Putting HRBA to Work: Sustainable Gender Equality and Snow-Clearing in Sweden

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Gender equality and non-discrimination are key norms in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Articles 10, 11, and 13, respectively, of the Convention affirm women’s rights to non-discrimination in education, employment, and economic and social activities. As well, SDG 5

aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, while its first goal target is to eliminate discrimination.

A HRBA does not need to be expensive or complex. A rights-based approach can be remarkably simple. Gender mainstreaming is an excellent example. One strategy that has recently attracted attention is the analysis of differences based on gender, and an attempt to find ways to integrate or mainstream that information into project planning. Planners must therefore assess the disadvantages that may be specific to different groups by mapping the consequences and impacts on women and men.

Sweden is a Nordic country with among the highest levels of gender equality in the world. Its "Gender Mainstreaming in Govermnent Agencies” program has been in effect since 2013, and now extends to the majority of government agencies. Snow removal is not an area where one might expect to hear discussions about gender mainstreaming, but the severe winters and high amounts of snowfall affect the mobility of entire populations in affected areas. Officials from the Swedish municipality of Karlskoga knew they possessed little information on the impact of their snow removal services on women, even though regional and national policy targets demanded results information on gender equality for all programs. By undertaking an assessment of the gendered impact of snow removal services, officials discovered surprising information.

A gender-based analysis of the municipality’s snow removal system revealed that the snow removal service began with highways and beltway/ring roads, followed by principal roads that tended to lead to male-dominated workplaces. Men benefited because they were more likely to use private cars and benefit from cleared beltway and circle roads, as well as main roads leading to facilities and places of business. The last priorities in terms of snow clearance were bus stops, pedestrian walkways, and bike paths. Because a gendered analysis showed that more women than men used public transit, bike paths, and had to take children to school and/or bus stops, women were more likely to have to walk on snow-covered paths and roads, sometimes with small children, in order to get to bus stops and bus stations (Balan, 2015, Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions [SALAR], 2014).

Karlskoga municipal authorities realized they had to reorient their approach to focus on the people who needed the services most, rather than on "system needs” linked to metrics of snow clearance and road distances in generic terms. They changed the priorities of municipal snow removal services to start with sidewalks and walkways that led to main streets, kindergartens, and primary schools. Parents (usually women) more likely to drop children off before going to work in the morning benefited. Next, the municipality cleared roads to workplaces dominated by female workforces - health care and social assistance institutions, for example - and the third priority was roads to other schools.

The reorganization of municipal snow removal services required a new snowclearing schedule based on disaggregated information. The new schedule did not generate new costs beyond the time it took to reallocate the priorities. As a result, the new schedule was more equitable and non-discriminatory for women and children, and engendered economic benefits connected to improving work productivity of these groups. Additional benefits were reduced injuries caused by slippage and motor vehicle accidents involving pedestrians (SALAR, 2014). The disaggregated results information then fed into the next policy cycle. It is important to acknowledge that these targeted outcomes may not reflect a generalized improvement of costs and benefits (because operating costs are largely the same and benefits are more targeted to specific groups), but they do reflect a conscious choice to give priority to certain groups based on a HRBA and human rights standards.


A rights-based approach ensures that people, rather than the needs of a system, are the focus of program design. It includes the input of vulnerable and marginalized populations, based on human rights standards in national legislation and policy, as well as international human rights law. Using a HRBA narrows the “gap” between the supply and demand of results information by ensuring that the original design of programs is more likely to generate human rights-sensitive information and results in both the development and evaluation of public policy.

A HRBA offers an alternative that moves beyond generic needs, effectiveness, and efficiency to determine whether a policy or program is actually making a difference for those who are most likely to need it. A rights-based approach reorients policy and programming, and serves as an entry point for both policy developers and evaluators, resulting in improved capacity to show human rights impacts across all program areas, not just those designated explicitly for human rights outcomes.


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