Speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs at Helsinki University

Speech given at Helsinki University, 3 March 2015. Check against delivery.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Professor Laakso, Students,

One million, forty-two thousand and sixty-six. That is the estimated number of internally displaced persons in Eastern Ukraine. Recent reports about the humanitarian conditions highlights the increase in gender-based and sexual violence against women. Many women are forced to live in public places, such as train stations, where some of the perpetrators are men who have fought in the ongoing conflict.

Twenty-seven. That is the number of times the word ‘rape’ is mentioned in the latest report to the UN from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. The report describes crimes committed both by government forces and ISIL. Regarding ISIL, it says the following:

"Information collected recently indicates that groups of dozens of girls and women have been transported to various locations in Syria (...). There, the girls and women are raped and held in sexual slavery."

I am here to talk about why Sweden is the first country to declare that we will pursue a feminist foreign policy. Given these two examples, I hope it is obvious why we must include 100 percent of the population when we face war and conflict.

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I am honoured to address you at this prestigious research institution. I would like to thank the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the University of Helsinki and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs for hosting us.

Thank you, Professor Laakso, for your introductory comments. I look forward to a discussion with you, Dr Jauhola and your students.

This year, the University of Helsinki will celebrate 375 years of learning and intellectual endeavour. It is a very fitting place to highlight one of the most acute challenges facing us today: How to effectively combat persistent, and in many places growing, human rights violations against women and girls.

I have divided my talk on this broad topic into three parts. First, I would like to set the agenda and discuss the need for gender analysis in international politics. I will then move on and describe the concept of a feminist foreign policy in more detail. Lastly, I will talk about areas where we can achieve real change.

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1. Setting the agenda

Gender analysis is as complex as it is crucial. It entails mapping, understanding and ultimately transforming norms, power structures and gender relations.

Traditional and narrow concepts of security still dominate the global agenda. There is a clear gap between what people in conflict zones experience – not least women – and the high-level discussions in the UN and elsewhere.

This gap is adequately captured by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee in her book “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War”. Gbowee speaks about the multitude of sensitivities and risks of discrimination surrounding international peacebuilding efforts, and the challenges of ensuring inclusive processes:

"You cannot go to another country and make a plan for it. The cultural context is so different from what you know that you will not understand much of what you see. (...) People who have lived through a terrible conflict may be hungry and desperate, but they are not stupid. They often have very good ideas about how peace can evolve, and they need to be asked. That includes women. Most especially women. To outsiders like the UN, these soldiers were a problem to be managed. But they were our children."

The history of women and girls in conflict and war is one of silent suffering in the face of overwhelming insecurity. This is true also after peace agreements have been signed – by men of course – challenging the very definitions of peace and security.

It is often through personal biographies and fiction that we gain knowledge about massive violations against women in war and conflict zones. And there are many eye-opening accounts. One of the most exceptional writers of her generation, Sofi Oksanen has in a painfully effective way described the extreme vulnerabilities of women in the face of conflict, and their limited choices in structures defined and controlled by men.

Even today, when the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust have been mapped out, we still have only scant knowledge of the sexual violence that Jewish and other women were subjected to. The record of the Nuremberg trials comprises 42 volumes. Not one heading in these 42 volumes includes the words ‘rape’, ‘prostitution’ or ‘women’.

Impunity has reigned supreme for these crimes.

A huge and very welcome legal shift took place in the 1990s, notably through the Rwanda and Yugoslavia Tribunals, and later the International Criminal Court, recognising sexual violence as a war crime under international humanitarian law.

Enormous academic and political efforts have paved the way for progress. Finland’s contributions in this regard have been as outstanding as they have been crucial. Hopefully some of you in this room will carry that tradition forward.

Today, women in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine are under siege – in sexual slavery or in a train station, for example. Today, these crimes may have a name, but the road to justice still remains a long and uncertain one. When we travel down that road we must remember that women are not only victims or survivors, but most importantly strong actors for change in their societies.

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2. Some steps along the road: What a feminist foreign policy can do

Sweden’s feminist foreign policy aims at ensuring women’s rights and participation in central decision-making processes, including in peacebuilding efforts and peace negotiations. Gender equality is not just the right thing to do. It is the necessary thing to do if we want to achieve our wider security and foreign policy objectives.

Feminist foreign policy will be an integral part of activities throughout the Swedish Foreign Service. Our methodology can be summarised in four words, all beginning with the letter “R”.

Reality check is about getting the facts right from the outset. What is the situation on the ground, if we want to include a 100 per cent of the population?

Rights – the simple fact is that human rights are also women’s rights. Here, two fundamental tracks must be followed when pursuing a feminist foreign policy. Firstly, there are areas where we must aim for prohibition, such as gender-based discrimination, forced marriages and female genital mutilation. Secondly, there are areas where the aim is progress, for example equal rights to inheritance and access to education and health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. These areas are key to women’s empowerment.

Resources refers to Sweden’s ambitious international work, for example in development. The most basic starting-point here is the need to apply a gender perspective when distributing aid and resources.

Representation, which includes influence over agenda-setting, starts by asking a simple question: Who conducts foreign policy – at all levels? It starts at the highest level at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, where all the four top positions – two ministers and two state secretaries – are held by women.

I am very proud that Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has made it very clear that gender equality is a whole-of-government priority. The Prime Minister himself will pursue the agenda in all facets of the Swedish Government’s work – in Sweden, in the EU and globally.

On the same note, I am grateful for a strong ally in Foreign Minister Erkki Toumioja, who consistently makes the case for gender equality as a prerequisite for progress. We would like to work even more closely with Finland to push forward at the global level.

I am convinced that the Nordic countries have experiences to share. We have set a global example of how ensuring women’s rights has benefited both women and men, and our societies at large. Step by step. Parental leave by parental leave. Pushing forward in all areas, we have started to transform norms and values.

3. How can we achieve real change?

In order to discuss what a feminist foreign policy can mean practically on the ground, let me return to one of the countries I mentioned initially: Ukraine. Women represent the largest group of internally displaced persons in Ukraine. A large number of women – exact numbers are unknown – remain in the conflict zone.

A recent visit to Eastern Ukraine by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency brought to light that women were more or less invisible in the humanitarian work, and in the reporting of the conflict.

No disaggregated data was available. Overall, very few of the international humanitarian organisations on the ground had considered the different needs of women, girls, boys and men. As I have already mentioned, there were several testimonies to the increased risks of sexual and gender-based violence, and trafficking.

Building competence and capacity in humanitarian and military structures is paramount to addressing these shortcomings.

15 years ago, the ground-breaking UN Security resolution 1325 on women peace, and security was adopted. Without a doubt, 1325 has impacted global policies and forced the issue of gender-based violence onto the global agenda. However, 1325 has so far failed to bring about real transformative change in how we operate with regard to gender in peacebuilding and peacekeeping.

In some cases, national action plans under 1325 have proved to be potentially important vehicles for this to happen. But, ultimately, what it takes is political will. No matter how many documents we sign. If the will to act is not there, we will not move forward.

To date, only 46 UN Member States countries have adopted National Action Plans. This is way too few. And even when national plans have been adopted, too little concrete action has been taken. Accountability mechanisms are clearly too weak and must be given greater consideration.

Together with Finland and Denmark, Sweden has proposed the establishment of a high-level position in the European External Action Service, responsible for promoting gender equality and ensuring effective implementation of 1325 in EU operations. We believe such a function would be instrumental in strengthening the EU’s gender approach to peace and security.

And secondly: Over the past 20 years, only 8 per cent of the mediators in UN-led peace processes have been women. Of all the peace treaties signed during 2011 and 2012, only 20 per cent contained language on women’s security, which raises the question: Security for whom? Therefore, Sweden is considering how to support a network of women mediators.

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Dear friends,

A feminist foreign policy aims to respond to one of the greatest challenges of this century: The continued violations of women’s and girls’ human rights – in times of peace and in conflict. Failing to do so will ultimately undermine our overarching foreign policy and security objectives.

Fifteen years into the 21st century, the world is torn by conflicts that are more complex and more difficult to solve than ever before. Today, 1.5 billion people live in fragile states and conflict zones, placing far-reaching demands on international peacekeeping and crisis management. International actors are under pressure to adapt – moving towards the protection of civilians rather than observing ceasefires.

Applying routine gender analysis, strengthening the collection of gender disaggregated data, improving accountability and bringing women into peace negotiations and peacebuilding will be key in moving forward.

When doing so, let’s remember how the Swedish feminist and author Elin Wägner compared values and ideals to old-fashion bicycle lights: They don’t light up until you pedal forwards.

In our work for global gender equality, Sweden and Finland can do great deal in together. I am confident that many of you in this room will help us when we pedal forward.

Thank you.