Scandinavia: Paving the way for female mayors in Europe

In European local politics, women remain largely unrepresented. Only 16% of mayors across the old continent are women. However, Scandinavia seems to be Europe’s ray of hope when it comes to gender equality in politics. We bring you the inspiring stories of Scandinavian female mayors who keep challenging the male-dominated politics we have known for a while. 

Scandinavia is frequently credited as pioneer of greater gender equality in various sectors. According to the worldwide gender gap index in 2021, Iceland, Norway, Finland, are the most successful countries considering country gender differences on political, economic, educational, and health-related parameters. This region’s commitment to gender equality is not only on paper – mayors of three out of  Scandinavia’s five biggest cities are women.

Anna König Jerlmyr has been leading the Swedish capital Stockholm since 2018. Ever since she was appointed a mayor, she has been putting a lot of effort into innovation and sustainable development which have both slowly evolved into Stockholm’s trademarks. Hard work König Jerlmyr does has a goal of creating chances for all inhabitants in the city to flourish and improve their quality of life. Stockholm’s mayor is particularly committed to empowering women and ensuring their voices are well heard.

When I was young, I felt like I had a lack of female role models. When I started in politics, I was 16 years old and the female politicians tried to be like men. They dressed like men and almost acted like men, and I could never relate to that. I feel really feminine and I like to dress feminine and be myself. But I think that’s changed now. You can be both, you can be a strong woman but you can also wear a dress, you can be a mother and a fantastic politician,” König Jerlmyr stated in an interview on Visit Stockholm website.

Stockholm was recognized for its Smart City Strategy during König Jerlmyr’s leadership, and the Smart City World Expo Congress named Stockholm the “smartest city in the world”. Next to numerous achievements and positive examples, König Jerlmyr continuously points out the area in which there’s still plenty of room for improvement. In the tech industry, a gender gap is still a thing. In 2019, Stockholm mayor revealed an ambitious plan that is meant to address this global issue. Within the next decade, she wants 50% of Stockholm’s tech start ups to be women-founded.

Sweden’s third largest city Malmö is also led by a woman. There, Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh is the first ever woman to hold the office. She emphasized on people’ participation and the prioritization of sustainability in all parts of Malmö which are critical to the city’s future prosperity and success. In recent years, Malmö has established some of the most ambitious renewable energy targets in Europe. At the same time, the city is equally committed to social sustainability goals.

Malmö was chosen as a host city of ICLEI World Congress 2021-2022. The event is an opportunity for local and regional governments to come together to recognize and celebrate the vital contributions that cities, towns, and regions make to long-term sustainability. One of the speakers at the conference was the mayor Stjernfeldt Jammeh herself. According to Stjernfeldt Jammeh, the fact that such a high-profile event was awarded to Malmö confirmed that the city can be considered one of front-runners when it comes to sustainable development worldwide.

Just 30 kilometres from Malmö, Danish capital Copenhagen has recently elected a female mayor as well. The new mayor Sophie Hæstorp Andersen was previously chair of the regional council for the capital region, as well as a member of Parliament and the Socialdemokratiet’s spokesperson for healthcare issues.

In concrete terms, as mayor I will move the office out into the districts to be closer to you, the people of Copenhagen. In a big city like Copenhagen, there will be very different challenges in our neighbourhoods. They must not be lost in the distance between City Hall and the citizens. Because the municipality is there for the citizens. That is how it should be. And that’s how it should be experienced by those of us who live in the city. I look forward to what lies ahead. And I look forward to strengthening the dialogue with you, the people of Copenhagen, Hæstorp Andersen stated on social media following the elections.

Women’s representation and involvement in local politics remain essential for democracies. Without it, responsiveness to citizen’s needs is in danger. Despite slow progress that has been made in the recent past, Europe still has a long way to go to fully close the gender gap. Northern European countries showcase examples of amazing practices that have been developed by their female leaders and can hopefully encourage other countries to follow the same steps.