Minister Wallström’s speech at global gender forum

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström delivers the keynote address at the Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality on April 16
Photo: Moa Haeggblom

Excellencies, ministers, parliamentarians, activists, ladies and gentlemen, friends, 

I stand on the sacrifices
Of a million women before me
What can I do to make this mountain taller
So the women after me can see farther…

These are the words of Indian-Canadian poet Rupi Kaur, a young woman with millions of followers.

I thought these lines were suitable for an occasion like this, because in one way, all of you here are the mountain that Rupi writes about. We, our work and our sacrifices are the stones, the cliffs, the rocks, that make that mountain taller, for those who come after us to climb.

It is an honour to stand before you today. For those who arrived this morning, a warm welcome to Stockholm and to the Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality.

Three and a half years ago, we launched our feminist foreign policy. In fact, we invented the feminist foreign policy. We were the first in the world.

The reason was simple. The world would be a better place if women and men enjoyed the same rights, and had the same representation and resources.
It would certainly be a better place to live for half of the world’s population: 3.5 billion people.

And if that is not enough to convince some people – it would become a better place for the other 3.5 billion people as well.

Because let’s not forget the overwhelming evidence that gender equality is not only fair, but also of benefit to society. It has a positive impact on economic growth, health, education and peace.

So, in one way, gender equality seems to be the simplest thing there is. And at the same time, it can be the hardest thing in the world. Just think of the resistance and reluctance of some of those who would have to share their money, their power, their positions. Or of the excuses when you ask “Where are the women?”

That was the backdrop of our feminist foreign policy.
I will not go into too much detail about this policy. These three days will be full of information for you. But I would like, once again, to mention our analytical framework. I have spoken about it many times already, but “repetition is the mother of learning”, as Aristotle said.

These are the three Rs: rights, representation and resources.
What this means is that anywhere we look, anywhere we work, we start by asking three questions.

Do women have the same rights as men? This could concern the right to go to school, the right to open a bank account or the right to marry the person you love.

Are women represented in decision-making processes? Are women present when decisions are made that concern them and their future – or in the leadership of international organisations, in governments and parliaments?
Do women get the same resources as men do? How do we budget? What and whose interests are served by the way we allocate our resources?
It often starts with another R: reality check. What does the situation look like? What are the statistics and facts?

Over time, yet another R has become relevant: results. The Rs seem to be reproducing themselves here…

I would like to take this opportunity to say something about what we have achieved, what I am proud of. The list is long, but here are just a few examples.
Through our policies, we have prevented hundreds of thousands of unsafe abortions in East Africa.

We have taken initiatives against violence, including sexual violence against women.

We have increased women’s participation in peace processes and initiated networks of women peace mediators.

We have worked through our embassies to spread our prostitution legislation, which bans the buying – not the selling – of sexual services. The victims of prostitution should not be made criminals. More countries, including France and Ireland, are adopting this principle because of the effects that the law has had, for instance, on reducing the demand for prostitution.

Recently, we ran a global campaign to increase the visibility of women in Wikipedia, where four out of five articles about people are about men. Our initiative has so far generated more than 2 500 new articles about women.
And then there is this conference, which is also an example of our feminist foreign policy in action. I am proud to see people from all over the world establishing new contacts, sharing examples and stories, building friendships.

My good friend and predecessor Anna Lindh, who tragically lost her life, once shared a funny story with me.

She had taken her sons to the United Nations General Assembly. And during the meeting, when all the delegates and world leaders were gathered in the hall, her youngest son looked around and asked:
“Where are the girls? Will they come later?”
The clarity with which children see the world…

I wonder what a child of that age would say about this conference. Not that there aren’t any girls here at least!

I spent a long day here yesterday – I don’t know what time I got home – chatting to participants from all over the world. Let me just mention a few thoughts that came to my mind.

I think it was Charlotte Isaksson who said, during a panel on women and security, “Just imagine having this discussion 15 or 20 years ago – back then it didn’t exist at all”. This makes you think. For all the challenges and problems there might be, there has been tremendous progress over the last few decades. Let us remember that, and build on that positive feeling.

Another thing, and I mentioned this yesterday, is that I am more and more convinced of the importance of concreteness. It has become even clearer during my conversations with people at this conference.

We – politicians, activists, academics – must not lose touch with the real world, with the real problems of real people. Let me again highlight the World Bank’s report on Women, Business and the Law. Please do read it.

I sometimes say that the world is awful and wonderful at the same time.
It is awful because of the limitless cruelty of the human mind. Because of starvation and poverty, war, violence.

Wonderful, because of the limitless empathy that is shown in the hardest of times. Because of those whose belief in what is right makes them defy fear and danger.

And I am confident that history belongs to those who work to make the world a little bit more wonderful.

I am confident that gender equality is one of the defining issues by which future generations will judge our performance as leaders, activists and citizens.

Thank you.