Margot Wallström is no longer a government minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs
This content was published in the period between
Speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Unites States Institute for Peace 29 January 2015
Published · Updated
United States Institute of Peace, Washington D.C. 29 January 2015. Check against delivery.
Dear friends and colleagues,
It is a pleasure and honour to address you today. Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words about Sweden’s feminist foreign policy and the global challenges facing us today.
I particularly look forward to what is certain to be a rich discussion following my introductory remarks.
Let me start by saying how impressed I am by USIP’s commitment to advancing the agenda for gender and peacebuilding, while consistently aiming to improve action on the ground. If we are to more effectively address the challenges facing women – and indeed facing societies at large – the link between analytical work and operative measures clearly needs to be strengthened. USIP plays a crucial role in providing that link. I want to particularly thank Ambassador Bill Taylor for opening USIP to us and so graciously hosting me here today. And I want to extend a warm thank you to Dr Kathleen Kuhenast, Director of the Gender and Peacebuilding Center, for all the preparation she and her team have done for today’s event, but more importantly for the work you do every day to move this agenda forward. Thank you!
I also want to take the opportunity to express my appreciation and support for the leadership of the US administration, and that of the many excellent American civil society organisations, private sector actors and academic institutions for their efforts in advancing this agenda. It takes the effort of many to make a difference!
A feminist foreign policy
In October last year, as I walked to the Royal Palace in Stockholm for the formal transition of power following the September elections, a journalist asked me about my priorities and vision for Sweden’s foreign policy. My answer was clear: We are going to pursue a feminist foreign policy.
My statement has since then been received with much enthusiasm, but also a fair share scepticism, to put it kindly. Just as the suffragettes at the turn of the 20th century, fighting for their political rights in the UK and the USA, were met with considerable derision – even the term “suffragettes” was initially intended as a mockery - the notion of “a feminist foreign policy” has also given rise to irony among some observers. However, looking back, history proved women right and our democratic institutions are stronger for it. Today, the idea that women could be excluded from Parliament, or their right to vote questioned, would be seen as an utter contradiction in terms. So as we move forward, I take great strength in Gandhi’s words: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
A feminist foreign policy essentially seeks to address what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has so aptly described as “the great unfinished business of the 21st century”.
Many countries, including my own, are still characterised by the systematic subordination of women. In many parts of the world, the fact that women and girls continue to be denied their human rights constitutes a growing threat to peace and security. Women are also increasingly becoming the target of violence as a means of control to prevent them from exercising their rights.
A newly published report by the World Bank shows that in most of the world, no place is less safe for a woman than her own home. More than 700 million women globally are subject to physical or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends or partners. Not only is impunity widespread, in many countries intimate partner violence remains outside the law, and in some cases even allowed by law.
The extent of this problem is dramatic and in many places violence against women and girls is seen as the norm even by women themselves. In the World Bank’s recent analysis, derived from 52 developing countries, one in three women agree that wife beating is justified for going out without permission.
Striving towards gender equality is not only a goal in itself, but also a precondition for achieving our wider foreign, development and security policy objectives. Working towards greater gender equality and ensuring women’s rights is therefore at the heart of the Swedish Government’s foreign policy. I will focus here today on the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of our feminist foreign policy. What are our priority areas and what are the tools at our disposal to advance the feminist foreign policy agenda?
a. Rights, representation and resources There are three indispensable and interdependent concepts that are crucial to the ‘how’ of moving the feminist foreign policy agenda forward: RIGHTS, REPRESENTATION and RESOURCES – “the feminist toolbox”.
First, respect for human rights and the rule of law constitute essential starting points for every discussion about gender equality. Ensuring women’s rights and access to justice must be seen as central to achieving the overall human rights agenda. This is far from today’s reality. Women’s rights are often seen as a specific and separate issue. We will need to work multilaterally and bilaterally, creating global coalitions in order to ensure that gender perspectives are included in strategic discussions, decisions and, most importantly, concretised at country level.
Second, increasing women’s representation across the board – in governance and peacebuilding efforts, in economies and core institutions – is a sine qua non in achieving gender equality. Only through women’s active participation at different levels of decision making can we transform agendas so that the needs and interests of women are truly reflected and addressed.
Reality on the ground gives considerable scope for improvement: out of 585 negotiated peace agreements from 1990 to 2010, only 92 contained references to women. From 1992 to 2011, fewer than 4 per cent of signatories of peace agreements, and less than 10 per cent of peace negotiators, were women. Furthermore, women head only 19 per cent of all UN field missions. 97 per cent of military peacekeepers are men. Do I need to go much further? We will actively advocate women’s inclusion in all peacebuilding processes, but also initiate measures in order to create a network of women mediators that can be called upon. I do not want anyone to say that there were no competent women around to involve.
We will continue to support women’s organisations in conflict and post-conflict settings, in cooperation with civil society and through the UN. Achieving a better gender balance in UN peacekeeping operations is long overdue and we will give this issue full priority.
Finally, resources to achieve these ends must be increased and channelled in such a way so as to ensure that essential gender goals have financial backing. As an example: today only one per cent of spending in security sector reform is allocated to initiatives which consider gender equality a significant objective. Furthermore, in a sample of six post-conflict countries, less than eight per cent of spending was specifically budgeted to empower women or promote gender equality. Increasing and redirecting resources towards gender-specific targets will require political commitment and specific budgeting, but more importantly budgetary methods that direct major flows of money to support gender targets. We will develop and bring such methods to bear at home and in foreign policy settings.
Achieving gender equality will require new and coherent approaches, upstream and downstream, including everything from agenda setting, information and data gathering, analysis and decision-making, and intervention design to follow-up and accountability. Accountability will be key.
b. Prioritised areas: Much of what we are already doing – politically, in pursuing international law and within the context of Swedish development cooperation – will continue to be prioritised within the feminist foreign policy framework. We will continue to give priority to the following five interdependent pillars, which we see as essential to achieving gender equality targets and improving the lives of women and girls.
1. Rule of law and human rights. These are crucial elements and constitute both the means and the end. Delivering on binding commitments and developing central aspects of international law in a gender-sensitive manner are of paramount importance.
Despite the difficulties experienced in many contexts, we must aspire to move beyond merely defending current achievements – not least to counteract the notion that women’s rights can be denied by reference to traditional norms and religious beliefs.
2. Combating gender-based and sexual violence in peace time and in conflict remains a core priority.
- Violence against women and girls remains a global epidemic. Women in particular are vulnerable in conflict. Gender discrimination and deep inequalities are at the heart of this issue. It is only through consistent work to achieve progress at all levels that we can hope to mitigate women’s particular vulnerabilities. The fight against impunity for sexual and gender-based violence, in peace time as in conflict, is of course crucial.
- Let me elaborate a bit further on gender-based violence in conflict: 2015 will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the ground-breaking resolution 1325, which established the agenda on women, peace and security. However, ensuring results on the ground is still an outstanding challenge in many ways.
- Our goal must be to bring gender aspects and priorities to the heart of peacebuilding and peacekeeping. We must ensure women’s full inclusion in all phases of formal and informal processes. Women’s representation remains marginal and gender aspects tend to be seen as complementary, rather than central to the successful outcome of the operations. Sustainable peace and security can never be achieved if half the population is excluded.
- A number of reviews directly related to women, peace and security are currently under way. In addition to the 1325 review later this year, the UN Secretary-General’s review of peace operations and the review of the UN peacebuilding architecture offer crucial avenues for addressing several of these aspects and ensuring implementation of the main objectives of resolution 1325 across the board.
3. The third pillar, which Sweden has consistently championed for a long time, concerns sexual and reproductive health and rights.
- This is an area of work that represents perhaps the greatest normative challenges. While maternal health – and to a certain degree even reproductive health – have become accepted benchmarks, sexual and reproductive rights remain highly controversial. This is true in many parts of the world, including the EU. Important progress and central elements of the EU acquis have regretfully been undermined, so we have work to do in our own backyard as well as on the global level.
- The issue of women’s reproductive rights is an issue that concerns the whole of society, men and women alike. Involving men in this work is therefore just as crucial as increasing women’s representation in relevant contexts and forums. Education and dialogue are key.
4. The fourth pillar concerns another crucial building block of a feminist foreign policy: the economic empowerment of women for overall development and growth. We must combat discrimination in the labour market, but also promote women’s legal rights with regard to inheritance, land acquisition and possession, as well as equal access to various social services.
5. Finally, we will also integrate feminist perspectives in our work to promote sustainable development and tackle climate change and other related threats. The post-2015 agenda will offer important opportunities to mobilise a feminist agenda and promote gender-sensitive approaches in all of these areas.
Putting our own house in order for delivery on a feminist foreign policy
Success will, however, ultimately depend on our ability to mobilise, inspire ownership and develop adequate working methods. This in turn will require investing in capacity building and raising competence levels. I have therefore initiated an overhaul of my foreign service in order to ensure that the necessary competencies are developed and integrated into all sectors of the Ministry’s work. Following a great example by the US administration, I have appointed an ambassador at large for women’s issues and gender equality to be responsible for coordinating Sweden’s feminist foreign policy. We have also taken steps to involve civil society at an early stage of this process. The role of civil society will be crucial both upstream in defining priorities and downstream in implementing the policy on the ground.
Before I close, I would like to say a few words on women’s rights defenders. They are true heroes of our time. Fighting relentlessly for women’s rights, often in very difficult circumstances and at their own peril, they prove that women are at the forefront of the struggle for equality and change. But their struggle comes at an unacceptably high price.
Many of these women are confronted on a daily basis by an incomprehensible level of hate, threats and violence. In a recent survey conducted by the Swedish NGO “Kvinna to Kvinna”, more than 60 per cent of the women interviewed had experienced public abuse, violence or received online threats; 14 per cent reported that they had been the victims of attempted murder, 29 per cent had received death threats in public places and 21 per cent had been sexually harassed.
By calling for increased influence and measures aimed at improving the lives of women, women’s rights defenders are in fact challenging existing power structures and the distribution of power. Violence is a way of trying to silence these efforts for change and development. Therefore, supporting and defending the women who are fighting for women’s rights is crucial to the overall struggle for human rights, peace, democracy and the rule of law. I count on your support.