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Speech on feminist foreign policy at the 350-year anniversary of Lund University


Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, 7 March 2017.

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'A feminist foreign policy and diplomacy as a tool for peace and gender equality'

Ladies and gentlemen, dear students,

'Is the world becoming a better place?'

That's one of the questions being asked during all the seminars as Lund University celebrates its 350th anniversary.

So let me first say warm congratulations, and let me assure you that I am always very happy to be back here among all the students.

And I am sure that this question – 'Is the world becoming a better place?' – has been discussed by generations of students while walking the streets and parks of Lund.

Throughout history, the answer has been both yes and no. Just like in 2017, rapid progress has gone hand in hand with setbacks.

Today we are faced with several protracted conflicts, the continued scourge of terrorism, systematic sexual and gender-based violence, and the largest refugee crisis in modern history.

It is clear that the international system has failed in its core task of ensuring peace and security for all. The world needs to change its approach. Adhering to the status quo is not an option.

In order to break the status quo and make the world a better place, we need gender equality. The fantastic phrase 'women's rights are human rights' must become the spine of all our political work.

I am the Foreign Minister of the world's first officially feminist government, consisting of 12 men and 12 women. And since my government assumed office two years ago we have pursued a feminist foreign policy.

In this way we are trying to shift our focus from response to prevention. We are changing our approach from reactive to proactive.

And prevention can never be successful without a proper analysis of how situations and developments affect men, women, boys and girls differently.

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Allow me to continue by describing what our feminist foreign policy is, how we apply it, and what difference it has made so far.

The concluding section will provide some very practical examples of how we use diplomacy as a tool for peace and gender equality.

So: when describing a feminist foreign policy, it is useful to start with three fundamental 'Rs': rights, representation and resources.

Rights are at the core of our policy. Human rights are also women's rights. The fact that such a simple statement still causes so much controversy is just more proof of how much a feminist foreign policy is needed.

When it comes to the second 'R', representation, we start by asking a simple question: who makes decisions?

Whether in foreign or domestic policy, or economic decision-making, we see that women are chronically under-represented in positions of influence.

Resources refer to the need to apply a gender perspective, also when distributing aid and other resources. If you want to understand why women and men are treated differently worldwide, you should – as the saying goes – follow the money. Are women in charge of their own economic situation and their own resources?

For example: in 2014, humanitarian funding for UN-wide crisis response totalled more than USD 9 billion. But only 4 per cent of projects were gender-specific. This needs to change.

The three Rs are all anchored in a fourth one: reality.

Reality is about getting the facts and analysis right from the outset.

What does the situation on the ground look like if we include 100 per cent of the population?

In this time of misinformation campaigns and 'alternative facts', the need to base policies on knowledge and experience is perhaps greater than ever.

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The second question that must be asked is how the feminist foreign policy is applied.

In practice, our feminist foreign policy means that:

we apply a systematic gender perspective in everything we do;we use our foreign policy tools to promote gender equality; andwe use gender equality to advance our foreign policy objectives.

So, how do we do this within the Swedish Foreign Service?

Let me highlight four operational ingredients.

First: leadership.

I proclaimed the feminist foreign policy the same day I took office in October 2014.

I have assumed leadership as Minister. This is a necessary condition, but it is not enough.

Leadership is needed at all other levels of the Ministry.

I have made it crystal clear to all heads of department that they are responsible for the gender mainstreaming of their own and their staff's work and workplace.

Second: ownership.

Two months after the launch of the feminist foreign policy, we sent a letter to all parts of the Foreign Service outlining our strategic thinking and inviting everyone – from Copenhagen to Kabul – to get back to us with their reflections and input.

This was a key step. A policy that had been introduced 'top-down' now became home-grown.

This also spurred colleagues from different policy areas and geographical locations to discuss gender equality and increase their understanding of possibilities for action.

The reports from these discussions gave us a solid base as we continued to develop and operationalise our policy.

It is essential for all parts of any organisation to have a feeling of ownership if a new policy, such as the feminist foreign policy, is to continue over time.

Third: direction.

The suggestions from colleagues all over the world were channelled into our first feminist foreign policy action plan, launched in November 2015.

This action plan now directs our work, outlining 'the hows', 'whos' and 'whats'.

It includes six long-term goals and yearly focus areas reflecting the most pressing challenges.

The action plan has been incorporated into the Foreign Service's operational plan.

This means that work on gender mainstreaming is followed up and measured in our regular processes within all of the Ministry's activities.

And as you all know, this is crucial to keeping momentum in any large bureaucracy.

The yearly process enables us to learn and benefit from consultations and new data. (If you want to have a look at our feminist foreign policy action plan, you can easily access it on the website of the Swedish Government).

Fourth: support.

Gender mainstreaming is everyone's responsibility.

However, a focal point function is also necessary.

We therefore have an Ambassador for gender equality, who is also the coordinator of the feminist foreign policy.

The Ambassador and her team coordinate the development and follow-up of the action plan.

They develop support material, including eLearning. They collect and disseminate good practices, connect across policy areas and contribute to developing policy, communication and incentive structures.

For instance, we now award a regional diploma to an embassy that has implemented the policy in a particularly outstanding way.

Moreover, the Ambassador has a specific point of contact among the advisors in my office in order to facilitate all important procedures.

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However: to talk about methods and ways of implementation is one thing. The main question, and our third question here, is what difference a feminist foreign policy has made so far.

The overall result has been a cultural shift within our Foreign Service, as an organisation.

Two years of feminist foreign policy have generated important outcomes.

Our efforts have contributed to some 20 countries drawing up laws and proposals to strengthen gender equality; to hundreds of thousands of women and girls avoiding unsafe abortions and unwanted pregnancies; and to some 90 local communities abandoning the practice of female genital mutilation.

On rights, we are proud that our chairmanship of the Call to Action initiative has helped to increase the number of partners.

We are now 66 States and organisations having made over 265 commitments to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in emergencies.

Regarding representation, we have promoted women as actors in peace-making through the provision of resources, connections, capacity-building and advisory support from our Swedish network of women mediators.

When it comes to resources, the Swedish Government is providing substantive support to promote gender equality and women's and girls' full enjoyment of human rights.

As an example, a gender equality perspective should be integrated in all assistance provided by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

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After this overview of our feminist foreign policy, I would like to describe more specifically how we are strengthening Sweden's capacity to contribute to inclusive and sustainable peace processes.

First of all, a support function for dialogue and peace processes has been established at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm. Moreover, a handful of embassies in conflict areas will receive extra support.

The aim is to strengthen Sweden's involvement throughout the conflict cycle and more effectively address the root causes fuelling conflicts.

The modern mediation landscape is multi-dimensional. We are witnessing a proliferation of actors engaged in inter- and intra-state conflicts. This affects both when and how Sweden should contribute to peace processes.

The classic 'solo mediator' is less frequently called upon. What we see more often today are different forms of partnership with other peacekeeping actors, such as the UN, EU, AU, OSCE, the Red Cross and, not least, local organisations. In this way, political, personal or financial aid is provided.

We also need to think creatively about the role of mediator and all the different instruments available. Here are some current examples of available Swedish instruments:

- We have embassies and development assistance in 13 conflict-affected countries, including Colombia, Afghanistan and Somalia.

- We have special envoys for the peace efforts in the Great Lakes region, the Horn of Africa and Syria.

- We have conflict-secured all of our development assistance with a focus on peace-building.

- A new development strategy for peaceful and inclusive societies is expected to be complete by summer. The strategy builds on Sustainable Development Goal 16 and has a special focus on conflict prevention, women, peace and security, as well as rapid support for peace processes.

- I have taken the initiative to form a Swedish female mediation network. The network consists of nine experienced women ready to promote inclusive peace processes and assist local women peace-builders. The Mediation Network has, for example, contributed to peace efforts in Syria, Burundi, Afghanistan and Somalia. In Afghanistan, a dialogue and mediation training with local Afghan women peace-builders have been particularly successful. The Swedish network is a component of a Nordic mediation network.

- The image of Sweden as an honest, serious and long-term partner enables us to provide good offices and to use Sweden as a platform for talks between different parties.

- Sweden's broad engagement and partnership with multilateral organisations, such as the UN, EU, AU and OSCE provide good opportunities to promote peaceful resolution of conflicts, both in the field and in New York, Brussels and Geneva.

- We have a partnership with a series of mediation organisations, such as Interpeace, Intermediate, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the European Institute of Peace, Conciliation Resources and the Crisis Management Initiative.

- Swedish organisations, such as the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), often provide unique input and knowledge of individual peace efforts.

We should also recognise that lessons learned from peace efforts in Colombia, the Philippines, Somalia and Liberia are central to our efforts.

Because we know that transparency is a prerequisite for dealing with the causes of conflicts and for peace to last.

A successful peace process is not only a question of a cease-fire or a formal agreement between the warring parties.

It is also about justice, reconciliation, reconstruction, education, health, political access and distribution of resources. A sustainable peace process creates the conditions for stable and legally secure institutions that promote social, economic and political development for all.

Within the framework of our feminist foreign policy, we will therefore further develop support for women's meaningful participation in peace efforts before, during and after conflicts.

For me, it is obvious that women must be included equally in all parts of society. When research so clearly shows that gender-equal societies are also less likely to end up in conflict, it is no longer possible to justify why half the population should be excluded from discussions about their own future.

We will also strengthen our ability to build peace from below. Formal peace processes that exclude either the victims of the conflict or local peace-builders have limited opportunities to be sustained over time.

By linking processes at local, national and international level, one can lay the foundation for legitimate agreement that takes the root causes of conflict into account.

Inclusive peace processes are therefore not only an issue of rights. They are also smart policy.

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When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, there were only two women on the Human Rights Commission responsible for drafting the declaration.

Many of you know of the first one, Eleanor Roosevelt. The other one was Hansa Mehta, an Indian writer and independence activist.

When the Commission proposed the phrase 'all men are brothers', Hansa Mehta objected. She noted that this could be interpreted in some countries as an opportunity to exclude women.

Hansa's insistence on incorporating an expression that fully recognised the equality of women and men resulted in the text finally adopted for Article 1 that reads: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Each of you individually, and all of you collectively, have a sphere of influence that is within your control at a personal level, in your interactions with others, and in organisations where you might be active.

Bringing women into decision-making, applying gender analyses, calling for and collecting gender-disaggregated data – these things can be done everywhere, at universities and at foreign ministries.

In different ways, we can all raise our voices and play a part.

Sometimes it will take 100 years and millions of men and women to change the course of history.

Sometimes it takes one person and one moment.

Hansa Mehta was just one woman, but she had a seat at the table and her actions ensured that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became truly universal.

When I look at you, I see that the room is full of sisters and brothers to Hansa Mehta.

The time has come for gender equality.

Thank you.


Erik Wirkensjö
Press Secretary to Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström
Phone (switchboard) +46 8 405 10 00