Sweden’s first ambassador for global women’s issues

annika

On 1 January 2015, Annika Molin Hellgren took up her post as Sweden’s first Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and the Coordinator of Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy. She has previously held positions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) Africa Department, the Delegation of Sweden to the OECD in Paris, the Permanent Mission of Sweden in Geneva, and in the Middle East. In this article, Annika Molin Hellgren explains more about her assignment and why a feminist foreign policy is necessary.

Why is a feminist foreign policy necessary?

The aim of a feminist foreign policy is to respond to one of the foremost unresolved problems of our time, namely the fact that the human rights of women and girls are still violated in so many respects in so many parts of the world, including the developed countries.

The question really is whether any country is not affected?

The latest figures from the World Bank show that each year, more than 700 million women are victims of physical or sexual violence, often in a close relationship. In the Middle East and Africa, 40 per cent of women are affected, in south-east Asia 43 per cent.

According to the same report, legal differentiations exist between women and men in 128 countries. In 28 of these countries, there are at least 10 and sometimes more gender-based restrictions to the detriment of women. This involves everything from the right to obtain ID documents, own land or property, or apply for loans to the possibility of working outside the home.

In some parts of the world, violations of women’s human rights constitute a growing threat to peace and security. However, that perspective is often lacking in our security policy analyses. If we want to be relevant and achieve results, a gender aspect must be included in the current work on security policy.

It is actually quite simple: unless we succeed in ensuring respect for the human rights of women in a far more effective way than at present, we will not achieve our overall foreign policy objectives on sustainable development, peace and security.

In your opinion, what are the earmarks of this kind of foreign policy?

Feminist foreign policy is about ensuring women’s rights and representation. This constitutes both the ends and the means of feminist foreign policy. Continued political efforts are required, as well as resources. We must ensure that resources are channelled so that the gender equality goals are achieved and the needs of women and girls are met to the same extent as those of men and boys. The policy will be characterised by, and implemented on the basis of, these three concepts: Rights, representation and resources.

These three concepts comprise a simple but effective way to tackle the large gender imbalances that still exist.

Women must not only be seen as victims, but also as actors in the formation of policy. At present, the participation of women is marginal, particularly in peace negotiations and reconstruction processes. This is the case despite the fact that significant commitments to remedies have been made at global level and despite the fact that research shows clear links between the participation of women and progress in these peace processes. 

What does the assignment entail and which issues will you prioritise?

My job is primarily to ensure that we now start taking action in the MFA’s different areas of activity. This applies to security policy, human rights policy, development cooperation, promotion and trade. Very good work is already being done today, but we need to review priorities as well as policies and working methods to move gender equality work forward.

As a consequence, I see gender analyses and accountability as being crucial to the effective and relevant promotion of gender equality. Without analyses we cannot formulate relevant responses, and with accountability there is a major risk that implementation will be too weak.

How does a feminist foreign policy benefit Sweden?

Growth and stability around the world is in the interest of Sweden and the Nordic countries. Swedish development cooperation has always been aimed at reducing poverty, including as an important part of our long-term policy for global peace and security. This is also true of promotion of human rights. When the analysis is done, promotion of gender equality stands out as an obvious objective within the framework of our foreign and security policy. We are now at the forefront of introducing these perspectives in an arena that, in a historical perspective, has been dominated by men. This is right and necessary in and of itself, but also creates interest in Sweden and Swedish foreign policy.

 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sweden

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