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Sweden's Feminist Foreign Policy

December 7, 2020


Ambassador Veronika Wand-Danielsson, Americas Department, Swedish Foreign Ministry Chair

Sir Michael Leigh, Academic Director, Master of Arts in European Public Policy, SAIS Europe

On Monday night, Ambassador Veronika Wand-Danielsson joined Professor Leigh and four SAIS students to talk about Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, share insights from her career in diplomacy, and discuss current policy issues Sweden faces.

Starting off the conversation, Ambassador Wand-Danielsson describes Sweden’s unique approach to foreign policy. As the first country ever to have a feminist government, Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is based on a philosophy of “3 Rs”: rights, representation, and resources. This approach pushes for legal improvements to safeguard women’s rights, prioritizes women as decision-makers who sit at the table, and ensures that resources are devoted to issues that affect women.

As she explains why Sweden came to pursue a feminist foreign policy, Ambassador Wand-Danielson elaborates on the important roles played by Sweden’s domestic history, its key politicians, and the needs of women around the world. Historically, Sweden’s swift transition from an agricultural society to an industrial one required high participation of women in the workforce, which also led to their participation in politics. On an individual level, the Ambassador highlights the initiative of the former Foreign Minister Margot Wallström who specifically pushed for a feminist foreign policy in 2014. More importantly, she underlines the pressing problems of women who make up half of the world’s population, which gives motivation to Sweden’s policies.

In response to student questions, the Ambassador reflects on her diplomatic career and the challenges she faced as a woman. Despite having positive experiences of equal opportunity in the Swedish Foreign Ministry, the Ambassador recounts instances from later in her career where she realized the elements she had taken for granted in Sweden. She mentions that many teams she worked in as part of international settings were heavily male dominated and that only a couple of women were in positions of leadership. Worse, she describes how sometimes there was a differentiated attitude towards female colleagues, where men were praised based on their expertise and women were simply complimented for bringing a female presence. The Ambassador reflects that, despite ongoing real problems, the times have changed and that many issues have been overcome. Moreover, she strongly encourages young women to pursue careers in diplomacy.

The Ambassador touches upon the current issues at the forefront of Sweden’s foreign policies as well. She emphasizes the cooperation with fellow countries who also follow feminist policies, such as Canada and Spain, and elaborates on Sweden’s deep relationships with Mexico where Sweden has been closely working with the country to address women’s issues. She also mentions that she is optimistic about potential collaborations with the United States in response to the climate crisis. Reflecting on Sweden’s high climate ambitions, Ambassador Wand-Danielsson underlines that big international agreements and increasing public awareness have truly made a difference globally and have catalyzed climate action at all levels of society.