In 2014, Sweden made waves by becoming the first country across the globe to adopt an explicitly feminist foreign policy. Drawing both controversy and acclaim, the foreign policy was the first of its kind to focus so pointedly on international gender equality across every level of government. Since Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was confirmed to a second term on Jan. 18, 2019, activists have called for even more emphasis on continuing the successes of the feminist foreign policy.
But what exactly is a feminist foreign policy? In Sweden’s case, the policy focused on funding initiatives across the three “Rs” in which women tend to be underserved and neglected: resources, representation, and rights. Donors who are interested in promoting gender equality through their efforts and outreach can look to the Swedish model of feminist foreign policy to know where to begin.
Since implementing the groundbreaking foreign policy, the Swedish government has funded initiatives across the world in sexual and reproductive rights (from licensed midwifery programs to maternity care, contraceptives, sex education, and safer abortions), fighting gender-based violence, and promoting education and economic empowerment for women and girls.
Examples of successful projects that Sweden has funded thus far include programs to prevent unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions in East Africa, a study on domestic violence prevention in China, and increased representation of women–as peace mediators around the world, in the Moldovan and Somali parliaments, and even on Wikipedia. The Swedish government was also instrumental in founding the She Decides movement, a global initiative on safe family planning that funds a range of services, from affordable and safe abortions to accessible birth control and medical care.
Fortunately, Sweden isn’t alone in leading the charge for gender equality funding around the world. Canada launched the Feminist International Assistance Policy, for example, in 2017. This program, like Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, aims to increase funding aimed specifically at boosting gender equality. The Canadian government’s focus is also on sexual and reproductive rights, along with ending child marriage, preventing practices like female genital mutilation, and giving more women access to owning property and starting businesses.
In the UK, meanwhile, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon (the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict) announced an additional £500,000 in aid for survivors of sexual violence in Nov. 2018. The funding, he said, would be used in countries such as Syria, Burma, and Nigeria, to increase the number of experts sent out through the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) in the wake of humanitarian emergencies.
Lord Ahmad also encouraged countries to sign the Murad Code on sexual violence, which defines the expectations for government representatives and other individuals who are gathering evidence and providing training in the aftermath of conflicts that put women at risk for sexual violence.
Programs like these, which put gender equity at the forefront of international policy and funding, serve a variety of important purposes, including peacemaking, conflict resolution, and economic development. According to a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute Report, for example, gender inequality plays a major role in economic challenges worldwide. Addressing some of the major gender inequities that continue to plague many communities could add up to 11 percent ($12 trillion) to the 2025 global GDP.
Conflicts and security, too, are often addressed at least partly through addressing persistent gender inequalities. Women’s participation in peace processes both between and within states is often crucial to their success. Peace agreements in which women participated are 35% more likely to last 15 years or more. Meanwhile, higher overall levels of gender equality within a state are correlated with lower levels of conflict in that state and between that state and others. It’s clear that widespread gender inequality has far-reaching, even global, effects.
As donors consider how to get involved in and support policies and programs like the ones implemented in Sweden, Canada, and elsewhere in recent years, they might look to the Swedish Foreign Service’s goals to decide where to lend their support.
The Swedish Foreign Service announced in its feminist foreign policy action plan that its focus is to “contribute to all women’s and girls’: 1. full enjoyment of human rights; 2. freedom from physical, psychological and sexual violence; 3. participation in preventing and resolving conflicts, and postconflict peacebuilding; 4. political participation and influence in all areas of society; 5. economic rights and empowerment; and 6. sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).” Empowering women from the “ground up” through employment and education, rather than simply offering top-down assistance, is key.
Indeed, Canadian and Swedish leaders have also set a notable precedent in partnering with local grassroots organizations headed by people who are intimately involved with, experienced in, and knowledgeable about a given region’s needs in terms of achieving greater gender equality. These are often the best organizations to seek out when considering sponsorships or donations, as they often have the greatest direct impact on vulnerable populations.
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