April 23, 2019

A feminist foreign policy, relevant also in The Hague

By Per Holmström, Ambassador of Sweden to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

More than 20 years have passed since The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and more than 15 since the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Many positive developments have taken place in the meantime, but we are all far from reaching our objectives when it comes to gender equality. More work is needed.

In 2014 the Swedish Government and Foreign Minister Margot Wallström declared that Sweden would conduct a feminist foreign policy. At the time, the term was met with some giggles, some misunderstandings, some hostility, but also with a lot of anticipation and enthusiasm. Today, it is a more broadly accepted concept and some countries are actually following suit. Apart from the obvious principle, working towards gender equality is not a zero-sum game. Instead, empowering women and girls is a win-win situation, for individuals as well as for societies. And on a more personal note, as a parent, how could I wish for anything else than for my teenage daughter – and the millions of her likes throughout the world – to live in a world where they can achieve their full potential and live lives free of discrimination? I am happy and proud to do my part to try to achieve that goal. It all starts somewhere.

The objectives of the Swedish policy cover a wide range of areas, such as full enjoyment of human rights, freedom from physical, psychological and sexual violence, participation in preventing and resolving conflicts, and post-conflict peacebuilding, political participation and influence in all areas of society, economic rights and empowerment as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). To make it simpler, and maybe a bit catchier, we like to talk about the 3R’s as a concept, those being (equal access to) rights, representation and resources.[1]

In The Hague – rightly called the capital of peace and justice – the concept of equal access to rights is more pertinent than in many other places. Among the many institutions in the city, the International Criminal Court – the ICC – is perhaps the most well-known, and absolutely one of the more important, as its task is to make judgements on the most serious crimes, such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. As it should, the Court is a fully independent institution, but that does not exclude participation by “member states” – the State Parties – in promoting the Court’s activity and its mandate. Many are actively engaged in encouraging so called universality (attracting more signatories), promoting States cooperation with the Court, or in our case furthering the concept of complementarity, a bit simplified this implies working towards adapting states’ legislation, procedures and administration so that prosecuting the most serious crimes can take place in the state concerned, rather than at the ICC.

Sweden, deeply committed to a well-functioning multilateral system, is proud to take on a special role in this important effort, together with Botswana. In doing so we have been focusing specifically on victims of sexual and gender based violence in conflict. Sadly, such crimes are frequent, and in some instances cynically used as a strategy in conflicts.

By working together with the Court, governments, administrations and civil society in identifying hurdles and solutions, our aim is to raise awareness but also to increase the possibilities for those victims to be able to gain access to justice.

It is far from academic. Real people, real women and girls (and men), face stigma and genuine obstacles to having their voices heard. Any one victim helped is worth the effort.

Photography by Mr. Sören Andersson.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv6Q46cdndw

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