Gender, Diplomacy and Peace: Sweden Leads the World in ‘Feminist Diplomacy’


What is a feminist foreign policy, and does it work? What difference does the entry of women into diplomacy make? How do international efforts address sexualized violence in conflict? Professor Ann Towns, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg organized a seminar, 7 February 2019, titled ‘Gender, Equality and Peace’ in order to get the answers for the above questions from experts in diplomacy and the department’s accomplished scholars. The four-hour long seminar enabled an interaction for students with experts on the field and academicians heading institutions such as Ann Bernes, Swedish Ambassador of Gender Equality and Feminist Foreign Policy, and Professor Inger Skjelsbaek, University of Oslo and Deputy Delegate of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

Swedish Diplomacy: The staff of Swedish diplomacy used to be manned by men until the late twentieth century. But since the last decade of the last century and into twenty-first century, the representation of women in the Swedish Foreign Office has increased significantly. This happened as a result of systematic process of planning and execution by the successive Swedish governments and that result in gender justice. (Read the milestones in this article) Its influence is also felt in 2018: ‘In 2018, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege for their work to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.’ Sweden has given new dimension to its foreign policy by introducing feminist foreign policy.

Ann Bernes:
Swedish government’s ambassador for a feminist foreign policy 

Ambassador Ann Bernes from the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs spoke about the experiences of pursuing a feminist foreign policy. She highlighted the role of women in diplomacy and also about the Swedish government: “…We are a feminist government…  …The role of women in peace processes must be strengthened… The feminist foreign policy will be developed. The rights of women and minorities around the world must be strengthened. Gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights are essential parts of global development policy…” She informed the audience that the Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is gaining traction in the world, and also getting attention and interest from other countries. The reaction to Sweden’s feminist foreign policy are varied and manifold: attracts a lot of interest, gives the government courage and confidence, leads to a more intense political dialogue, helps to pull the tools together, reminds the State to always have a gender lens, and most importantly making Sweden as the ‘go-to-nation’ on gender equality.

Ann Bernes observed that the Swedish feminist foreign policy has made the country somewhat of a ‘super hero’ locally.

Margot Wallström is the Swedish foreign minister from 2014-2019 and also in the current government led by Stefan Löfven. She is one of the potential future prime ministerial candidates of Sweden.

“Sweden is a strong voice in the world. This is down to our long-term and global engagement. Our high level of credibility in international contexts is built on a well thought-out foreign policy on issues such as common security, human rights, democracy, aid and development. This is something we should benefit from and develop further.”

Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Ann Bernes (centre) and Birgitta Niklasson (right) interacting with a Swedish woman who served in NATO

MILESTONES OF WOMEN’S REPRESENTATION IN SWEDISH DIPLOMATIC SERVICE: Birgitta Niklasson, senior lecturer, presented the milestones of women’s representation in Swedish diplomatic service. According to her, the milestones for women in Swedish diplomacy are:

1948: Barbo Selldén is the first woman to enter the diplomatic education programme, the main source of recruitment since 1912.

1949: Women are allowed to work as officials handling policy matters at the MFA (1920s in the civil service in general).

1970s: Women are allowed to serve at foreign posts even after they marry

1976: The gender equality group is formed consisting of representatives from the employers, the employees and the labour unions.

1977: The first year when the same number of women and men (nine) are accepted tot eh education programme.

1978: Ethel Ringborg Wiklund becomes the first female career diplomat who is appointed head of mission (Reykjavik)

The seminar took place at Dragonen on Sprängkullsgatan in Gothenburg. Professor Ann Towns drew the attention of audience on the topic ‘Symbolizing the diplomat: man, woman, metrosexual’. She quoted Kagan and Khanna: ‘Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus’ – Kagan (in Policy Review) & ‘Europe: the world’s first Metrosexual Superpower’ – Khanna (in Foreign Policy).