Margot Wallström: “Without Women, How Can We Achieve Sustainable Peace?”

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In 2014, when Margot Wallström took office as Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, her country became the first in the world to launch what it called a feminist foreign policy, applying a systematic gender equality perspective throughout the whole foreign policy agenda.

Speaking at a September 27th IPI Global Leaders Series event on Women and International Peace, Ms. Wallström recalled, “It was clear to me from the beginning that without women, how can we achieve sustainable peace?”

She said that her experience since then has borne out the truth of that statement and shown its particular applicability to the peacemaking work of the United Nations. “It’s evident to all of us that women, peace, and security is an issue, not just a women’s issue, a peace and security issue, and an issue that holds the keys to sustainable peace,” she said.

Ms. Wallström has been an advocate for the rights and needs of women throughout her political career, perhaps most notably as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict from 2010 to 2012. She said she had been particularly animated by the women she met in that post because “they did not want to be identified only as victims but as people who wanted a role in society, family, country, and the world.”

“Hope was inspired by all the women/girls we met who move from victims to survivors to agents of change,” she said. And she issued a challenge. “If they can pick up the pieces from their very shattered lives, then why can’t we?”

Speaking of ways the feminist foreign policy works, she said, “I force my ambassadors [to question] where are the women, are they there as peacekeepers, negotiators, are they found in the system and respected for what they bring—not that they are better than men, though we would like to think so—but that is not the point. Women come with different experiences. Look at peace deals, when women are involved, you have options available …they change the reality on the ground, women in war situations like Syria talk to other women, with a very different perspective, they have to make sure there is still food for children, electricity, water, that is where they start the engagement, but they also see the bigger picture.”

She said that women had special perspectives on programs like Children in Armed Conflict and conflict prevention. “These are things we always fight for, they are in our DNA, [we] stand on, invest in every subject on the Security Council agenda. Is this according to international humanitarian law, are we using the right definitions…are women mentioned in the resolutions, is the language right, what does this mean, do they really have a role?”

“We are insistent every week,” she said, speaking of her country, which is presently on the Security Council. “All the others know this is what Sweden will ask, so we hope it will be respected and others will follow.”

She noted the success of Sweden and its neighbors and theorized what was behind it. “The way the Nordic countries got so wealthy was making reforms for women to enter the workforce,” she said. “There was affordable childcare, care for the elderly, following reforms that made it possible for men and women to work and sustain themselves and their families.” She had concise advice for countries that wanted to produce similar results—“create reforms to allow women into the workforce.”

In conclusion, IPI President Terje Rød-Larsen, who moderated the conversation, praised her for this “very impressive” record. “It’s not done yet,” she replied.