Global Security and Gender: Lessons from Sweden’s Foreign Policy
by Student Contributor Hannah Stambaugh
Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, has announced that Sweden will be the world’s first country to pursue a feminist foreign policy. On January 28th, Minister Wallström spoke about Sweden’s groundbreaking new policy agenda at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), an event co-sponsored by the Swedish Embassy in DC. In her keynote address, Wallström emphasized that Sweden would be actively integrating gender into “all aspects of foreign policy.”
Margot Wallström, a leading member of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, has served as Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2014. Amongst her notable past positions, she has served as Minister of Culture and Minister of Social Affairs, has served as a member of Parliament, and has served as Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence and Conflict. Throughout her career, she has championed women’s rights and wider human rights.
An Wednesday’s event, Wallström outlined the “what” and the “how” of a feminist foreign policy. A feminist agenda is not just a women’s agenda, “it is a wider human rights and security agenda,” she asserted.
A feminist foreign policy has three major goals: women’s rights, representation and resources. She maintains that women’s rights must be central to every level of a foreign policy agenda rather than treated as a separate issue. Sweden will be working multilaterally and bilaterally to ensure that gender is incorporated into all facets of foreign policy decision-making. Sweden will promote increased women’s representation in governments and in peace-building processes, both domestically and globally. Wallström emphasized the critical role of women’s unique voices in negotiations and mediations. One way of promoting this goal is through increased support of women’s organizations working towards peace and reconciliation in conflict and post-conflict zones. Finally, Sweden will channel greater resources towards domestic and global gender equality initiatives.
Though Sweden is hailed as one of the world’s champions of gender equality and women’s empowerment, Wallström emphasized that the country still has substantial room for domestic growth.
Priority will be given to these five interdependent pillars of a feminist foreign policy:
- Increasing the role of women in rule of law and human rights,
- Combating gender-based violence and sexual violence, particularly in conflict and post-conflict zones,
- Promoting sexual health and reproductive rights (one of Sweden’s domestic strengths),
- Promoting the economic development of women, particularly labor rights and equal access to social services and legal rights, and
- Integrating women’s issues into the environmental area and the fight against climate change.
Following Wallström’s address, a distinguished panel expanded the scope of the discussion to include the role of the United States. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for the bureau of African affairs, moderated the panel. Discussants were Catherine Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Donald Steinberg, president and CEO of an international nonprofit called World Learning and a champion of pushing minority rights into the USAID agenda, and Minister Wallström. Two of the main topics discussed were the US’s role in promoting global gender equality and discussants’ views on best practices in achieving gender equality aims.
Ambassador Russell expressed her excitement about working with Sweden to integrate gender into foreign policy and outlined some of the United States’ major goals. These goals include increasing women’s representation in peacebuilding work, increasing women’s representation in global and domestic politics, and convincing skeptical foreign leaders why women’s representation matters.
Minister Wallström’s feminist policy agenda has been met with ridicule in many parts of the world, including Sweden. Nevertheless, she remains resolute in the importance of incorporating gender concerns and women’s unique voices into all levels of foreign and domestic policy. Flying in the face of critics who claim a feminist agenda is an intangible goal, Wallström has already taken several concrete steps to initiate substantial reform in Sweden’s foreign policy in her first year as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She has instituted an overrule of all ministries to ensure that capacity for the new feminist agenda is met, she has taken steps to engage civil society, and she has appointed an Ambassador-at-Large for women’s issues, making Sweden one of three countries (including the United States) with this position. Minister Wallström is confident in Sweden’s ability to create substantive reform and to lessen the stigma around the word “feminism.”