When I put my shoes on, step outside, and take a breakfast walk through Malmö, I’m still surprised by what I don’t see.
There’s not a single statue of the Virgin Mary; there are no nuns pottering about the streets doing whatever it is that nuns actually do, and the flocks of elderly women regularly migrating to early morning mass are nowhere to be found.
Sweden might not have the same veneration that Ireland has for that one woman (Mary), but what it does have is something far better: veneration for all women.
When I first came here, I had no idea how progressive gender equality was in Sweden.
I find it amazing how often Swedish women and men shun traditionally assigned gender roles. It’s something the people here unknowingly take for granted, and it’s something that my Irish eyes can only look at on with envy.
The first time a Swedish friend of mine told me that he was a kindergarten teacher, I started to laugh because I thought he was joking. He got a little annoyed at me because he thought I was laughing at his English, but after I explained things to him, he started to laugh at me and my “silly Irish way of thinking”.
It’s a way of thinking that was given to me by my parents, who in turn got it from their parents, and it’s a way of thinking from which most of Ireland still suffers.
In Ireland, certain jobs are for men and certain jobs are for women. That’s just the way it is, and there’s been no real change for decades.
I can’t help but wonder if the financial mess in Ireland would have been as big as it was or even happened at all, if a few more of the politicians and bank-managers had been women.
Just a little over 15 percent of Ireland’s parliamentarians are women, compared to 45 percent in Sweden.
From an Irish person’s perspective, the level of gender fairness in Swedish society is nothing short of amazing, and the rights that Swedish women enjoy are nothing short of incredible.
There’s one right in particular that Swedish women have that Irish people are crying out for: the right to choose.
News broke recently about a young woman in Ireland who died after she was found to be suffering from a miscarriage but was refused permission to have her pregnancy brought to an end, with doctors telling her: “This is a Catholic country”.
I was shocked and appalled by this needless tragedy, and I found myself thinking, that this would never have happened in Sweden.
I can’t imagine a doctor here refusing treatment to someone and saying they did it because Sweden is a Lutheran country.
The Swedish people wouldn’t accept that as an excuse, and in a 21st century EU country, the Irish people shouldn’t accept it either.
Ireland, despite many recent developments, is still a place that’s deeply steeped in religion, tradition, and fear. It’s why I feel so lucky and find it so wonderful to now be living in a secular country like Sweden.
I love calling over to my Swedish friends' homes, taking off my shoes and walking into their hallways without being greeted by crucifixes on the walls or Sacred Heart pictures hanging in the living rooms.
I love being in a place where children don’t have to start their days with prayers or be baptized just so they can be accepted into certain schools.
I love the fact that same-sex couples enjoy the exact same rights as couples of the opposite sex and that women here have had the right to choose since 1938.
I love being in a country where it’s just as common for men and women to work as kindergarten teachers, and where equality is a precept that people live by and not just a buzzword bandied about by politicians.
Sweden for me has been full of surprises and not all of them have been good (surströmming and salmiak come to mind).
But having been here for a while, I can clearly see that the pros of living in this country far outweigh the cons, and when it comes to choosing a secular, progressive, and fair place to raise a family, Sweden is almost unparalleled, and Ireland could learn a hell of lot if it took a few pages out of the Swedish book of life.
David Duff is an Irishman studying at university in southern Sweden. His free time is split between doing stand-up comedy and adapting to the Swedish way of life.