Foreign Minister Wallström’s speech at Wikigap

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Wallström speaks at Wikigap in Stockholm on March 8

Wikipedia is the world’s largest encyclopaedia. It is the website we automatically go to when we need information on virtually any topic.

But there’s a problem. Like the rest of the world, Wikipedia is far from gender equal.

There are four times more articles about men than there are about women. Four times. Nine out of ten articles are written by men.

When women become invisible, whether in politics, the arts, or in science – our area of focus today – the potential of half of the pollution goes untapped.

This imbalance is not especially surprising – it is simply a reflection of a fact we already know: that everywhere in society women are ignored when it comes to rights, resources, representation, and when it comes to our role in history.

As a woman in politics and diplomacy, I am reminded of this every day. And I am convinced that there is not one woman in this room who has not experienced the same thing.

I believe in concrete action. I believe in overcoming obstacles, not just talking about them. And I believe that WikiGap – this campaign that we are running all around the world today – is a perfect example of how concrete action can create change in the world.

Look at the map behind me. These are all the countries where we and our embassies today are hosting WikiGap events with Wikimedia and local partners.We can truly say that we are part of something global.

Today in New York, gender equality volunteers are writing about women and leadership. In Colombia, the theme is the role of women in peace processes. In Lusaka, it is the role of women in Zambian society. Zagreb, Moscow, Abu Dhabi. And we are at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, where the focus is on women in technology.

In more than 50 countries, Wikipedia articles are being written about significant women of the past and present.

Let me say a few words about how this project began. Last year we organised our first Wikipedia edit-a-thon at our embassy in New Delhi. That marked the start of the global WikiGap initiative we are taking part in today.

For the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, it began with Feminism in India, a digital feminist platform, informing us about a report that found that only three per cent of Indian Wikipedia writers were women. Three per cent.

Feminism in India decided to do something about it and try to reduce this imbalance. It now organises monthly events aimed at increasing both the number of articles about women and the number of women writers and editors. The Swedish Embassy in New Delhi was a co-organiser of the most successful event to date, namely #IndianWomenInScience.

This served to inspire our embassies in Pretoria and Washington, and they have since run similar events. And so here we are today, in 50 more locations.
Just over three years ago, I launched Sweden’s feminist foreign policy. The need for such a policy is obvious:

All around the world, women are ignored when it comes to rights, resources and representation.

I would like to touch very briefly on those three words that begin with ‘R’.

This can be about something as obvious as the right to resist forced marriage, or the right to education, the right to open a bank account or run a business.
Representation is about ensuring that women have a voice – in board rooms, governments and parliaments. They must be represented where decisions about them and their future are made.

Resources are about how budget funds are allocated. Do they go towards meeting the needs of women and girls?

It is a challenge to transform these abstract ideas into concrete results. But if we don’t succeed, we risk losing our relevance.

Our focus has always been on achieving results. In Eastern Africa, we have prevented 745 000 unsafe abortions. We have strengthened women’s participation in peace processes and launched networks of women mediators.

We have inspired countries to adopt laws that criminalise the purchase – not the sale – of sexual services, and we have trained women political candidates and helped them advance.

And now we have the WikiGap campaign. We will be able to measure, in numbers, what impact it has had, and this impact will instantly become real to anyone using the internet.

In mid-April, I will be hosting a major international gender equality conference: the Stockholm Forum on Gender Equality. Its aim is to provide an opportunity for sharing experiences and inspiring civil society and political leaders from all over the world. Our efforts here today will be highlighted at that conference as a practical example of how gender equality can be promoted, and I am sure that many will be inspired to take similar initiatives.

To the students who are here, I would particularly like to say this: the future belongs to you. This entails both an enormous opportunity and a burden. Unfortunately, you will have to deal with all the mistakes that politicians of my generation have made. But you will also be able to shape the world to be the place you want it to be.

There is little evidence that Gandhi actually said, “Be the change you wish to see.”

It was most likely a woman. But whoever it was, I believe those words sum up the essence of what we are doing today – here and around the world.

Thank you for being part of this initiative. I wish you the very best of luck – today and in the future.

Thank you!


This speech was first published at