Election Puts Most Women Ever in a Western Parliament
Sep. 19, 1994
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ As Sweden's government shakes out following national elections, the biggest winners are turning out to be women. With 41 percent of the seats in parliament, they will hold more political power than in any other Western country.
''It's wonderful,'' Nalin Baksi, a 27-year-old Social Democrat, said Monday. Following Sunday's elections, she and more than 140 other women - many very young and taking office for the first time - will sit in the 349-seat Parliament.
After a campaign dominated by economic issues, Swedish voters dumped the conservative government and brought back the Social Democrats, who won 45.6 percent of the vote. Conservative Prime Minister Carl Bildt resigned Monday.
The Social Democrats tried to calm jittery financial markets Monday by emphasizing tight fiscal policies and strong government to overcome the country's economic crisis.
In Sweden, badly hit by recession and unemployment, women have suffered most from cutbacks in public sector spending such as hospitals and child care. The conservative coalition government, which took power three years ago, cut benefits such as guaranteed pay for parents staying home with a sick child.
Before the election campaign started, a group of influential female writers, economists and scientists threatened to form their own party if the established parties didn't speak up for women's rights.
The Social Democrats responded by creating ''layered lists'' of candidates on which every second candidate was a woman. That practically killed the issue of women's rights in the campaign, and the Social Democrats won on a platform focused on cutting back the welfare state.
But whether women inside the mansions of power will speak up for women outside remains to be seen, said Olof Ruin, a political scientist at Stockholm University.
''I've always been skeptical about saying there is any fundamental difference between men and women in politics,'' Ruin said. ''But probably so- called soft issues might be a little more emphasized.''
While 41 percent of Parliament will be women - the exact number of seats is still not determined - they will hold half the Social Democrats' seats. Party leader Ingvar Carlsson has said he will appoint women to half the Cabinet posts.
The outspoken Ms. Baksi, a nurse by profession, is sure the shift of balance will make a difference for Swedish women.
Women react differently, Ms. Baksi said, to issues like the war in Bosnia, where rapes have been used as a war tactic.
''Men always want to calculate everything, and investigate, investigate,'' Ms. Baksi said. ''We feel 3/8''
Ms. Baksi said the large percentage of women also could affect the way government operates.
''It should be possible to combine politics with having a family. No late night meetings, for example,'' she said.
Before the election, 33 percent of Sweden's lawmakers were women, while neighboring Finland and Norway had 39 and 36 percent respectively.
Among the new female members will be Swedish actress Hanna Zetterberg, 21, and Lena Sandlin, 24, daughter of the country's Olympic hockey coach.
The Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean off Africa's eastern coast, holds the world record with 46 percent women in its parliament, according to 1993 statistics from the Interparliamentary Union.