At the Equality Fund, we aim to shape and contribute to discussions in Canada and around the world on the policy issues that influence how money is invested in feminist change—by governments, philanthropists, and the private sector. Recently, the Equality Fund’s Beth Woroniuk, Vice President, Policy, joined other feminist leaders in an article reacting to the Swedish government’s move to drop the first ever Feminist Foreign Policy. The decision in 2014 to label the policy feminist was intentional: “Sweden’s feminist foreign policy made it clear, once and for all, that gender equality was not a side issue. Rather, it is central when looking at global security, economic prosperity, and climate disaster.” As an organization, the work the Equality Fund does is conducted through a feminist lens as feminists, and in support of and in solidarity with feminists across the world. Using the term feminist when describing foreign policy work, or any work that is looking to advance gender equality, was a deliberate act of solidarity to feminist activists that they are not alone. the English op-ed, originally published in Goteborgs-Posten, is below.
Feminists around the world reacted with concern and dismay when the new Swedish government recently dropped the term ‘feminist’ from its foreign policy. Alarm bells went off regarding what this meant for both Sweden’s progressive role in the world, and for other countries advancing a feminist foreign policy.
While the new government has suggested that Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy was merely a label, our experience has proven otherwise. As feminist activists and officials working all over the world to advance this approach, we mourn the loss of the world’s first feminist foreign policy, an effort that has, in our view, had an important global impact.
In 2014, Sweden was the first country to call its foreign policy feminist. This bold statement opened the door to others. Since then, at least ten other countries have followed – either announcing a feminist foreign policy or the intention to develop one. The growing list now includes France, Mexico, Canada, Spain, Libya, Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands, Colombia, Chile, Liberia, and Scotland.
But first and foremost, Sweden’s decision to call its foreign policy feminist gave hope and inspiration to feminist activists around the world. Women human rights defenders knew they had an ally on the global stage. This solidarity is vital as attacks on feminist activists and LGBTQI people increase.
Sweden’s feminist foreign policy made it clear, once and for all, that gender equality was not a side issue. Rather, it is central when looking at global security, economic prosperity, and climate disaster.
There were results. Under Swedish leadership, the Security Council passed a resolution including sexual and gender-based violence as one of the grounds for sanctions. Sweden supported new legislation on gender equality in over 20 countries. Sweden championed sexual and reproductive rights in international fora and development assistance investments in gender equality increased.
By using a basic framework of “rights, resources, representation”, Sweden also helpfully demystified what a feminist foreign policy looks like in practice. While there continues to be much global debate and discussion around what a feminist foreign policy should and could involve, Sweden demonstrated it was possible to move forward with a specific vision and purpose.
Of course there were also criticisms. All states adopting feminist policies face critiques. Bringing a feminist approach to something as complicated and multi-faceted as foreign policy is not easy. Developing a coherent and consistent approach will take time. Feminist foreign policies are a journey. There are numerous interests and global forces that challenge principled approaches and efforts to build a more equitable and peaceful world.
While the Swedish government has reassured both domestic and international stakeholders that removing ‘feminist’ from the official description of its foreign policy will not affect its commitment to gender equality, there are many who mourn this change. Yes, it is possible to advance gender equality objectives without this label, as many other countries do. However, calling your foreign policy feminist signals a different level of ambition, and distinguishes gender equality as a central priority and perspective, as opposed to one of many global objectives. And it sends a message to feminist activists around the world that they are not alone.
We hope that Sweden’s step away from the feminist foreign policy ‘club’ is temporary. We will miss your insights, ambition and leadership. And we will welcome you back with open arms when – once again – Sweden proudly calls your foreign policy feminist.
Mabel Bianco, Fundación para la Investigación de la Mujer (Argentina)
Memory Kachambwa, FEMNET- African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Kenya)
Kristina Lunz, Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (Germany)
Geetanjali Misra, CREA (India)
Lyric Thompson, Feminist Foreign Policy Collaborative (USA)
Beth Woroniuk, Equality Fund (Canada)
The op-ed published in Goteborgs-Posten in its original Swedish is available here.