Sweden’s Feminist Initiative Political Party Looks To Be Taking Root Across Europe

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When you look at how women’s issues are dealt with in politics throughout history, they are often portrayed as something separate or not as important as the big ticket items like the economy, education, and healthcare for example. Thankfully the world is waking up to the fact that women’s issues are not “soft issues” as previously labeled, they are an integral part of every political policy that is important to a country, because when you start sidelining half the population as less important, every other sector suffers.

There are certain parts of the world, however, that seem to be far more enlightened than others. In Europe there is a big surge in feminism in politics, and it is only growing by the day. In May 2014, Sweden’s Feminist Initiative made history by becoming the first feminist party to hold a seat in the European Parliament, electing Soraya Post to the seat. It was a major statement and showed how series they were to put gender equality front and center with all other other pressing issues.

In September 14 in the Swedish election, they were gunning for a seat in the country’s parliament, but alas the party and their leader Gudrun Schyman didn’t get enough votes, despite a huge helping hand publicity-wise from singer Pharrell Williams who was in town performing right before the vote and invited Gudrun to appear on stage with him to sing his hit song ‘Happy’ and urge the Swedes to vote for feminism.

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They may not have got the result they wanted at that moment, but in the bigger picture, major progress is being made. They are being talked about in the international media and getting attention for their policies. They want to abolish the wage gap, made apparent by a stunt Gudrun pulled where she burned 100,000 kronor ($13,000) during a protest in 2010 which garnered plenty of controversial media attention, expand the definition of the country’s GDP to include stay-at-home mothers’ contributions, parental leave, higher taxes for the rich, and made a 6-hour work day government-mandated, among others.

Their aim is to increase visibility for gender equality, how politics play a crucial role, and get rid of sexism in general. It seems to be working because now the FI party is set to expand in other European nations, most notably in Norway.

They held a rally in Bergen, Norway in March to assess the interest and they got a great response. As a result, the party was established in the country, and will raise up candidates in both Bergen and Oslo, in order to campaign for seats in local elections, reports the BBC.

Part of the desire to see more feminism in politics in Norway was the anger over the current government trying to restrict abortion access for women by giving doctors special grounds to make legal refusals. The wage gap as well as a lack of an equal number of women on corporate board positions has given Feminist Initiative a welcome platform to launch from in Norway, where women only earn 86.4% of what men make and that gap widens in higher-level jobs.

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It is the younger generation who are particularly vehement that FI can make a huge change in the systemic bias that exists at the political level across Western Europe still. Cathrine Linn Kristiansen, 27, will be the candidate for FI in Oslo who told the BBC that many of her peers were fed of up waiting for the government to get their act together, they decided to form their own actionable party.

“It’s not just a fight for women’s rights. It’s about representing minorities and people who suffer discrimination. We want to be the party that does not let equality and anti-racism demands disappear, in the face of other issues.”

While there is criticism the FI party will allow other mainstream political parties to get off the hook when it comes to fighting for certain women’s issues, Gudrun Schyman says the opposite is happening.

“In many countries in Europe we can see there are reactionary and nationalistic parties gaining power. That means that the mainstream parties are often taking up these other parties’ agendas, rather than discussing human rights.”

Gudrun says their presence has meant gender equality is a recurring issue on the political agenda, and that is a good thing, because the skewed and often wrong perception of feminism in mainstream society has meant actual feminist issues are not being taken seriously.

FI plans to continue their expansion into countries like Denmark, Finland, Spain and Poland. And if Sweden’s government which refers to itself as a “feminist” government is anything to go by, we could see some of these countries leading the way when it comes to tackling sexism in the world and how effective political involvement can be if done the right way.

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One incident that comes to mind is the controversial “Wallström affair”. Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström recently made a ballsy decision to speak out about the hypocritical and inhumane treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, and as a result, the Saudi government pulled their ambassador for Sweden out of the country, and stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen.

Some hailed her comments as gutsy, while the Saudi government condemned her for commenting on something that wasn’t her fight. It all stemmed from the news that blogger Raif Badawi was to receive 1000 lashes for setting up a website championing free speech. Margot decried the hypocrisy of how the Islamic world condemned the actions of the Charlie Hebdo shooters who committed their crime against a group of cartoonists who drew images of the prophet Mohammad, yet this blogger was also being silenced in a very similar forceful manner.

But it wasn’t just Saudi Arabia who were pissed.

“The United Arab Emirates joined it. The Organization of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, accused Sweden of failing to respect the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards’ — standards so rich and varied, apparently, they include the flogging of bloggers and encouragement of paedophiles. Meanwhile, the Gulf Co-operation Council condemned her ‘unaccept-able interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’, and I wouldn’t bet against anti-Swedish riots following soon,” writes Nick Cohen from the Spectator in the UK about the incident.

“It is a sign of how upside-down modern politics has become that one assumes that a politician who defends freedom of speech and women’s rights in the Arab world must be some kind of muscular liberal, or neocon, or perhaps a supporter of one of Scandinavia’s new populist right-wing parties whose commitment to human rights is merely a cover for anti-Muslim hatred. But Margot Wallström is that modern rarity: a left-wing politician who goes where her principles take her,” he continued.

Margot has condemned Sweden’s military co-operation with Saudi Arabia in light of it’s human rights abuses, yet many of her political colleagues have accused her of jeopardizing certain important deals because she dared to speak out. There haven’t been too many other politicians in Sweden or elsewhere in the world who have stood by her, which is a sad state of affairs in itself. It shows why countries like Saudi Arabia continue to treat women as second-class citizens because other countries do not challenge them on their inhumane laws because they know they are valued for their oil and money.

Margot Wallström has exposed how much we need parties like Feminist Initiative who would not be afraid of going head to head against leaders whose policies threaten the lives of ordinary citizens, and who overlook the need for human rights and equality in order for other sectors such as the economy to thrive.

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Closer at home, FI’s leader in Sweden believes they will be effective in areas that are important to Norwegians and Swedes right now.

“We have changed the whole political conversation in Sweden. In other countries right now, in Denmark, Finland, Norway, there is a strong backlash against feminism, because other political forces, the nationalist, right-wing parties, have forced the political agenda back to the traditional ways of seeing things. Questions of gender equality have fallen off the agenda. But that is not the case in Sweden, because of FI,” said Gudrun Schyman in Newsweek.

Even Nick Cohen, writing about Margot Wallström says the visibility of strong feminism has exposed huge political problems that need to be addressed, which other parties have failed to do.

“The rights of women always come last. To be sure, there are Twitter storms about sexist men and media feeding frenzies whenever a public figure uses ‘inappropriate language’. But when a politician tries to campaign for the rights of women suffering under a brutally misogynistic clerical culture she isn’t cheered on but met with an embarrassed and hugely revealing silence,” he writes.

While Feminist Initiative shows no signs of slowing down, the world should start bracing itself for a feminist revolution of a different kind like we’ve never seen before. If the pattern of growth continues, Europe could be seen as the leader in gender equality policies, much like what Germany is doing with its Frauenquote law enforcing a percentage of women in company board positions, and make systemic, institutionalized sexism a thing of the past for future generations.

At least that’s what Gudrun Schyman says they are aiming for.

“We will be in every country. We already have cooperation with groups in Poland, Germany, Spain and France. We are tired of convincing those who have power to address our demands. We must enter parliament ourselves and take power. We can’t wait any longer.”

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2 Comments

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  2. Pingback: Denmark's New Feministisk Initiativ Political Party Is All About Intersectionality & Dismantling Racism - GirlTalkHQ

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