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Multiple layers of resistance explain the Swedish Armed Forces’ slow gender equality efforts

The slow progress of gender equality efforts in the Armed Forces is mainly caused by resistance to change at multiple levels within the organization, according to Frida Linehagen who studied the Armed Forces' gender equality work in her dissertation.

"Over a long period of time, the Swedish Armed Forces have taken many measures towards a more gender-equal organization, but the progress is very slow. I wanted to find out why", says Frida Linehagen, Captain in the Navy and a military teacher at the Swedish Defence University.

In her Ph. D. thesis Gender (in)equality within the Swedish Armed Forces: Resistance and functional disinclination, she explores the reasons behind the slow development and connects it to a resistance to change at the structural, organizational, and professional levels. This resistance can be explained by the concept of functional disinclination, which means that barriers to gender equality can not only be seen as resistance but also as a recurring process that blocks the implementation of various measures.

"In the four sub-studies of the thesis that look at different areas of the Swedish Armed Forces' operations, it is clear that there is an organizational inability to adapt to the normative requirements placed on the organization", says Frida Linehagen.

Different types of resistance to equality

Resistance to gender equality is visible in several aspects. One example is the Swedish Armed Forces' collective negotiation agreement for employees, which had a directed initiative to increase women's salaries in 2017. The goal was for women's average salary to reach 95 percent of men's.

"As a measure towards more equality, this initiative is remarkable in that 95 percent cannot be considered equal to 100 percent of the men’s salaries", says Linehagen.

Some other examples include how both women and men adapt to the military masculine norm, and how they relate to equality in their organization.

"As an organisation, the Swedish Armed Forces was closed to women for a long time. And even though it has been open to women for 40 years now, women in the Armed Forces still need to relate to male norms. The fact that the first unisex uniform will not be delivered until three years from now, in 2026, is just one example of the inertia in the system."

Resistance to equality is not necessarily a conscious strategy, but rather an effect of the prevalent culture, says Linehagen.

"I believe that the Armed Forces’ strategy is to work towards a more equal organisation, but there are constantly other issues that require attention, for example, the Defence Forces' main task of defending the country. In the light of the main task, everything else is secondary and therefore becomes less of a priority."

Unique insight into the work of the Armed Forces

When she first set out to write her thesis, Linehagen did not intend to study equality in the Armed Forces.

"I didn't want to be one of the “ladies who do gender equality”. I had seen others doing that and it wasn't exactly a great career move for them. But the more I got into the subject, it was incredibly interesting, and as an officer, I was able to provide an insight into the organisation that is difficult to capture for someone on the outside."

The very fact that she initially did not want to go into the subject can actually be seen as part of the organizational resistance within the Armed Forces, which she discusses in her thesis.

Wants to contribute to change

Frida Linehagen hopes that her research will encourage more people to reflect on gender equality in the Armed Forces and that it will lead to tangible changes.

"I have presented my work at different levels in the Armed Forces, and I think I have planted some seeds in many people’s minds. The fact that my work has gone through an academic quality control process adds to the credibility."

She believes that the gender-neutral conscription introduced in 2017 will have a positive impact on gender equality.

"The development will be much faster now that more women are doing their conscription, but more research is needed to monitor the development", says Frida Linehagen.

Josefin Svensson


Frida Linehagen (2023): Gender (in)equality within the Swedish Armed Forces: Resistance and functional disinclination.

Frida Linehagen presented her thesis on October 13, 2023, at the Division of Risk Management and Societal Safety, Department of Building and Environmental Technology, Lund University.

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