Mayor of Stockholm: ‘You can be a mother and a fantastic politician’

Mayor of Stockholm Anna König Jerlmyr talks about her vision for the city's future, why she wants more girls to play chess and what makes Stockholm 'A Woman's Place'.

Mayor of Stockholm: ‘You can be a mother and a fantastic politician’
Mayor of Stockholm Anna König Jerlmyr

I think Stockholm is a fantastic place to be a woman. We are very aware of things like gender issues, equality and women’s rights. Though we have our challenges, of course! For example, two days ago I was sitting on a panel and we talked about FemTech and investment into female founders. A small percentage of venture capital goes to female founders and I think it’s such a big possibility for Stockholm — we need more investment to go to female entrepreneurs.

But we also see progress. According to a new study by Dr. Nima Sanandaji, CEO of the think tank European Center for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform, women in Sweden now make more money than men in 9 percent of all occupations. And furthermore, a majority of Sweden's young CEOs today are women.

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.

Read more about Stockholm's 'A Woman's Place' initiative

I think it was a British member of parliament who once said to me: ‘What are you doing here, you should be home raising children!’. I was also a member of parliament, it was at one of these European meetings and I was shocked. I think of Britain as an equal country, he was much older. But sometimes you get these questions and of course you remember these comments. They are very rare I would say. Most people are very positive. Now I’m president of Eurocities and when we went to Brussels they were so positive, saying this signalled a change.

I want to see more girls playing chess. I asked my son how many girls are in his chess club. None! I think chess is also a subject, if they are good in chess they are good in programming and mathematics. And we need more women to study engineering and become role models for others.

I am a really strong supporter of ‘feminist urban planning’. I work with NGOs about how we can have inclusive city planning. It’s also gender based, of course. If public spaces are safe for women, they’re safe for everyone. So we have to address women’s needs: it could be lighting, making sure it’s clean and that ground level is lit by lots of shops and restaurants. Safe play areas for children, too. 

Stockholm is a good city for women when it comes to the possibility to achieve your goals. It’s almost like the American dream but it’s the Stockholm dream! You can do so much. You have fantastic possibilities because of the flat hierarchies and lots of the employers are also very open to flexible working. And you have a tax deduction on services like cleaning and home help. Now I think women can combine a career and have quality time with the children because they are not cleaning all the time!

In Stockholm, we have a lot of informal networks for women. It would be best if both men and women meet in the same informal networks in the long-run. But for now, it’s an answer to the traditional male-only networks. I see the younger generations meet together but even at an early age they separate at school, they tend to play differently. It’s really important to encourage girls to do engineering or for boys to be creative. 

Find out what makes Stockholm 'A Woman's Place'

We are very tolerant and interested in new people. I hope so anyway! We are also quite a big city, and it’s a beautiful city. It’s a good place to raise a family. When people are asked why they chose Stockholm, it’s because it’s an equal city; men and women have the same opportunities and it’s a good place to raise children. 

In the next ten years, I want half of Stockholm’s unicorn companies to be created by women. It would be great to have a female prime minister in Sweden and to see more female leaders in the business community, as well as female innovators. I want more girls to go to KTH and study engineering and programming and to work with safety in the segregated areas. I don’t want to see any ‘honour’ crimes, it’s the goal that in ten years these will disappear. 

I want Stockholm to be an inclusive and open city in every way. Today Spotify can attract programmers from many countries where the culture is not so open and tolerant to, for example, LGBTQ people. Therefore, to work with LGBTQ rights is also a way of showing that this city is open and welcoming to everyone.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio in partnership with Invest Stockholm.

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‘We’re pioneers’: Barça’s La Masia academy finally opens its doors to women

Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Guardiola and Piqué are among the FC Barcelona stars who kicked off their careers through the Catalan team's youth system. For the first time in 42 years, La Masia has now opened its doors to female football players; this is their story.

'We're pioneers': Barça's La Masia academy finally opens its doors to women
Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

When Claudia Riumallo Pineda wakes up, it does not take her long to know where she is.

From her bedroom window she can see the Johan Cruyff Stadium inside Barcelona’s Ciutat Esportiva training ground, where she dreams of one day playing for the women’s first team.

She is on the right track. The 18-year-old is one of nine trailblazers who this season became the first female players to enrol at La Masia, Barca’s famed football academy and proving ground for the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Xavi Hernández.

Since its opening in 1979 as an old house next to Camp Nou, La Masia has never had female residents.

But the women’s team has been knocking on the door for a long time, with Barcelona Femeni winning the Champions League, Liga Femenina and Copa de la Reina last season.

“This year they have given us La Masia, which is a gift,” says Claudia, who for years had to travel an hour by car from her town of Girona just to be able to train with girls.

After playing for local rivals Espanyol, she now represents Barçaa B and in the afternoons studies chemistry at university.

Shaken by financial crisis and the unexpected departure of Messi, most of the good news around the club these days comes from the women’s team.

As well as last season’s treble, Barca’s captain Alexia Putellas was chosen as UEFA’s best player of the year and is now also nominated, along with four teammates, for the Women’s Ballon d’Or.

“It’s a huge responsibility because we are the pioneers but it’s also nice to know that you are one of the first women to go to La Masia,” says Laura Coronado, an 18-year-old goalkeeper.

Coronado’s photo, like that of the 105 others at La Masia spread across the club’s five professional sports, now hangs in the reception of the more modern complex that took over from the original in 2011.

Gavi, the latest gem of the men’s team, arrived when he was eleven years old and continues to live there. The 19-year-old Ansu Fati is also a former resident.

“The good thing we have at this club is the mirror is very clear,” explains Markel Zubizarreta, sporting director of Barcelona Femeni. “We just have to look at the men’s side to see what we have to aim for.”

Barcelona's women's B team Spanish forward Claudia Riumallo Pineda (L) and  goalkeeper Laura Coronado pose after a training session at the La Masia Residence (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)
Barcelona’s women’s B team Spanish forward Claudia Riumallo Pineda (L) and  goalkeeper Laura Coronado pose after a training session at the La Masia Residence (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

 From strength to strength

In the corridor heading towards the games room is another reminder: a muralon the wall in tribute to the game between Levante and Barca on November 25, 2012.

It was another win that contributed to Barca winning the title that year but also a milestone for La Masia, after Barcelona had 11 homegrown players on the pitch, not to mention the coach, the late Tito Vilanova.

At that time it was difficult to imagine how the female team could find breathing space at a club where the men’s team was so dominant — but the women’s game continues to go from strength to strength.

In 2020, there were 77,400 licensed female players in Spain, 7.2 percent of all the federated footballers, according to statistics from the Ministry of Sports.

It is still a small figure, but a clear improvement from 2011, when there were only 36,200, 4.3 percent of the total.

“There are many things that are still missing, such as professionalisation in the League,” says Coronado.

“We know the salaries are not going to be equal, but we would like to be able to live more comfortably from football, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”

Spain’s Ministry for Sport approved the professionalisation of La Liga Femenina in June but negotiations to see it through are proving complicated.

Barcelona’s women’s B team players attend a training session at the La Masia youth academy. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

For all

Like many of her generation, Barca defender Jana Fernández started out playing with boys.

At six years old, she convinced her parents to let her join her local team and, now 19, she has already won the treble. But the road has not been easy.

“I try to remind the girls who are at La Masia now to take advantage as much as possible because I would have loved to be here,” explains Fernández, who combines professional football with a career in advertising.

Women’s sport has taken a big leap in recent years, but there is still work to do.

“We want to fight to get more and more for those playing now,” says Fernández. “And for those that are still to come.”