The state of Sweden has set a unique example by adopting a ‘feminist foreign policy’ for the first time in the history of international relations. In the fall of 2014, Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom declared that Sweden would follow a feminist approach in its foreign affairs. Interestingly, she faced a state of certain confusion and misperception at both domestic and international sphere regarding this so-called feminist perspective in foreign policy.
For, ever since their inception in theories of international relations, feminism as a school of thought has usually been sidelined. It has been argued that only hardcore norms of realism are befitting in the anarchic international environment. Due to this, high military budgets, coercive diplomacy, and deterrence are considered as a universal remedy for all the politico-economic evils.
However, the case of Sweden presents a very different picture. Its feminist foreign policy (as per Swedish action plan for feminist foreign policy) is based on three ‘Rs’- rights, representation, and resources. These three ‘Rs’ aims to ensure that all women and girls have full human rights and are protected from every kind of inequality or violence that might hinder there freedom and independence. Moreover, it also wishes to increase women representation and participation at all levels of decision making generally and in peace processes particularly. Besides, it intends to allocate resources for gender mainstreaming. This feminist approach also focuses on applying ‘gender analyses’ in planning and implementing Sweden’s foreign policy to be better able to empower women in their particular context.
In Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom’s perspective, Swedish foreign policy revolves around human rights, democracy, and multilateral cooperation because only ‘putting one’s own country first is ‘selfish and unwise’. During one of her speeches, Wallstrom accentuated that today international system faces various issues ranging from terrorism to systemic gender inequality and gender-based violence. Unfortunately, the international system has not been able to deliver security and peace for all, thus there is a dire need to change our attitude and approaches.
Consequently, it is a prerequisite to breaking the status quo because observing status quo is not an option and for this gender equality is compulsory. Towards this end, by adopting feminist foreign policy Sweden is changing its focus from ‘response to prevention’ because without understating how different circumstances, developments, and issues affect men, women, boys and girls differently, gender inequality cannot be countered.
After going through goals and objectives of Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, a question automatically pops up in mind: what is Sweden’s approach towards issues of high politics?. The answer to this question can be exquisitely summed up in Wallstorm words as she described feminist foreign policy is inspired by Joseph Nye’s notion of ‘Smart power’. She emphasized that ‘the tools of foreign policy can, in varying degrees, be hard as well as soft. The situation at hands determines this’. One of the examples in this regard could be that Wallstrom in her parliamentary debates clearly affirmed that if any Nordic or European Union state is attacked, Sweden would not remain inactive and expects that these states act in the same way.
Regarding Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, she strongly asserted that sanctions against Russia should continue until the issue is resolved. Moreover, Sweden recognized the state of Palestine and avowed that it supports the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Besides, Sweden happens to be one of the world’s leading arms exporter and Swedish government has decided to increase its military budget as well to increase the operational warfighting capability of Swedish Armed forces to guarantee ‘collective defense’.
At first, Sweden’s feminist foreign policy seems to be overtly focused on issues of ‘low politics’. Nonetheless, a critical analysis reveals that this foreign policy approach is neither naïve nor impractical. It has enabled Sweden to further reinforce its image of being a ‘humanitarian superpower’ but this time as a ‘feminist humanitarian superpower’. It has increased its soft power tremendously as it has been able to exert a great degree of influence at Nordic, EU and UN level despite being a small state.
Moreover, a feminist foreign policy has presented an all-encompassing and multi-dimensional view of security. Rejecting the traditional state-centric view of security, it avows to provide security and equality to all the people regardless of their gender. For, in order to achieve positive peace, security and sustainable development it is necessary to follow such broader understating of security. As Swedish former Prime Minister Olof Palme cautioned that “growing economic and social differences between and within nations pose a direct threat to world peace.”
In other words, Sweden’s example shows that feminism and realism might not be mutually exclusive at least as much as it is often believed in theory. Sweden’s case shows that despite following feminist ideals, a state can follow some elements of realism as well. It is very much possible and in fact desirable to embrace the norms of gender equality because no state can really achieve sustainable development by focusing too much on protecting national borders and security dilemma and disregarding human rights and gender equality.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.