Karin Andersson was a politician of Centerpartiet (Swedish Centre Party), who served as the minister for gender equality and as the minister for migration in Thorbjörn Fälldin’s government from 1979 to 1982. Her time as a minister was in many ways formative for the development of Swedish gender equality politics.
Karin Andersson was born into a farming family in Åsby (Derome) in Halland. Both of her parents were politically active and her father, Elias Andersson, was the chair of the local municipality. She had six siblings. She began her professional life as a journalist in 1947 when she was employed at Hallands Nyheter in Varberg. Shortly thereafter she moved to Stockholm, where from 1948 to 1957 she worked at RLF-tidningen, the newspaper of Riksförbundet Landsbygdens folk (an interest organisation for Sweden’s farmers), now called Tidningen Land. During this time she trained as a social worker and she graduated with a degree in social work in 1951. From 1957 to 1960 she was employed at what was then called Radiotjänst (now Sveriges Radio).
Karin Andersson was politically active in the Centre-movement and served as the association secretary for Centerns Kvinnoförbund (the Centre Women’s association) (CKF) from 1966 to 1979. The same year she became the association secretary of the CKF, she also became a member of Stockholm city council in an election which saw the Centre party gain their first ever mandate in the capital city’s locally elected assembly. In 1971 Karin Andersson became a member of parliament and she remained a member until 1985.
It has been said that when Karin Andersson, aged 61, was asked to be a minister she had just reached a point in her life where she was intending to wind down her political activism. She was already carrying a heavy workload as a member of parliament, city councillor and association secretary for CKF. Furthermore, she had frequently contributed to investigative work on issues relating to the media, culture and integration. She was also a board member of Invandrarverket (today Migrationsverket) and served as chairwoman of the gender equality committee in parliament from 1976-1979.
As deputy minister of employment Karin Andersson was responsible for both equality and immigration matters. After a few months the Fälldin government established a government agency called Jämställdhetsombudsmannen (Equality Ombudsman) (JämO) and passed a law regarding gender equality in the workplace, which laid the foundation for today’s gender equality work. As the immigration minister Karin Andersson believed that Sweden, as a country of asylum, had a duty to test asylum seekers’ statements and to offer protection to those who were entitled to it. Like many other ministers at the time, Karin Andersson emphasised that Sweden had a limited ability to regulate immigration controls. When it came to integration she wanted to “invite immigrants on their own terms”. She considered the central issues to be the government’s goals of electoral freedom, equality and cooperation. She believed that in particular “hemspråksundervisning” (school teaching in languages other than Swedish for children with other mother languages), which had been introduced in 1968 and revised in 1977, played a fundamental role in integration and she initiated several studies on linguistic and cultural heritage. She continued to be engaged in these issues long after her time as a minister. In 1983 she raised a motion, along with other Centre party colleagues in parliament, to maintain developments in supporting native languages by testing them in schools where only the national was spoken.
When Karin Andersson entered parliament in 1970 only nine of the 71 Centre seats had been given to women, but by 1979 the Centre party had become the first party to achieve 30 percent female representation in its parliamentary group. When Karin Andersson left parliament in 1985, aged nearly 67, the Centre party’s representation had been reduced to 56 seats but 21 of them (almost 40 percent) were held by women. Karin Andersson did not want to be identified as a “women’s issues-woman”, instead emphasising the importance of gender equality. She was convinced that men and women made better decisions when collaboratin than either gender did on its own. During her period as leader of the Centerns Kvinnoförbund the association grew and came to take on a wider scope of questions, including issues related to urban living, economic growth and the environment. The association thus strengthened its influence both in the party and in the wider debate.
Karin Andersson never married and didn’t have any children. A few years after retiring from politics she returned to the place where she had grown up in Halland and spent the rest of her days there. She was a keen weaver and spent a lot of time in her large garden.
Karin Andersson died in 2012, aged 93. She is buried in Ås cemetery in Veddige-Kungsäter parish.