How is feminism armed

Feminist foreign policy

The social democrat Stefan Löfven wanted to form the first “feminist government” in the world after he took over the office of Swedish head of government in autumn 2014. Every decision that every budget should serve gender equality. The aim of Sweden's national and international political action is to offer all people, regardless of their gender, the same opportunities to shape society and their own lives. The equality of the sexes is a democratic matter of course and at the same time serves to solve many challenges that modern society is facing today.

The fact that Löfven had put the "F-word" in his mouth caused a broad media response internationally. But hardly anyone was really surprised: since the fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, gender mainstreaming has been mentioned in many international agreements. And Sweden has been one of the top places in gender equality rankings for years.


Wallström's world politics

The public reacted less calmly when Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, who most recently worked as a UN special envoy on the issue of sexual violence in conflicts, declared that the feminist government also includes a “feminist foreign policy”. Foreign policy and security are extremely male-dominated, conservative areas. That is why the announcement - especially by a woman - to “put on glasses with a gender perspective” and make changes immediately triggered defensive reflexes. Wallström's speech also called scoffers on the scene at home and abroad, who asked what contribution a gender analysis could make against terrorist attacks, acute aggressive acts by authoritarian states or foreign submarines in Swedish waters. Such a view ignores the fact that gender issues before and after armed conflict makes a significant difference for all concerned.

In Sweden, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a broader scope than in Germany: Wallström is responsible for democracy and human rights, international law, foreign and security policy. The leadership team of the Foreign Ministry also includes the Social Democratic EU and Trade Minister Ann Linde and Deputy Minister of State Isabella Lövin from the Environment Party, who is responsible for international development cooperation, the environment and the climate.

Accordingly, the annually revised “Action Plan for Feminist Foreign Policy 2015–2018” affects all of these policy areas. The measures listed in the plan are intended to help safeguard the human rights of all women and girls; to protect them from physical, psychological and sexual violence; to involve them in the prevention and resolution of armed conflicts and in the reconstruction after armed conflicts; promote their political participation and influence in all areas of society, strengthen their economic rights and ensure their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

What the term "feminist" suggests a radical change of course is based on the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which was passed in 2000. This provides for women to be involved in discussions on the prevention and resolution of conflicts and for the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, which were agreed in the same year, to apply. Like the 2030 Agenda adopted in 2015, these are based on scientific data and analyzes. There are fewer unwanted pregnancies, extreme poverty and sexual violence when women and men have the same sexual and reproductive rights. "UN Resolution 1325 is a milestone, it contains everything that is important, but we are still far from being as far as we should in terms of implementation," says Robert Egnell, professor at the Swedish Defense University. "Still only 2.5 percent of the official mediators in peace processes are women - that is far too little."

In human rights, peace and development organizations, Wallström's announcement aroused the hope that women and girls would now come into the focus of politics, who are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations and a lack of medical care worldwide in times of peace and, above all, in times of crisis and war. The intersectional approach also promised to take into account that neither women nor girls, neither men nor boys form homogeneous groups, but differ in terms of age, ethnicity, disability, education, place of residence, socio-economic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, belief and religious affiliation. Many professed feminists praised the feminist perspective. However, some thought it was fraudulent to label foreign policy as feminist as long as Sweden indirectly promotes armed conflicts through the arms trade. In terms of population, Sweden is one of the world's largest arms exporters.


Strengthen rights and resources

"Sweden sees the protection of the human rights of women and girls as both a fulfillment of international agreements and a prerequisite for securing Sweden's broader foreign policy goals of peace, security and sustainable development." The aim of her foreign policy is "to strengthen the rights, representation and resources of all women and girls," said Wallström. In addition to these feminist “three Rs”, the fourth is the “reality check” by “research”.

In research, which is to serve as a basis for action, it is important to grasp the situation of the entire population; so when collecting data you not only have to hear the voices of men from government and society, but also those of women and children as well as minorities, each with their own perspective. Wallström always meets representatives of the civilian population on her trips abroad. All Swedish ambassadors also seek contact with women and marginalized groups.

Women make up half of the population. So this is not about a minority issue. "The worldwide systematic subordination of women to men is basically a human rights issue," Wallström repeated tirelessly in interviews. According to Wallström, feminist foreign policy includes firstly an analysis of what the world looks like in terms of gender and secondly a method of providing women with rights, representation and resources. This includes concrete political measures such as access to health care, education and political participation as an effective means of combating violence.

Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist seconded on the government's website: “We have learned from the experience of recent years that a gender perspective increases the operational impact of our measures.” The Defense Ministry has its own gender center. This Nordic Center for Gender in Military Operations has also been primarily responsible for the area of ​​gender within NATO since 2013. Here, United Nations military leaders learn the role of gender and equality in operations in order to keep an eye on the security of the entire population.

Here are two examples: In 2013, when patrolling a market in Afghanistan that is only visited by women, using only women soldiers, minimized the security risk for the emergency services and civilians. Knowledge of gender relations and the role of certain local women's groups, which through their activities mainly mobilized young people, helped to advance the peace process in Darfur from 2009 to 2012. Sweden is thus exporting its gender competence.


Change the balance of power

“The term 'feminist foreign policy' was not meant as a provocation, even if it was understood that way by some people,” Wallström said on Sveriges Radio. She stressed that she had "no problem moving forward". It is about content: it wants to fundamentally change foreign and security policy, its applicable norms and the prevailing balance of power, anchor global justice and peace as goals - on the premise that this is only possible with gender equality. Women are not represented in many countries, and Sweden offers itself as a mediator with gender competence in promoting equality.

The scientific concept of security changed in the mid-1990s. In the past, the focus was on the security of the nation-state. Security policy aimed to protect the state against attacks from outside. According to this, a state was considered secure as long as its very existence was not in danger - even if it denied its citizens basic rights and threatened them. In 1994 the United Nations coined the term “human security”.

Today security policy focuses on the individual. It is diseases and epidemics, sexualised and gender-based violence, climatic changes, poverty, corruption or organized crime that often lead to armed conflicts that threaten “human security”. Foreign Minister Wallström is taking this into account, praises Robert Egnell. Islamist terrorist organizations, for example, could not be stopped with armed violence alone. Work should be done to lift the ethnic and religious tensions and political repression that led to the radicalization of the fighters. "But globally, the tradition of relying on violence and deterrence still prevails in foreign policy, although wars are often ineffective and expensive," says Egnell. Indeed, data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) point to global armament. At the top is the USA, which accounted for a third of global arms exports between 2012 and 2016. Compared with the years 2007 to 2011, American arms exports rose by 21 percent; half of the weapons went to the Near and Middle East.


A policy of small steps

After two and a half years, it is still too early to take stock of Sweden's feminist foreign policy. The goals are long-term: more global gender equality, peace and justice. Politicians have to be measured by the small steps they can take on the long road. Sweden's government is not naïve, as some critics believe, but repeatedly raises the issue of how difficult it is to initiate and achieve change. As a small country, Sweden has long relied on international organizations and agreements to safeguard its own interests. Wallström is brave enough to take a proactive stand for democratic values ​​and initiate a corresponding dialogue.

"Sweden's feminist foreign policy keeps gender issues high on the international agenda," praised Johan Erikson, Professor of Political Science at Södertörn University. Nationally as well as within the framework of the EU, UN, OSCE and as a “critical NATO friend”, as Wallström puts it, Sweden advocates feminist positions in foreign policy. In this year's foreign policy statement, Wallström pointed to initial successes. In around 20 countries, laws or proposals have been introduced to improve equality between men and women. Around 90 ethnic groups have abolished genital mutilation, and 65 countries and organizations have taken action against gender-based violence. There is a network of mediators, and on Sweden's initiative, an adviser has been coordinating international cooperation in the field of gender and Resolution 1325 at EU level since 2016.

“Sweden has long been a leader when it comes to women, peace and security,” confirms Robert Egnell. "Concord", an association of Swedish and European development organizations, also certifies that Sweden is doing a successful job in development cooperation. In 2016, Canada's leadership around the head of government and feminist Justin Trudeau voiced voices who want to integrate the gender perspective into their work in military operations. In 2017 and 2018 Sweden has a seat on the UN Security Council; the small country hopes for great success.

But conflicts of interest cannot be denied. In Sweden too, not everyone considers equality to be a value in itself or even a priority. When Wallström suspended a multi-million dollar bilateral arms trade agreement with Saudi Arabia because of its human rights violations, there was criticism from company representatives and opposition politicians. But it was only one of many sales, Sweden continued to export arms to Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian countries or states that then resell the weapons.

In its evaluation of Swedish foreign policy last year, Concord specifically criticized the lack of equal opportunities for such a trade policy. Concord's other points of criticism were directed at climate policy, which ignores the particular vulnerability of women with regard to access to natural resources resulting from gender roles, and migration policy: The changes to the law in 2015 have contributed to more men than women finding asylum in Sweden, women, Children and LGBTI people were more likely to be left behind in crisis areas than men.

In addition, the “International Women’s Association for Peace and Freedom” (IFFF) criticizes Sweden’s “growing militarization”: Sweden has once again stationed troops on Gotland since 2016 and decided in March 2017 to introduce general conscription. After the draft, 4,000 men and women are to be drafted annually from 2018 onwards for basic training, for military and civilian work - for example in situations such as in autumn 2015: When more refugees arrived than expected in a short period of time, the authorities were overwhelmed and volunteers took on responsibility. A higher proportion of women among the conscripts - at least 20 percent are targeted - does not guarantee better equality, according to the IFFF.

Meanwhile, a "backward movement" can be observed worldwide. Democratic values ​​are called into question, individual interests, religion and tradition gain in importance. US President Donald Trump shows his contempt for women, human rights, the media and scientific knowledge and stirs up fear of the toil of freedom, intellectual debate, the diversity of opinions and lifestyles. In the face of globalization and climate change, “America first” is not a contemporary vision, but an echo from the 19th century.

Sweden, on the other hand, respects documents with an international canon of values. His feminist foreign policy doesn't just want to exert influence; it reflects its own premises and continues to develop. Hopefully a small “moral superpower” will retain courage and ambition.

Dr. Margret Karsch works as a freelance journalist in Stockholm.