Freedom of Choice and Gender Equality in Swedish Home-Based Elderly Care

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This chapter analyses the relationship between the economic and gender equality objectives implied in the Swedish Act on System of Choice in the Public Sector (LOV), launched in 2009. The central questions concern 1) the normative conception of gender equality in the reform, and 2) how the gender equality policy have been realized. Empirically, the focus is on home-based elderly care exposed to competition through customer choice. The analysis is based on an intersectional approach, combined with a centre–periphery perspective and a multidimensional definition of precarious employment. These joint perspectives help to reveal and clarify the relationship between the economic and gender equality objectives of the reform. The study shows that gender equality was to be realized mainly through female entrepreneurship. The author relates this conception to the discussion on how a ‘neoliberal normativity’ has come to impact the understanding of ‘gender equality’, which thus refers to the development of an entrepreneurial middle-class rather than to the position of workers. The empirical examples from home-based elderly care confirm this observation. The author therefore also emphasizes the need of applying an intersectional power relations perspective on the meaning of gender equality and diversity in gender mainstreaming policies and practices.

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This article investigates why it took over 20 years of trade union struggle before workers in Swedish elder care were granted the right to free workwear. How did the Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union (Kommunal) tackle the problem; what obstacles did the union face; and why was the matter finally regulated by the state (in 2015 and 2018) and not by collective agreement in line with the Swedish model of self-regulation? The study draws mainly on an analysis of important court cases. The results indicate that the process was protracted mainly because of the unclear legal basis for pursuing demands concerning workwear, municipalities’ (local authorities’) opposition to a general obligation to provide workwear, mainly for financial reasons, and the fact that the issue was deadlocked between the remits of two government authorities, representing patient safety and work safety respectively. The main reason why the union eventually preferred to fight for a legislative solution was that a negotiated solution would probably have come at the expense of other urgent union demands in this female-dominated low-wage sector. When Kommunal intensified the struggle for free workwear in the 2010s, the union also stepped up its struggle against the structural gender differences in wages in the municipal sector.
Purpose – Theorizing that was conceived in the 1970s about gendered processes in organizations helped explain gender inequalities in organizations. This article aims to take the opportunity to re‐examine these processes – including the gendered substructure of organizations, gendered subtext, the gendered logic of organization and the abstract worker from the perspective of the original author in a present‐day context. Design/methodology/approach – A reflexive approach was used to consider how gender theorizing itself has become more complex as captured in the notion of intersectionality when gender process interacts with other forms of inequality. Findings – The key finding is the persistence of inequality regimes despite organizational changes, which still make developments in theorizing gender processes relevant. Originality/value – This article is an opportunity to reflect on the conceptualization and development of one's theorizing over three decades, which has suggested that there are still key questions that demand answers from academics and practitioners who want to challenge these inequality regimes.