Three years of feminist foreign policy in Brussels

Published 26 October 2017 in:

Swedish feminist foreign policy has attracted considerable interest in Brussels. The clear and consistent standpoint in all policy areas has also started to produce concrete results. There is strong support for gender equality issues within a relatively large group of Member States. The EU’s work on gender equality has improved, but much remains to be done.

Swedish feminist foreign policy has attracted considerable interest in Brussels since it was launched just over three years ago. The Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU has worked on a broad front to make all actors aware of what this fundamental shift in the work on gender equality issues actually entails. It has organised seminars and training events, and has consistently raised gender equality in relation to issues not normally affected by it. Concrete examples have acted as eye-openers for many people.

A lot has happened in three years: a Principal Gender Advisor with horizontal responsibility for gender issues has been appointed; a Gender Action Plan that applies to the entire foreign policy area (and not just development cooperation as previously) has been adopted; a study containing concrete recommendations on how the Common Security and Defence Policy can become more gender-mainstreamed has been carried out; and a new code of conduct for civilian operations has been adopted. Sweden has had an important and driving role in all of these processes.

The feminist foreign policy has also had an indirect but important result: an increasingly wide circle of stakeholders in both institutions and other Member States have begun to work more and more proactively on gender equality issues. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, Neven Mimica, Commissioner for International Cooperation & Development, and several other high-ranking representatives are also clear about the importance of including gender and gender equality issues right across the EU’s foreign and development policy.

This is easy to say, but not always easy to do. There is no lack of challenges. Certain gender equality issues – for example those relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights – are controversial. Policy priorities must be boiled down to concrete actions to achieve the goals of 85 per cent of EU development initiatives including gender equality aspects, 40 per cent women in leading positions in the European External Action Service, the Commission and EU foreign delegations, ensuring that gender equality is also included in a satisfactory way in crisis situations, and so on. At the same time, there are examples showing that this is possible – the situation of women and girls was a central component in the programming of the EUR 3 billion that was given to support the facility for refugees in Turkey. Swedish gender equality expertise also played an important role here.

Together with the UN, the Commission has also recently launched an initiative to combat violence against women and girls. It is proposed that EUR 500 million go to this end. And representatives of some 50 countries and organisations rallied behind the ‘She Decides’ initiative that aims to build a financial and political partnership for women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, which was launched in Brussels by Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden in March 2017.