Speech at the Foreign Trade University, Hanoi, Vietnam
Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, 22 November 2017.
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Vice-Chancellor, students, ladies and gentlemen,
"... a world that has yet to be imagined."
I was struck by this beautiful wording in the FTU's mission statement. And it is you – all of you here – and those who have gone before you, and those who will come after you, who are responsible for creating that world.
It is an honour for me to be here today and to have been given this opportunity to speak to you. One of the most enjoyable and enriching parts of my job as Minister for Foreign Affairs is meeting young people from all around the globe and all walks of life. I would like to hear about the hopes, dreams and ambitions you nurture, and the challenges you face.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about Sweden's feminist foreign policy. But allow me, first of all, to say a few words about the long-standing relationship between Sweden and Vietnam.
Sweden was the first western country to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam. This was in 1969, and since then we have been supporting and engaging with Vietnam, not least through development cooperation programmes that have helped Vietnam build hospitals and much-needed industries, and introduce various reforms in fields such as research, law, health, economics and human rights. Vietnam has made huge and rapid progress over the last 30 years, and bilateral development cooperation has come to an end.
Today we are partners, and our friendship is strong. Like all good friends, we need to visit each other from time to time, and I am looking forward to interesting meetings here in Hanoi.
A few days ago, I witnessed the horrific consequences of the world's failure to prevent yet another humanitarian and human rights crisis. I am referring to the situation in Rakhine State in Myanmar and the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, to where more than 620 000 Rohingya refugees have fled. I have heard shocking first-hand accounts of systematic and widespread violence and abuse, and sexual and gender-based violence. The scale of human suffering is immense.
The international community must condemn the acts of violence, not least by the Myanmar military, and should continue to play a strong, generous and impartial role to support the national efforts required to help Rakhine move forward. I have in my meetings here stressed the need for ASEAN countries to use their influence to address this multidimensional crisis.
Sweden is strongly committed to human rights principles and values that all nations have agreed to adhere to in the UN. There will always be values that we consider universal and indisputable: democracy, the rule of law and freedom of opinion and expression.
Increased respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law would also mean much greater freedom and a stronger position for women – and ultimately for the whole of society. Abolishing all the legislation in the world that discriminates against women and girls would not only increase freedom but have major positive economic impacts.
The importance of improving social, economic and other conditions to achieve true gender equality is an additional factor.
At a time when the multilateral rules-based international order is under threat, every effort must be made to safeguard it and to tackle global challenges together.
Sweden's commitment to multilateral cooperation and our staunch defence of international law are rooted in the realisation that our own security depends on this rules-based international order, where the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, both large and small, are respected globally.
Safeguarding the principles of free trade and the multilateral trading system is crucial to global economic development. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. It facilitates free and open trade, includes well-established rights to freedom of navigation and overflight, and supports the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes. Sweden welcomes the ongoing talks on a Code of Conduct (CoC) between ASEAN and China, and hopes for a swift implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea.
In our own region, we must not forget the conflict in Ukraine, Russia's aggression and violations of international law. Sweden and the EU underscore the importance of the Minsk agreements and reiterate our support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders, and call upon Russia to do likewise.
Joint efforts to fulfil and speed up the implementation of the Paris Agreement are crucial. Climate change threatens to put prosperity out of reach for millions of people, roll back decades of growth and development, and make it impossible to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2030. The world's most poor and vulnerable people will be hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. Climate change adaptation is key in development support.
Meanwhile, never before have we had better know-how, solutions and technology to create opportunities for low-carbon development. There is an energy revolution under way, especially in developing countries, and opportunities abound for leap-frogging – for example, by using off-grid renewable solutions.
Let me turn now to Sweden's feminist foreign policy.
I will start with the policy's four pillars. They will be easy for you to remember, as they all start with the letter 'R'. I call them the '4 Rs': realities, rights, representation and resources.
First, reality means getting the facts right from the outset. And it is important to be concrete. What do the statistics say? What do we want to do and how should we prioritise? For example: if we want peace agreements to take women into account, let us find out how common this is. The answer is that 18 per cent of peace agreements between 1990 and 2014 made reference to women and gender equality. Perhaps, more women peace negotiators could make a difference? Well, statistics say that only 9 per cent of negotiators were women in the 31 major peace processes between 1992 and 2011.
This is how we have to work to gain a correct understanding of reality: carefully, methodically and patiently.
Next is rights. Human rights are also women's rights. Here, we can talk about positive and negative rights. Positive rights are areas where the aim is progress, for example equal rights to inheritance and access to education, employment and health. Negative rights concern areas where we aim for prohibition, such as domestic violence, forced marriages and gender-based discrimination.
Then there is representation. Here we talk about participation in decision-making processes. It starts with a simple question: who has the power to create policy? Research shows that when it comes to which policies are pursued, gender matters. For this reason, women's underrepresentation in influential positions, in all areas of society, is a major cause for concern. And if we look at the statistics at global level, we will not find them uplifting. In national parliaments, for instance, less than 25 per cent of parliamentarians are women.
I am proud that half of the ministers in the government I represent are women. And my workplace, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, is quite exceptional: all three ministers, and three out of four State Secretaries, are women.
The final 'R' is resources. Who gets the resources? Who do we give support to? In our development cooperation, we apply a gender perspective when distributing aid. One example: today, only one per cent of spending in security sector reform is given to initiatives where gender equality is a significant objective. This is unacceptable.
The results then? What have we achieved over the last three years?
Since we launched our feminist foreign policy, tens of countries have introduced laws and proposals to strengthen gender equality.
We have established a network of women mediators, and we have increased the participation of women in peace processes in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
We have pushed for the implementation of gender equality strategies at development banks and environment and climate funds.
We have ensured that a gender perspective has been incorporated into development agendas, and we have helped to give hundreds of thousands of women and girls access to safe abortions.
Those are not easy issues but I believe we all can do something to make a difference.
We can – and we should.
To all of you who are still thinking about how to shape your personal future, and the future of your country, I say this: if you believe something is unfair, do something about it. Be bold and be patient. Don't give up!
I would like to end with a poem by Vietnamese poet Hoang Thi Y Nhi, who two years ago won the Swedish literary Cikada Prize.
"How can we tell
what's ahead of us – the sea, forest, valley or swamp.
But regardless we've got to
go to the end of the road we have chosen.
Even if it takes the walk
of an artist on a cable strung over a vast empty space
pay attention to balance"