to become prime minister of a country was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of present-day Sri Lanka in 1960. The first woman to serve as president of a country was Isabel Martínez de Perón of Argentina, who as vice-president succeeded to the presidency in 1974 after the death of her husband. The first woman elected president of a country was Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland, who won the 1980 presidential election and three others to become the longest-serving female head of state in history (exactly 16 years in office).’

So why not in Sweden? I don’t have a theory I’m afraid, but I do think it’s strange that a country that prides itself on leading the politics of equality has only had men as Prime Minister. White, middle-aged, assumably straight, men.

And it doesn’t look like there’ll be any change to that in the coming years. Not unless one of the three largest parties elects a female leader to replace the three men who currently hold those positions.

It’s been almost 100 years since the first woman was elected as a Member of Parliament in Sweden and currently, in the Swedish Parliament, 46% are women. Isn’t it time for a woman to also hold the highest elected political office in the country?

Then Sweden could show its equal par with Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland – and 72 other countries around the world.

5000 years of Sweden’s first people

sapmi-flagsapmi

Did you know that Sweden has an indigenous people? I know, isn’t that cool?!

Just like Australia has the Aborigine and China has the Pamiri – Sweden has the Sami. For about 5000 years, the Sami people have lived way up in the arctic north of Sweden in the homeland they call ‘Sapmi’. Today Sapmi actually covers not only Sweden, but also Norway, Finland and Russia. Historically, the Sami were referred to as Lapps, but today this is deemed a derogatory term.

Today, February 6th, is the National Day of the Sami. Today, the Sami flag should be flown and the Sami national anthem is sung in the local Sami language.  The first time this day was celebrated was in 1993 in Jokkmokk, Sweden.

The Sami are the only indigenous people in Scandinavia that are recognised and protected by international convention. The United Nations estimates that there are over 370 million indigenous people living in over 70 countries worldwide. This is roughly 6% of the global population.

Today, around 10% of the Sami population of approximately 70,000 work within the traditional work of reindeer herding. Most of the rest of the indigenous Sami population is urbanised. Like many indigenous people around the world, the Sami have also been treated very badly by the colonising inhabitants of their country. Scandinavia has a legacy of law and assimilation that denied Sami their rights, and an state-sanctioned history of the removal of generations of children for placement in boarding schools and missions. A recent film called ‘Sameblod’ depicted this shameful era of Swedish history.

It took until 1989 for Sweden to recognise the ‘Sami nation’. Sami pupils are entitled to be taught in their native language, although a loophole enables this right to be sometimes bypassed. In 1998, Sweden apologized for their wrongs against the Sami. To make up for past suppression, the authorities of Norway, Sweden and Finland now make an effort to build up Sami cultural institutions and promote Sami culture and language.

However, it is far from rosy in the arctic north. Conflict over land rights, herding rights, exploitation rights are still raging on across Sapmi. Today, the Sami are experiencing cultural and environmental threats, including unwelcome oil exploration, mining, dam building, climate change, military bombing ranges, and exploitative tourism.

Apart from through activism, it is in the Sami parliaments that the main conflicts are debated.  There are three, unconnected Sami parliaments spanning the region – Sweden founded in 1993, Finland in 1973 and Norway in 1989. Russia has not recognized the Sami as a minority and, therefore there is no official Sami parliament (an unrecognised one exists). These democratic parliaments stand up for Sami heritage but have very weak political influence.

Like many nations around the world, Sweden and their neighbours have to balance the ghost of a shameful past with the conflicts of the present and the hope of the future. Without doubt, discrimination against the Sami people still exists.

This is why today, February 6th, is so important as a day of celebration and recognition but also as a day of atonement.