Ever since the 1970s, various governments have stressed the need for more women in academia and increased investments in research on gender and gender equality issues.
Research policy refers to all government regulation of the funding and organisation of research. One important issue is how research findings can be utilised to achieve policy objectives such as economic growth, increased school performance, a healthier population, and a sustainable or gender equal society. The Swedish government’s regulation of research occurs mainly through allocation of resources, formulation of rules and decisions about organisation. At a general level, the Government and the Parliament make these decisions. Within the framework provided by the Government and the Parliament, research councils and higher education institutions, almost all of which are government authorities, decide on the focus of the research.
Research has enjoyed a strong position in Swedish politics ever since former Prime Minister Tage Erlander established the first national research policy advisory committee in 1962. At that time, the focus areas were energy supply, medicine and healthcare and, not least, housing. The government expanded the higher education sector, but also made an impact on Swedish research through research institutes, public agencies and cooperation with county councils and industry. Ever since the first research bill was presented to the Parliament in 1977, the Swedish Government has drawn up the guidelines for the country’s research policy in this way every 3–4 years.
Ever since the 1970s when gender issues started to draw widespread attention, there has been a tendency at the political level to put gender research and gender equality issues in the same basket. In 1972, the Nordic Council concluded both that the absence of women in academia has affected the content of and procedures in higher education and that theoretical knowledge about what in those days was called gender roles is essential in order for students to be able to participate in the development of a gender-equal society. The need for research was linked to the issue of gender equality, both in academia and in society at large. One expression of this was the establishment of so-called centra/fora for women’s studies and female researchers in 1978 – the origin of today’s departments for gender studies at most higher education institutions.
The explicit link between gender research and gender equality remained in Swedish research policy at least into the 1990s, and this has helped bring attention to the situation of women in academia. The contributions of gender research have also helped develop gender equality in theory and practice. Yet the link has also been subject to frequent discussion, because even though many gender researchers are involved in gender equality issues, this focus area comprises only one part of the whole field. Furthermore, similar to other research fields, not least in the humanities, gender research also encompasses material that is not directly applicable in practice.