What a feminist foreign policy looks like

Jul 29, 2018 by

By Margot Wallström 
Ms. Wallström is Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs.
I sometimes quote the words of the American author and professor Cheris Kramarae, who said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” In one way, it’s as simple as that: feminism, or gender equality, is about making sure that women have the same rights, representation and resources as men.
Together, those three Rs — rights, representation and resources — make up a simple analytical framework that I have sought to advance as much as possible since becoming Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs four years ago.
Before that, when I served as the United Nations special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, my assignments often brought me face to face with the horrors of this world. I met many women and girls, the hope and backbone of their communities, who had been terrorized for simply being female. Their bodies were targets of the sexual violence that was being used as a weapon in conflicts, as happens so much in the world’s many wars. After their rescue or escape from their abusers, they lost the light in their eyes.
It was then that, for me, the link between feminism and security policy became indisputable.
Sexual violence in conflict is one of the most cruel, inhumane and vicious acts imaginable. It is a war crime. Yet during my time as a special representative, I often heard people say that sexual violence was inevitable. That it was sad and unspeakable, but an unavoidable consequence of conflict. That it was part of the culture of war.
Let me be clear: sexual violence is not cultural; it is criminal. If sexual violence can be rationalized, just imagine the other forms of domination over women that are accepted or seen as unavoidable.
Weaponizing sexual violence is at one extreme end of the spectrum of abuse of women. On the same spectrum are the countless stories of harassment and abuse women from all around the world have shared in the #MeToo movement. These girls and women have shined a spotlight on something that happens everywhere, every day, and at all levels of every society: the systematic oppression of women.
Oppression can take place when women and girls exercise their basic rights, be they the right to go to school, to open a bank account or to choose when and whom to marry; it can take place in matters of representation, in the leadership of national or international organizations, governments, parliaments and private companies or wherever decisions are made affecting women and their future; and it can take place when it comes to resources, in budgets or spheres of society where women have particular needs and interests.
Advancing these three Rs, we have prevented several hundred thousand unsafe abortions in East Africa by providing safe options. We have increased the participation of women in peace processes and started networks for them. We have provided training for female political candidates in Somalia, which has led to real political change. We recently ran a global campaign to increase the representation of women on Wikipedia, where 90 percent of contributors are men and there are four times more articles about men than women. It has so far generated more than 2,500 articles about women.
A growing number of countries are now making plans to promote gender equality through foreign policy.
The resistance to gender equality can be surprising. When we began our feminist foreign policy, some Swedish commentators called it “empty words.” In other parts of the world, it was not the words as much as the substance that seemed to terrify people.
I am confident that history is on our side. I am confident that gender equality is one of the issues of our time by which future generations will judge our performance as leaders, politicians and citizens

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