Speech on Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy by Foreign Minister Margot Wallström at IHEC in Carthage, Tunis
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Minister Labidi, Mr. Dimiter Chalev, Ladies and Gentlemen, Students,
Four hundred and seventeen thousand. That is the number of internally displaced people in Libya. Many of them are women and children living under dire humanitarian conditions, without protection against gender-based and sexual violence, which is increasing according to recent reports.
Four percent. The number of signatories of 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011 that were women. In the same sample, only 2 percent of chief mediators and 9 percent negotiators are women.
I am here today to talk to you about why Sweden actively pursues a feminist foreign policy. With these two interlinked examples – Libya, a conflict with serious repercussions not least for Tunisia, and the lack of women involved in peace processes globally – I want to illustrate why it is so important that we include 100 percent of the population when we address war and conflict. But not only then: Tunisia is one of the best examples of how women's active political participation contributes to sustainable social change and democratic gains.
I am honoured to address you at this prestigious research institution and thank IHEC and the UN Office of Human Rights for hosting us.
Thank you, Mr. Chalev, for your introductory comments. I look forward to a discussion with you, Ms. Labidi. I am happy to see many familiar faces here today of women who have contributed to Tunisia's democratic consolidation, and the faces of many more whom I hope will do so in the future.
I have divided speech into three parts. First, I will describe the concept of a feminist foreign policy in more detail. Secondly, I will highlight some areas where the world can learn from Tunisia. I will conclude with some thoughts on how we can achieve real change.
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. Gender equality is not just the right thing to do. As research is consistently telling us, it is the necessary and smart thing to do if we want to achieve our wider security and foreign policy objectives. We know for a fact that increasing gender equality has a positive impact on food security, extremism, health, education and various other key global concerns.
Feminist foreign policy is an integral part of the activities of 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. If we look to the needs and aspirations of 100 percent of the population, what is the situation on the ground? How should we then prioritize?
Rights. The 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, domestic violence and forced marriages. Secondly, there are areas where the aim is progress, for example equal rights to inheritance and access to education, employment and health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. These areas are key to women's empowerment.
Representation, which includes influence over agenda-setting and starts by asking a simple question: who conducts policy? Whether it regards foreign or domestic policy, whether in Sweden or Tunisia, we see that women are still under-represented in influential positions in all areas of society. I am proud that the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs might be an exception: five top positions – all three ministers and two out of three state secretaries – are held by women.
Resources refers to Sweden's ambitious international work, for example in development cooperation. The starting-point here is the need to apply a gender perspective when distributing aid and resources. To give an example: today, only one per cent of spending in security sector reform is allocated to initiatives which consider gender equality a significant objective. This is unacceptable. Global gender equality goals must have financial backing.
Learning from each other: the Tunisian example
It gives me particular pleasure to talk about gender issues here in Tunisia. Since Tunisia's independence 60 years ago, you have led the way in terms of advancing women's rights. Tunisian policies promoting women's education and participation in the labour market are unique in this part of the world. Women hold prominent positions in politics, social life and business, several of whom I see here today. I also see many bright and dedicated students, young men and women, the future leaders of Tunisia. To you I want to say: intellectual freedom is a cornerstone of democracy, cherish it, protect it. When you graduate, there is a world waiting for new leadership and strong values.
I also want to highlight the role that women played in the revolution five years ago and continue to play in consolidating your democracy. Tunisia's many democratic gains – new political parties, free democratic elections, freedom of speech and a vibrant civil society – are an illustration of how women's participation is crucial for sustainable development. The new Tunisian constitution that was adopted in 2014 guarantees equal human rights and citizenship for men and women and is a testament to the commitment, struggle and endurance of many passionate advocates in politics, civil society and media alike. I applaud you.
How can we work together to achieve real change?
As you may know, Sweden yesterday inaugurated our embassy to Tunisia. I warmly welcome this strengthening of our bilateral ties and look forward to the work that we will do together in the future. Swedish aid to Tunisia includes support for human rights training in the justice sector and capacity building for female judges. Facilitated by the Swedish Institute, cooperation now also addresses the topic of gender equality through children's literature. Swedish companies employ over 5,000 Tunisians, a majority of them women. And I have learned that Beity, with Swedish support, has inaugurated a Centre d'Accueil for marginalized women here in Tunis. Sweden is proud to be a partner in all these ventures and more to come as we look forward to closer cooperation between our two countries.
Gender equality is not a 'women's issue'. It is an issue of human rights, and of development. Our two countries have already pledged to work together towards the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Gender equality is not just one of the 17 goals, but also precondition for the achievement of many of the others.
Sweden will join the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member for 2017-2018. We will prioritize the topic of women, peace and security in our work, pushing to operationalise the ground-breaking Security Council Resolution 1325 with regard to all phases including peacebuilding and conflict prevention. We will work to overcome the glaring underrepresentation of female mediators in UN peace processes.
Sweden's feminist foreign policy aims to respond to one of the greatest challenges of this century: the continued violations of women's and girls' human. Regardless of whether we struggle for gender equality at home - in Sweden or Tunisia, or in a context of conflict like neighbouring Libya – let's remember how the Swedish feminist and author Elin Wägner compared values and ideals to old-fashioned bicycle lights: they don't light up until you pedal forwards.
In our work for global gender equality, Sweden and Tunisia can do a great deal together. I am confident that many of you in this room will join in pedalling forward.