Feminist Foreign Policy: A Conversation With Former Foreign Minister Margot Wallström of Sweden
In 2014, Margot Wallström, former minister for foreign affairs of Sweden, made headlines around the world as Sweden became the first country in the world to formally adopt a “feminist foreign policy.” Wallström joins us to discuss what a feminist foreign policy can achieve, what challenges governments may face in implementing it, and what she learned from her leadership on the world stage.
VOGELSTEIN: OK, good morning, everyone. Good morning. We’re going to go ahead and get started. Good morning. Welcome, everyone, to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Rachel Vogelstein. I lead the Women in Foreign Policy Program here at CFR, which analyzes how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy objectives. I want to begin by thanking Sundaa Bridgett-Jones of the Rockefeller Foundation and the New Ventures Fund for their generous support for our meeting today. And also would like to remind everyone that our session will be on the record.
Our conversation this morning is focused on feminist foreign policy, a relatively new and growing phenomenon in international affairs. Over the past decade or so, several governments have taken steps to integrate gender equality as a pillar of foreign policy. And at the Council we have been tracking these initiatives and can report that today a rising number of nations have adopted action plans, created funds, appointed special envoys and ambassadors, and established eight targets to advance gender equality through foreign policy, defense, trade, and aid. Perhaps the most comprehensive of these efforts was articulated by the Swedish government in 2014 which, as many of you know, became the first to adopt an explicitly feminist foreign policy. And today Sweden is no longer alone in its bold approach. Last year the Canadian government launched a feminist international assistance policy. And earlier this year France proclaimed the adoption of a feminist foreign policy as well.
Although the definition of what constitutes a feminist foreign policy differs, the Swedish policy we’ll hear more about is structured around three Rs—women’s rights, representation, and resources—and commits to applying a systematic gender equality perspective across the entirety of the foreign policy agenda. So how has feminist foreign policy been implemented in Sweden? And how might it be strengthened? And what should nations that prioritize gender equality in foreign affairs actually expect to achieve?
For insight into these questions, we are incredibly privileged today to be joined by the honorable Margot Wallström, most recently Sweden’s foreign minister, who launched the Swedish foreign policy five years ago. In addition to her role as Sweden’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Minister Wallström has held numerous positions in the Swedish parliament, across Swedish government and the European Commission, including serving as minister for culture, European commissioner for the environment, and the first vice president of the European Commission. From 2010 to 2012 she also served as the first ever U.N. special representative to the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflicts. Please join me in welcoming Minister Wallström. (Applause.)
We will begin with brief remarks and an overview from Minister Wallström, and then we will begin our discussion. So over to you.
WALLSTRÖM: Thank you very much for inviting me. And first and foremost, thank you for everything that you are doing on a daily basis to work for gender equality and try to make sure that this is put into the political structures and creating a norm by which also women will be included in decision making, enjoying fully human rights and also being able to take part of the resources and the distribution of resources in each country.
I’m here because actually I’m very proud and happy that yesterday I was given an award by IFES, you know, that work on electoral systems. And together with Madeleine Albright and Steve Hadley. And it was a debate about democracy and the future for democracy. And I can quote Madeleine Albright who says that I’m an optimist that worry a lot. (Laughter.) And I think that is maybe our overall impression these days, that democracy is under threat, meaning that today that more people live in countries that go in authoritarian direction that countries that develop democratically.
And to me, a feminist foreign policy or a feminist policy, a feminist government is really a part of strengthening democracy because women make up half of the population on this planet. And without women participating fully, enjoying fully human rights, I don’t think democracy will thrive, of course. But also we have another reality, because I guess people—most people ask me, so why is it a foreign policy? Why should this be part of the foreign policy? And it’s rather simple, actually. We know from experience by now that more women means more peace. If women are around the table when peace deals are negotiated, then those peace agreements will last longer. There will be more options on the table when these negotiations take place. And women are good peacekeepers, as well.
And also, a situation that we have today, which is—which is very unfair to women—actually from 2017, I think the last statistics show, that only seventeen women are now state of—heads of state around the world. And in 193 countries that were looked at, based on how many women there are in parliament, Rwanda, Bolivia, and Cuba are first on the list. And we are on seventh place, with 43.6 percent women. But it looks rather weak in many countries, as you know. And under the period from ’92 to 2011, more than 90 percent of all the people around the negotiating tables were men. And when it comes to peace deals, the signatures were to 96 percent men. So that’s the reality.
And women still own less than 20 percent of land resources on this planet. In very many countries women are not allowed to own land, not to open a bank account. They’re still discriminated against on the labor market. They cannot take any jobs. They are married away at very young age, so they cannot choose with whom to marry or if they want children or not. And so this is—this is the stark reality that we deal with. So how can you not have a feminist foreign policy? Meaning that women should enjoy the same rights, and obligations, and opportunities as men. That’s how I define feminism.
And I also understood early on that if I am to make sure that this makes a difference around the world, we have to use our diplomatic representation around the world. And of course, I can see that there were those that thought that this was a rather provocative rubric, to say it’s a feminist foreign policy. They were a big hesitant. But I also found that very soon this became something that engaged all of our embassies and all our diplomats in a rather amazing way, because they could see the needs. They started to ask different questions. And I created those parameters that they could use.
I said, it has to do with rights. Check on whether women have the same legal and human rights in every country. What about child marriages? What about their rights to do—to open a bank account, or start a business, or what have you—their economic rights? Secondly, are they around the table? Do they have a seat around the table where most important decisions are being made? So what about political representation, and how can we help that? And, thirdly, about resources. What about the statistics and the facts that also—do they have gender budgeting, for example? And do we know how resources are distributed? Do they meet also the needs of girls and women?
So it became—to me, it’s very practical. This is how you change the world, by being very, very practical. I’ve been involved, and I refuse to get involved, in all of those theoretical discussions about definitions, and what have you. I really think it must be a practical tool. And this is also how we can come together, because I really—I thought it was so important yesterday when people in that room, at IFES, said we had to do more by partisan projects as well, where we can unite, when we can found common ground that allow us to move forward on some of these issues.
And sometimes it might mean that we say, all right, we know that we disagree on this particular issue, but let’s start with what we agree on so that we can start to change reality. So I—and I’m not saying this to defend something that goes on here that worries me a lot, which has to do with sexual and reproductive health and rights, but I find that everywhere in the world there is so much of identity politics, there is so much of polarization that it will lead to an undermining of democratic principles and democracy as such. And that’s why we really have to figure out how to move things forward. So to me, we have to be—we have to be practical.
And that’s why I would say that in combination with a fourth R, which is a reality check—because its starts with a reality check. (Laughter.) I think these three Rs still works after these four years, that they have been useful parameters and tools for all our embassies also. So nothing mysterious. Not having to change everybody’s attitude first, but rather being very hands-on in looking at reforms and everything.
And then we’ve had some unexpected results. And I’ll finish with that. But how it moves also into, I would say, culture, because we made a photo exhibition called Swedish Dads. And it was really photos of Swedish dads with their children.
VOGELSTEIN: That’s really nice.
WALLSTRÖM: Yeah, it’s very nice. It’s also simple. And we have used that around the world. And it has led to changes in the decision, where they have started with parental leave in some countries because they realized it created enormous debates, like in Rwanda, and other countries as well. They asked any citizen to any men to send in pictures of themselves and their children and write the story. And they were very moving and important. So I think it created a debate that actually in some countries changed the legislation. So I think you can use new means.
And maybe the very last thing, we also did Wiki gap. As you know, Wikipedia has a 90 percent of all editors are men. So it means that there are so many stories that are never put out on Wikipedia. So we only opened up sort of a platform for those who wanted to write the stories about women and make women more visible in—on Wikipedia. And so we’ve had so many more articles and so much more information put out there. And an enormous interest also in this. And we will continue with that. So I think you had to use all of these ideas as well to change reality. To me, it’s about democracy. To me, it’s about this is the hope, I think, for our world. What women and young people are doing. I think we can—we can change things around, and just have to mobilize and create the opportunities for women.
Q: May I just add that the Swedish Dads is at display in house of Sweden right now. So you can come and see the exhibition.
WALLSTRÖM: Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me. And I’m happy to answer some questions.
VOGELSTEIN: Thank you. Thank you so much. Well, we are certainly, here are the Council, following your lead, and tracking the policies under this rubric of feminist foreign policy that you’ve articulated and led several years ago. We are also, incidentally, following your lead on the Wikipedia front, and hosting an event here at the Council—I’m turning to Rebecca Turkington, our assistant director—on November 12 at 6:00 p.m. to help write women into foreign policy on Wikipedia, by literally sitting around and editing Wikipedia right here at the Council. So we hope that we’ll see many of you back for that as well.
Minister, I will start with a few questions for you, and then invite all of our participants to join a discussion. I wonder if I could start by asking you to just reflect back a bit on the past four or five years. Since you launched Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, you’ve just now handed over the portfolio to the incoming foreign minister in Sweden. What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced in implementing and pursuing a feminist foreign policy in your country? And where do you think the Swedish government should pick up and focus its efforts going forward?
WALLSTRÖM: Well, I’ve heard already, of course, that my successor Ann Linde will continue with a feminist foreign policy. And she also, as a trade minister, which she was before, looked at, for example, the mystery of why women’s shirts are so much more expensive when it comes to trade and customs. (Laughter.) So why would there be a higher—higher price on women’s shirts? And so I am confident that Sweden will continue with a feminist foreign policy.
I think—I, of course, understood that if you choose the concept or if you choose to call it a feminist foreign policy, feminism has a negative connotation in some countries and an interpretation that is very often twisted in a negative way. So I knew that I would have to start to explain what we look like and what we mean by this. So it was important immediately to decide how should we address that? How do we work on this through all our embassies and through our diplomatic representation? But as soon as we got that done, as we are doing now with what we call a drive for democracy, we are doing exactly the same thing.
We are creating the parameters to say: Can we find allies? And we work more with the Ds—you see that I like this alliteration or to use it to make it simple. But we have to use dialogue. We have to use debate. We have to fight sort of the doomsday feeling that we live with. We have to, again, find a very practical means to work on issue like that. So it was—and we had to put up a structure within the ministry as well, so to make sure that this lives on. And we had done so. And you know that there is even a handbook on the feminist foreign policy. And I think it is very fair in showing both the problems and challenges that we had, but also the successes in some of the figures, and how you—because how do you measures success? As with everything else, you had to define, you know, how to follow up, and also to make priorities.
So every year we have an action plan with clear priorities. For example, economic issues or economic opportunities for women, or if we do more on the sexual and reproductive health issues, or if we work on violence against women. So we make every year a list of priorities, and it was then also clear for all our embassies that this is what they should focus on. I think that has—that will live on. So it’s not a whim. It’s something that is a structured approach.
And I think also to work on the network with women mediators and negotiators. And we expanded that, so it’s now fifteen women, well-experienced diplomats, that are now deployed to war or post-war situations and negotiations in many countries, from Colombia to Afghanistan. And I think they are doing stellar job, all of them. And this has also spread. So now there are these networks of women mediators around the world. This is something that the U.S. could follow up on immediately, with all your—and I think there are an international network also, of course a lot of American women as well. So—and I know now they are being held in Africa and other parts of the world as well.
VOGELSTEIN: Very promising model. I wonder if you could compare/contrast the approach that Sweden has taken with, for example, what we have seen the Trudeau government has articulate on a feminist international assistance policy in Canada, or even the recent proclamation from the French government in advance of the G-7 this summer that France now has a feminist foreign policy. What are the fundamental building blocks that you would like to see in any government’s articulation of a feminist foreign policy? Is it the three Rs? What are you looking to see when you’re evaluating other nations taking this approach?
WALLSTRÖM: I think it is easier for many countries to start with development policy, because it is clearly many of the projects that countries are carrying out in the world really are directed towards the needs of women and girls. And we can see that that’s necessary to save lives, women and children’s lives. And also what role women play in most of these projects. They are the ones who do a lot of the work also when it comes to development projects. So that is not controversial at all. That is not controversial.
So I think every country has to choose their own sort of priorities. And I have not had time to—maybe you know more, actually. You’ve done the comparisons, so you can see how they approach it. And I’ve not been able to sort over the very last months been able to follow exactly how it is being carried out. I hope that that this serves as an inspiration, but I think every country has to find their own—their own way forward, and not forget that this is about peace and security. It’s not a women’s issue. So thank you to the men who come also, because we—(laughter)—it’s not a women’s issue. It is really about peace and security and development. Without women, we cannot have neither peace, nor security, nor anymore development. So that’s very important.
And it’s not an exclusive policy, but inclusive. And that is why we have to keep it also on the Security Council’s agenda. And we served as a permanent member and really pushed very hard. And just to give you one example, we wanted to make sure that in every resolution, in every sort of written statement from the Security Council this should be mentioned, that we should not ignore sort of the role of women. And in the end, my Ambassador Olof Skoog to the U.N. said: You know, I was always the one raising my hand saying: Where are the women? Are they mentioned in resolutions? Are they there as peacekeepers? Are they around the table? And in the end, I thought, is this really getting the result we want, that I have to nag on about this all the time? (Laughter.)
But then the whole Security Council traveled to Mali, and when they got to Mali women came up to Olof and said: Thank you very much, because without that formulation in the resolution we would not have been at the table here. We would not have had a seat. So it is important what you do also in the Security Council to make sure that there are gender advisors, that violence against women is looked at, that sexual violence is mentioned in the resolutions. If, I’m sorry, but it’s still the fact. If women do not ask for that, it is not given. In fact, it won’t be even looked at or mentioned in resolutions or in reports. So we just have to make sure that this comes naturally. Now other countries also ask the question: Where are the women? They look after the whole issue. So I think we are slowly moving in the right direction.
VOGELSTEIN: Right. And eighty-two countries now that have articulated national action plans on women, peace and security. So hopefully a growing body of nations more focused on asking precisely those questions.
I wonder if we can take you back to 2015, and to some of the criticism that you heard upon issuing this new policy. And I want to talk specifically about Saudi Arabia, which you recall recalled its ambassador from Stockholm in response to statements about, at the time, a very public flogging of a blogger. There was a cancellation of a military agreement between Sweden and Saudi Arabia. And there were leaders of businesses, prominent businesses in Sweden, signing a letter that objected to these events, warning that this new policy would ruin Sweden’s reputation as a trading partner. So I wonder if you could respond to the controversy that took place then, and reflect on whether it is inevitable that the pursuit of feminist foreign policy, from time to time, would come into conflict with other national security interests, and how do you weigh those competing priorities?
WALLSTRÖM: I think as a political leader you have to show, and I tell young diplomats when they come to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that they have to be courageous but also patient. Sometimes change will take time. But they have to be courageous. And we have to be courageous. If you only do the things that nobody will ever criticize or have another—have opinions on, then I don’t think you’re doing any good, and I don’t think you should be a leader. (Laughs.) You have to be—you have to put your—what do you say? You have to put your chin up, or your—
Q: Yeah, stick your neck out?
WALLSTRÖM: Stick your neck out. (Laughter.) Confusing with a Swedish expression. I think you have to stick your neck out now and then. And you have to do what you think is right. And with Saudi Arabia, we had—it was some mix of things, where we finished a military agreement on cooperation at the same time as I made a statement about the flogging of this blogger, which continues to be a debate with Saudi Arabia. And was I right or not? What has happened in Saudi Arabia? What are they doing? They killed Khashoggi. And of course we have to criticize this.
I was a rather lonely voice. And I got criticized by some not-so-courageous business leaders. Actually, nothing happened. Nothing negative happened to these companies. Not at all the things that they threatened. And I think on the contrary, very many of the Swedish companies who are serious and want to invest in countries—also countries that we disagree—where we disagree on their sort of policy or their laws and what have you, they will always say that it is easier for us to say as investors in a country that respects human rights, or where we can trust the respect for the law or, you know, all of those things are in place. But I think we’ve sorted it out. And I actually visited Saudi Arabia not long ago, just a few weeks ago. And we can respect each other, and we’ve overcome also these problems. But you have to stand your ground. And I think these days respect for human rights is so important. But that’s what happened.
So of could you will be criticized. And you just have to make sure that you can keep a dialogue open, and that we can sometimes agree to disagree, but continue to talk. So we actually also talk to Iran because, you know, you have to—you have to be able to talk directly to them, speak directly to them, as much as we disagree with what they do.
VOGELSTEIN: Lessons on leadership for all of us.
I wonder if I can ask you about the issue of sexual violence, recalling your prior role as the first ever special representative to the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict. I wonder your perspective on the rise of the global #MeToo movement, and whether treatment of sexual violence in general, or sexual violence in particular, whether you perceive any change in response to the growing level of activism by women on this issue around the world.
WALLSTRÖM: I really hope so. I really hope that it leads to a change. First of all, in the fact that we can talk openly about this, that it can be mentioned, that women can talk also to each other about what they have experienced. Now, this is extremely important. But it has to move from that to also looking at, so what happens? Is there total impunity for these type of crimes? And what do you do to change those things?
And this is my personal view. I actually also think as long as we have prostitution and the kind of pornography that is allowed today, I think it will be very difficult to work for gender equality. I think as long as you can buy another person’s body, as we see in prostitution, and also the very violent pornography. Not that I’m—you know, people can watch pornography. But today most of it is violent—extremely violent. And we know that so many of even twenty-year-old boys, they start their sort of—this is the first thing they see when they are experiencing their own sexuality. And that—if this sort of shapes their idea of what it is with sex, then we are in big trouble. I think it is—it plays out in some way or another. But that’s my personal take on it.
I think there are a number of elements that we have to analyze to see how we can change the respect—and it starts with schools, with boys also respecting girls. So we have to start very early with children how to teach them to respect each other.
VOGELSTEIN: I want to bring in many of the experts around the room, some of whom also have been working on the issue of feminist foreign policy.
WALLSTRÖM: But can I just say one more thing?
VOGELSTEIN: Please, yes.
WALLSTRÖM: Because I must say that those couple of years when I worked as the U.N. special representation on conflict-related sexual violence, and the trips that we made to conflict and war areas, and the women that we met, because most of them—there were also men who were victims of this, but mostly women and girls. And that changed me forever. And it changed me in a way that I keep saying it gave me nightmares and a heavier heart in many ways, but also more hope for the future, paradoxically enough, because these women also refused to be seen only as victims. They said, well, we want to be able to influence our own future, our own lives, and our societies. And one could see clearly how that affects not only an individual, a family, but a village. And then a whole country, in the end.
And I think the—can I just share a story? It’s like an anecdote, but it will take only one minute. Because I remember that in the DRC there was this—we visited Saldekut (ph), which is a place where some of these victims of sexual violence are being helped. And we met this girl who was sitting, like, on her hands, not looking up the whole time that we were there. And she was there with her father. And he told the story about this girl and her friend that went home from school one day. When a military jeep stopped and asked them to buy cigarettes. And when they came back with the cigarettes, the girls were taken onto this vehicle and then taken away for, like, three days. And when this girl came home, he said, the light had gone out from her eyes.
And she was the first girl in this family who had gone to school, who was able to go to school. And she was the most clever girl in the whole school. And all the hopes of this village was connected to this girl. And she was destroyed—completely destroyed. And I was thinking, this is—you know, what does the DRC want to be seen as? And how does it want to be presented? Not the rape country or the rape capital, but really something else, where also young girls can have a future. So I think it goes so deep in a society when this happens, and when it is allowed, or followed by impunity. So this is like the stories that follow me from then on. And one has to understand.
And the same thing can happen for a person who is—and a woman who is raped, that it will destroy very much of her own life, and future, and also sometimes her family or her daughters. It will affect the way you think about life, and your role, and your worth. So I think this is a very important discussion that we’re having.
VOGELSTEIN: And yet, you remain an optimist.
WALLSTRÖM: Yeah, because they also—we told this girl, it’s not your fault. It’s not your—you are not to blame. It’s the perpetrators. And that was the first time she looked up and looked at us. She needed to hear that. She’s not to blame. And that often the victims are the ones who are being blamed. And so she wants to have an education. She wanted to have an education and go on. So those are—I think we must remember those stories.
VOGELSTEIN: A powerful story, indeed.
I want to bring in others with questions. Why don’t we start over here? Please.
Q: I’m Tami Hultman from AllAfrica.com. You may have encountered our co-founder Amadou Mahtar Ba, who was appointed to the U.N. secretary-general’s high-level panel on women’s empowerment and is working very hard as one of the few men on that on these issues.
I wonder if you could reflect a bit—and we’re going to adopt your photo idea for pan-Africa. But I wonder if you could reflect a bit about what difference having women in policy positions could do for peacebuilding in Africa. As you know, there are many courageous women working on peacebuilding, including young people in some of the worst conflict situations. But what difference would it make? And do you have any examples about kind of peacebuilding in Africa?
WALLSTRÖM: Yeah. I think it is what I tried to say before, what our mediators say, and negotiators say is that when you get women around the table you will have—we mustn’t think that we are better. I mean, we would like to think that we are better. (Laughter.) But that’s not the point. We are not. We come with different—with a different perspective, with other experiences and with other ideas, with new ideas. And when you bring all of that on the table, you will have—you will be better equipped to find a good solution. And I think that this is what happens also in Africa, where many women actually do so much of the practical work, the day-to-day work. And they are not the ones with the gun and the uniform, or with power, or with money. But they are the ones who know how everyday life must be organized very often. And when you bring that to the table, you will have another solution, hopefully.
And we can see it in Syria. We can see it in Yemen, because the Yemeni women also, they—they say, well, we have to struggle to make sure that we can find clean water every day or find medicine for our kids. And we have to be very inventive to do that. And these are things that you can use in peace and negotiation. And we want to have a voice. We want to give our voices to that debate. And I think this is what they experience, that it gives another sort of perspective or aspect to any peace negotiation. And without them, how can we keep peace? If you don’t have it ingrained in the whole society, how can you keep peace? So I think for Africa also very, very important with these networks of women who can be negotiators and help. Not only the warring parties, but most of the conflicts today are actually civilian turmoil conflicts, or it’s not army to army. So they are already part of the conflicts, but as victims mostly.
VOGELSTEIN: Thank you. We’re going to come over here to Stephanie, please.
Q: Oh, it’s on. OK. Hi. Stephanie Foster, formerly at the State Department.
And just worked with Susan and Our Secure Future on a paper about feminist foreign policy in the U.S. So as a part of that, we interviewed a lot of people. And one of the things that people agreed on a lot is that there is a need for women’s voices. We saw less agreement about how that would translate to policy, right? Where there’s a—how do you say just because we have women around the table, you know, is there a direct correlation to a policy that’s more feminist, and what that means. And so I’m curious about how you see that sort of tension, because there can be women around the table who are not feminists or would advocate for non-feminist policy. So I think that’s always kind of how we figure out the need for more women, but then how we bring in other allies who are feminists who are men, and how we think about moving from just women’s representation as a goal to the policy goal.
WALLSTRÖM: Hmm. Well, this is why I think it is important to decide on what it is that you want to achieve. And to me, of course, it is—the starting point is about democracy. It’s about the fact that women cannot be excluded in the way they are today. It’s not—you know, you cannot have peace agreements that allows 96 percent of those who put those signatures on those are men. It will never be long lasting peace agreements or peace deals. And then you had to look at—so we had all the facts. From the World Bank and others, we have the fact—the facts are clear of how much more of economic growth we would have if we were sort of given the opportunities to do business or to be involved in—given the economic opportunities as well. So it’s really about equality as well in the bigger picture.
But you can start by saying that violence costs a lot, violence against women. And that exists everywhere. So you can start by saying it’s rationale to see what we can do to fight violence against women. We can make sure that women enjoy that they are not discriminated again. We can start there, with putting the bar sort of at not accepting discrimination. And of course, I belong to those that hope that there could be an Equal Rights Amendment, but that’s for your to decide. (Laughter.) But you know, so you have to decide yourselves where you think—what is practical, and how can you move things forward. So I think that you have to—and I think it’s important to move to the practical outcome as soon as possible, because otherwise one can get stuck in the sort of opposing views on society, but rather what it is that we can unite around?
VOGELSTEIN: From feminist foreign policy to feminist domestic policy.
WALLSTRÖM: Yeah. Well, it is also domestic policy in the end, because you have to live according to this. You have to deliver yourself on, for example, then what do you do against discrimination against women, and what do you do on fighting violence or the representation issue as well. So that’s important. We also have a feminist government. And we have gender budgeting. So we check—and to get the facts right is very important in many countries. You start by looking at—do you have the statistics here? Where does money go? Do you know? And what about the needs of women? How do you check on that? So very often you have to get the reality checked out as well.
VOGELSTEIN: That fourth R.
WALLSTRÖM: I don’t know if that was not a proper answer to your question. (Laughter.) But I think there’s a lot to think about.
VOGELSTEIN: We’re going to come over here. Please.
Q: Hi. My name is Federiga Bindi. I direct the foreign policy initiative at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
A few years ago you said that you were—that you and another group of Nordic foreign ministers wrote a letter to Federica Mogherini asking her to name a special envoy for gender, which she eventually did with Mara Marinaki. So my first question is, how would you evaluate her work in terms of feminist foreign policy, both in terms of policy and in terms of appointments? Because it’s true that you have to put forward foreign policy policies, but if you want to promote the values you really need to appoint women ambassadors around the country, or in a given case around different delegations. So I would like to, you know, know more about that.
WALLSTRÖM: I will not make it sort of a personal thing to Marinaki. I really think that I am not satisfied with progress within the European Union. I think we could have done so much more in making sure that every member state has a national action plan on 1325. I think we have to look at appointments, as you say. I think we have to look at the way we, through our military or civilian missions, how are women represented, not at all to an extent that would make me pleased. So there is much more to do. But I think Marinaki has sort of picked up the battle. She’s trying to do a lot of things. But also member states have to understand that we have to be credible by how we appoint people and what we do in also formulating the missions. And I think Federica has also struggled, but I am not entirely pleased. I think we can do much more.
VOGELSTEIN: Come over to Kathleen.
Q: Oh, thank you very much. So nice to see you again, Minister. And congratulations on your award last evening at IFES.
I wanted to come back to your concern about sexual violence. Yesterday in the New York Times there was an article about the use of certainly technology and online pornography, and especially very radicalized sexual abuse of children. And apparent Facebook’s message is one of the primary carriers of this kind of material. I want to bring it forward, because how do we—how do we deal with this in terms of policy? Because we have businesses and technology that have kind of carte blanch. We have—we are in love with our technology, but at the same time it creates openings that really are horrific. And how do we make sense within the Women, Peace and Security agenda on this, because, well, it has entered our warzones as well?
WALLSTRÖM: I wish I had an answer to that. I really don’t know. And I can say I know that every time you even try to mention pornography you will be labeled as a moralist and, you know, this is really up to—and I’m just saying one thing. You can look yourselves. You know, it will take ten seconds for your twelve-year-old boy to find PornHub, or whatever it’s called. I had to do this myself. And I was so afraid that my son would find, you know, use my computer and see that. (Laughs.) You know, it was just funny because even though this is not something I would do. But I had to see what it is.
And what I learned also from Gail Dines—she’s a professor and she gives speeches about this—is, for example, they used—for a long time there used to be an unwritten rule about not dressing up actors in porn films as children, because it would sort of trigger pedophilia. But now all of those rules are gone long time ago. And it’s so violent you cannot believe. And you can say—you can try to raise your children, of course, in the best possible way, but this is available to anyone. And this is what most of them also look at. So if this is how they think sex should be between people, then we are in trouble. I have no idea what—how to attack this, other than I really think we should know. And I’m sorry, but I had to look at it myself, just to know what we’re talking about.
And the same thing with prostitution, because in Germany—since there is a debate constantly about this. Should we label it as sex work or is it prostitution? And of course, if it’s sex work, should you be compelled to do it as well then? And what about Germany and the Netherlands, that have—where this is legal, and where they think that maybe as much as four hundred thousand women are working as sex workers? Do you think they are German? Do you think they are from the Netherlands? Ninety-eight percent is from other countries because they cannot meet the demand. So it drives trafficking. They have to get women from Albania, or Georgia, or from Africa, Nigeria. So those are the places where most of these prostitutes come from. And it’s hell on Earth. I’m sorry, but this is just destroying our societies. And as long as this is—there are offers.
You can get there, you can have a beer, a sausage, and you can choose any woman for a fixed price. As long as we have that, can we talk about gender equality, and thinking that women will be respected if this is allowed? That’s where we are, if you ask me. I get a bit cynical about this, but I really think that this is problematic. And I don’t know how we—I really—
Q: In terms of the business of—
WALLSTRÖM: Yeah, I think you have to—you know, you have to look at—
Q: And, you know, Silicon Valley.
WALLSTRÖM: Yeah, maybe, yeah.
Q: Because, I mean, we’re talking Facebook, people use it every day. And this is children now. It’s not even adults.
WALLSTRÖM: Yeah. I think that this—that’s what I—that’s what I think is important to do. I haven’t had time to engage on this in particular, but I think that’s probably the way forward.
VOGELSTEIN: Thank you. Thank you.
Q: Thank you so much. And it’s nice to see you.
I want to follow up on Kathleen’s question because you mentioned the actors with impunity. And at CSIS we hosted President Jahjaga a few months ago and she talked about rape as a weapon of war, and how twenty years after the Kosovar War almost none of the people who committed the acts of sexual violence have been brought to justice. So how do we work to bring the people who are doing these crimes to justice?
WALLSTRÖM: Well, that’s the first objective, to end impunity for these crimes. And that was also—I think this is the role for the Security Council. I think we have the legal instruments for doing that. We have good resolutions that give us the—all the arguments why and how we can do it. But we also have to convince countries and governments to follow up. And that’s why it’s so important to check on that this is mentioned, also in peace agreements, and not to give forgiveness for this crime all the time, you know, that you just move on—forget about this, and you just move on. But rather, go after and make sure that this is also part. I think there—we have the legal instruments, but we just have to carry on and make sure that it is made visible. Very, very important.
Q: Thank you.
VOGELSTEIN: Katherine, please.
Q: Katherine Marshall from Georgetown University.
I think we perceive a backlash that’s happening against feminism. I’d be interested in your view on that, whether it’s in terms of rethinking human rights, which is quite frightening, but also the whole sort of focus on the family, which you see in reservations to U.N. conventions. What I guess, first of all, how much—how significant do you see it, but also is this the last gasp that we sort of watch with anxiety? Or is it something that you see as something new?
Q: Can I?
Q: I think it would be efficient—Sandra Pepera from NDI—for me to piggyback that, because my question was very much more about how do we protect this issue around gender equality in the rise of very toxic, nationalistic conservativism, fundamentalism in many of our countries.
I’m a Brit. I’m just horrified at what’s going on in the U.K. right now. But I think, you know, it’s not just at sort of the multilateral level. Sweden, I think, you’ve evolved to a place where some of these base understandings are shared within the society. But you also have a rising right wing. How are you going to or how do you suggest we all think about ensuring that that space for gender equality doesn’t become part of the sort of nationalist tropes, the use of gender as sort of dog whistle politics, to undermine rights across the board?
WALLSTRÖM: It is already, unfortunately. And you can see that in those countries with autocrats taking power, they often start by attacking women in one way or the other or making reforms that undermine the rights of women. So this is definitely an element that we can see in many countries right now. And we have to look out for that, and we have to fight back. And I think we just have to organize more, mobilize more women. And we have to raise our voices about this. And we have to make it clear to everybody that this is part of the tactic to oppress women. And at the same time, it’s really two different images that I see also around the world, with so many strong women that really make headway and helps to reform countries.
But on the other hand, there is definitely a pushback from all of these more authoritarian leaders that we see around the world. So it often starts with that. And we have to explain this. That is part of a tactic. And also, the redefinition of—as you said—the redefinition of human rights. Only some rights should be given, or culture comes first, or development come first, before you can exercise human rights. So you give human rights to everybody. So this is why it belongs to a debate about democracy and how to preserve democracy, and democratic rules and principles. And it worries me a lot. So it has to do with politics, in the end.
VOGELSTEIN: Come here, and then we’ll come over here. Please.
Q: Yeah. I’m from Development Gateway. We’re an NGO that worked closely with Canada’s foreign—feminist international assistance policy and then foreign assistance policy.
And a big part of that—implementing that was benchmarking, and trying to figure out, you know, what’s the best practical measure versus what’s, you know, evidence-based and theoretical. So I’m wondering, from you experience, you talked a lot about, you know, getting women at the negotiating table and also looking at budgets. But are there other good tools, other good metrics maybe that you come across that kind of help galvanize the foreign policy behind this feminist initiative?
WALLSTRÖM: I think you will find—in the handbook, you will find some examples of this. Also what has been done and the things that we think are working. And I mean, we have to start sort of early on also. We have to look at how is this described in—even in schools, you know, with children? What do we teach children about respect for each other and about the different gender roles that we are given? And the whole way through, looking at—because we need to have also a legal framework and a normative situation that allows us to claim our rights also as women. This is very important. But you also have to be engaged in a debate in society about these things that allows us to raise our voices. And I think you have to use all the statistics.
As I said, I think the World Bank provides a good basis for a follow up on the things that now restrict women and provides—actually constitutes discrimination of women. And then you have to, in every sort of—in different situations and countries, you have to choose your—set your own agenda, where you think you have to start. But now it’s really about—it’s not enough to put the thumbs-up on social media for things. We have to sort of meet. And we have to sometimes take to the streets and demonstrate also when we see that our rights are violated, or that the autocrats are taking over instead.
VOGELSTEIN: Some very practical action steps. I recognize we’re close to the end of our time so I’m going to ask each of our remaining questioners to go in series and then give Minister Wallström an opportunity to respond to all of you. So why don’t we start here?
Q: OK. Thank you, Minister. Alanna Galati from Guttmacher Institute.
Sweden seems to be one of the only countries that will speak as forcefully about feminism or gender as well as sexual reproductive health and rights. So I would like to just understand why you are able to make that bridge when so many other countries, including the U.S., are not?
VOGELSTEIN: Thank you. Come over here, please.
Q: Thank you. My name is Saskia Brechenmacher. I’m a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
My question was around sort of the framing of feminist foreign policy. I think in our current moment a lot of people feel excluded from foreign policy in general and feel that foreign policy hasn’t really served them and their communities, both here but I think in other countries around the world as well, and that it’s a mostly elite-driven process. And that’s to the extent that people are even tuned into foreign policy and follow it at all. So given that reality, how do you make the case that feminism is the right lens to arrive at a more inclusive foreign policy, rather than just reinforcing some of these sort of in-group/out-group dynamics where people feel , oh, this is just about women. This is not about me. Or it’s just about elite women. It’s not about me. So kind of making the case that feminism is a lens to look at other factors of inclusion, not just the inclusion of women.
VOGELSTEIN: Thank you. And then finally here, please.
Q: Katherine Shultzenall (ph), Princeton University.
I wanted to return back to a question that Rachel asked, about the balance between promoting feminism and also comparing other national security priorities—particularly around Russia, when thinking about this, the decriminalization of domestic violence in 2017, and at the same time, you know, Sweden sort of ramped up preparation for sort of Russian aggression, should it happen in the Baltics and what the Defense Ministry has been doing in those terms. So I’m curious if you can kind of talk to how—particularly in the case with Russia—how you sort of critique without villainizing in a way that I think might sort of spur greater tensions.
VOGELSTEIN: OK. So we have sexual and reproductive health and rights, inclusivity, and finally Russia. (Laughter.) In two minutes or less.
WALLSTRÖM: In two minutes. No, but these are most sort of—as all other issues—they’re most clever issues on also sexual and reproductive health and rights, because it makes sense. Because from everything we know about working on also in development and aid policies, if we do not take that into account, we will not be effective. So it’s both the smart and the right thing to do, to make sure that there is—that this is included. And I think this also goes way back. With development assistance we’ve always looked sexual and reproductive health and rights, because we clearly can see the reality in so many countries where this saves lives. It saves women’s and children’s lives. And also to us it’s very basic. But of course, I understand that this is—it’s controversial here, and also in some other countries. But out there, this is a must. And we have to continue to fight for this.
I think also it’s clever to—and it’s connected. All those questions are connected also. Why a feminist lens? And does it mean that we—and, again, it means that this is not—as I say, it’s not a women’s issue. It is a peace and security issue because more women means more peace. And that’s why it is important. And it’s important for men and well. So we need—I think I scared away the only man. (Laughter.) Maybe when I started on the pornography. (Laughter.) But I think we have to make sure that in looking at Syria, how can you—how can you arrive at peace in Syria without allowing women’s place in the constitutional commission or at the table, or taking into account the suffering of women, but also the role that they play? How can you do it in Russia? And we have to be able to criticize what they are doing on a legislation like that, on domestic violence, and at the same time be clear about our sort of policy versus Russia.
So we have to do both. And I think you arrive at—if you have a clear policy like this, then they know what to expect. They know what I will ask. When we meet, they know exactly what are the points that I will raise with them. So we put ourselves also clearly on a spot where they know what to expect. And I think this is a good thing to do as a politician. And often they are prepared, of course, with a response. But it means that we can open up to a dialogue also on the difficult questions. So to me, it’s just it belongs there. And we cannot have peace for men and boys if we are not also involved in looking at the opportunities for women. And this is missing. They are not there. They are not represented very often. Still it’s so difficult to get them to the negotiating table.
In Yemen as well, women are desperate. They are the ones that hold life up in the rubbles of war. But they are not allowed in. And when they came to Stockholm to discuss, one woman. One women. And then a group of experts. So they were considered the experts, but they were not part of the official delegations. So we are—still it’s a long way to go. And they know this. They know—in their hearts they know that women—they depend so much on the women to keep peace. So to us it’s a natural part of everything that we do. And sexual and reproductive health and rights is one of the priorities among many, but it is also about violence, or economic opportunities, and so on. But without it, we would not be effective because it saves lives. And we have this campaign, Midwives for All, which has been really successful also.
VOGELSTEIN: Well, clearly a lot of work still to do, but no doubt the framework you’ve articulated will continue to be studied and emulated for many years to come. So we want to thank you for your time, for your leadership, and for sharing your pioneering work with us here today. Please join me in thanking Minister Wallström. (Applause.)
WALLSTRÖM: Thank you very much. And I wish you all the best also. And let’s see what happens in the future. I will find one way or the other to continue to engage on this.
This is an uncorrected transcript.