Sweden, historically speaking, has been a proud nation to be at the forefront of issues related to gender equality, climate justice and international aid. It contributed the highest level of international aid per capita in the world and was the first nation to implement a feminist foreign policy. The country has always looked outside and not inside. Until now.
In recent years, the polarization among the Swedish population has increased and the political climate has soured. The election of a new ruling coalition made up of several right-wing parties last month reinforced the image that political winds blow that protect the local versus the global and put gender equality much lower on the agenda.
What is clear with this new government is a major de-prioritization of issues that should justify the highest degree of concern: the rights of girls and women and climate justice.
Dismantling Swedish feminist foreign policy
Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce a feminist foreign policy in 2014. The example has been followed by many other nations, including Spain, Germany and Mexico.
Feminist foreign policy, among other things, has helped Sweden take the lead in elevating the role of women and girls in peace processes and in promoting difficult issues such as women’s right to abortion. in international talks. Here in Sweden, politics has devoted more resources to gender equality efforts and local organizations fighting for the rights of women and girls in the global South. As a member of the European Union, Sweden was a driving force in the adoption of the Gender Action Plan III in 2020 by the Council, the EU-wide equivalent of a feminist foreign policy. More generally, gender and women’s rights have been at the heart of their budget and trade priorities at EU level and have been instrumental in efforts to mainstream gender into EU policies.
When the new government took office, the announcement by the new foreign minister Tobias Billström was that feminist foreign policy will be demolished. This implies that Sweden is now losing its first clear policy framework for improving gender equality not only in this country but in the rest of the world.
Reduced attention to the climate
Climate disasters are destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world and we urgently need our governments to act now.
Despite the urgency and its serious effects, for the first time in 35 years the new government has chosen to do so closes the Ministry of the Environment and instead put it under the Ministry of Industry, which strongly indicates how the climate issue is being deprioritized.
As we approach the COP27 UN climate summit next month, this is a shameful step backwards in showing our country’s commitment to the people, especially women and girls, in the global South who are at the forefront of the world. climate crisis and frequent and severe climate disasters are the hardest hit despite making the slightest effort to cause them. While the European Parliament has just voted in favor of additional funding for loss and damage, the Council, made up of member states, has so far been reluctant and the change of government in Sweden will not help build a progressive majority at the EU level.
Reduced aid budget
Sweden has always been at the forefront of its foreign aid budget, pledging to keep the figure above 1%. However, the introduction of the new government will see a decline in the amount of international aid it provides. Under the agreement, aid will be frozen at SEK 56 billion (€ 5 billion) over three years. This means a reduction of 1.4 billion Swedish kronor (0.12 billion euros) compared to a year ago. Swedish aid therefore reaches 0.885% of GNI in 2023 (and even less in the following two years). This is devastating news as aid plays such a crucial role in working for the rights of girls and women in the global South.
All of these priorities risk having serious and far-reaching consequences, both in Sweden and around the world.
Sweden’s voice for global equality, regardless of political influence, has long been among the strongest in the world. However, with the new political agenda, there is a risk that Sweden’s role as a progressive nation fighting for climate justice, gender equality and global solidarity may change over the next four years. For women and girls from the global South who are struggling for their own survival in the wake of climate change, poverty and conflict, Sweden’s choice of path may be among the worst that can happen.
This piece was co-written by Jennifer Vidmo, Secretary General ActionAid International Sweden and Javier Garcia de la Oliva, Head of Country Engagement and Transformation at ActionAid International.