Wallström speaks at seminar on feminist foreign policy

Margot Wallström, Foreign Minister of Sweden

Excellencies, ambassadors, feminists, dear friends,

When our embassy in Islamabad showed the photography exhibition ‘Swedish Dads’, they ignited a societal debate in Pakistan that influenced a decision which makes it possible for state-employed men to take ten days off when they become fathers.

In Shanghai, Buenos Aires and Bogotá, these photographs have been shown in local transport systems.

Johan Bävman’s photographs of Swedish Dads have been shown in 75 countries in total, and led to discussion and debate about gender roles and parenthood all over the world.

In many countries they have inspired local photo exhibitions such as Ugandan Dads, or Papas en Tunisie. The photos outside come from some of these local exhibitions.

I hope you had time to look at and be moved by them, as well as by the exhibition A Tribute for Those Fighting for Women’s Rights that were taken at our Gender Equality Forum last year. 

I would also like to welcome everyone again to this commemoration of International Women’s Day, and the launch of a new joint diplomatic initiative with France on the fight against trafficking for sexual exploitation.

I would like to firstly look back and highlight some of the results of our feminist foreign policy so far, and secondly say a few words about the diplomatic initiative against trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Our feminist foreign policy works. It inspires others, and it delivers concrete results. I want to say something about what we have achieved over the last four years.

We normally structure our work around three Rs: rights, representation and resources.

Starting with rights, we have had a strong focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights. This has been manifested through the UN, where we are the largest donor to UN Women, and where our core support to UNFPA is estimated to have prevented more than one million unsafe abortions since 2014.

Women’s rights is also an important part of our 120 country reports on human rights, democracy and the rule of law that we regularly publish and update.

We have also worked actively to include the rights of women and girls in UN resolutions and statements. One example is our work to include language about sexual and reproductive health and rights in the UN resolution on child and forced marriages.

When it comes to representation, our work for peace has been important. In 2015 we initiated a women mediators network, which has been a model for similar networks on several continents. Our network has 15 members, who have been active in conflicts all over the world, including in Somalia, Colombia, Afghanistan and Yemen.

During our two years in the UN Security Council, we contributed to all peace keeping mandates now including provisions for women, peace and security. We achieved gender equality among the briefers of the Council, and we initiated sexual and gender based violence as a stand-alone criteria for sanctions.

We also launched the campaign Wikigap to increase the representation of women on Wikipedia. Did you know that four times more articles on Wikipedia are about men than women, and that 90 percent of the editors are men? Last year, we arranged workshops in more than 60 countries, where 1 800 participants created more than 13 000 articles. These articles have been read more than 55 million times.

And there is resources, where we have strengthened the role of gender equality in the development banks, the climate funds and our own development aid. Our support to the World Bank’s ‘Women, Business and the Law’ report has contributed to important statistics about discriminating legislation. We played a crucial role when the WTO adopted its first declaration on gender equality and trade in 2017.

If we combine all the activities and initiatives that the Foreign Service and more than 100 embassies have undertaken, we can count many thousands of concrete measures from our feminist foreign policy.

One important development over these four years has been the shift in culture in our Ministry. I would not say that there was ever a reluctance among our colleagues, but clearly a variation in knowledge and interest. Today all colleagues relate to this policy. Civil servants in Stockholm, diplomats, local staff, administrators. We don’t have one ambassador for our feminist foreign policy – we have hundreds.

I have one particularly strong memory, which I believe many of you share with me – our international conference on gender equality in April last year. The conference was a success. Some 800 participants from more than 100 countries participated. It will be followed up in Tunisia in April this year and I look forward to taking part.

Secondly, I want to say a few words about the diplomatic drive against trafficking and prostitution that we are launching together with France.

Today, the foreign minister of France, Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, and I have agreed to develop a joint strategy for combating human trafficking for sexual exploitation and prostitution.

The focus of this joint diplomatic drive will be the need to reduce the demand for prostitution, in Europe and globally.

We will do this by promoting legislation of the kind in force Sweden and France, whereby the purchase – but not selling – of sex is illegal. It has proven to be very efficient in reducing the demand for prostitution, and in helping victims to get out of prostitution.

This will be supported by other measures. It can be bolstered by spreading knowledge about trafficking and prostitution; by stimulating debates and discussion about gender roles and gender equality; by supporting women’s shelters and helping victims of trafficking to better lives, and by generously supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights.

We want to pursue this fight against trafficking with others. There are many civil society actors here today that I hope will join us. We also welcome more countries to join this initiative.

Now I look forward to hearing the panel, which will discuss this and other issues further, and I am especially happy to have the Ambassador of France with us on this panel.

Let me just end by again saying how happy I am to see you all here today. International Women’s Day reminds us that our world is in as dire need of gender equality as ever. But our four years of a feminist foreign policy tell us that it is possible to do a lot if we aim high and integrate a gender perspective into everything we do. This gives me hope – and hope is the best possible medicine against any doomsday gloom that we might sometimes feel.

Thank you!


This speech was delivered on March 8 in Stockholm on International Women’s Day