November 4, 2019


Ann Linde, Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs, discussed women's rights during a visit to SIPA
Ann Linde, Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs, discussed women's rights during a visit to SIPA
As governments across the world follow Europe’s cue, moving to the right and pursuing more conservative policies, the rights of women are among the many falling into jeopardy.

Ann Linde, Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs, finds that troubling.

Linde recently visited SIPA to speak about the crisis around women’s rights in the current political environment. The Earth Institute’s Women, Peace and Security program and SIPA’s Gender and Public Policy specialization hosted the October 28 event.

“This is what the international community is telling women; these leaders represent the movement that questions democracy, a right-wing extremist movement, a movement that is spreading,” said Linde before a packed 15th-floor conference room. “Because around the world, not least in Europe, democracy is backsliding—democracy is being threatened—and wherever these people come to power, the first thing they do is target and restrict the rights of women.”

Sweden publicly adopted a “feminist foreign policy” in 2014, Linde said, becoming the first country in the world to place gender equality at the head of its consular agenda. A onetime trade minister who was serving at the time as minister for Nordic cooperation, Linde became the new foreign affairs minister in September of this year. Now she is standing up for women’s economic and political rights.

The conversation—introduced by 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who directs the Women, Peace and Security program, and moderated by Yasmine Ergas, director of the Gender and Public Policy specialization—focused on action that can be taken by women at large.

“As we do this work—as you position yourself as a world leader and go back into spaces and say to people that we need to have the feminist perspective of peace, a feminist perspective of justice, a feminist perspective on everything,” Gbowee said to the attentive crowd, “I'm sure you already know… that the women in these communities are the ones making it happen.”

Linde referred to several instances in which either she personally, or Sweden, as a matter of policy, has taken the lead in putting women’s right at the top of the agenda. Referencing meetings with global leaders, she discussed what she hopes to accomplish in her relatively new role.

“Right now, I have three priorities,” Linde said. “The first is to stand up to this global movement of moral conservatism in concrete terms, which means that Sweden has increased its funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights wherever the United States has withdrawn its support.”

After the crowd erupted in applause, Linde added that the country will support midwives, access to abortion, increased sexual education, and more.

“It’s about speaking out, about not keeping quiet when rights are violated,” she said.

Linde’s second priority is centered on “the social and economic conditions of girls and women around the world.” She intends to focus on projects and activities that study discrimination against women in countries around the globe.

Her third priority is prompting others to join the cause. Among the legislation Sweden has realized in its own country and is attempting to bring to women abroad include universal childcare, parental leave, increasing social and public health policy, and more.

“These are welfare policies,” Linde said, “and Sweden knows from decades of experience that a system that promotes gender equality has a strong impact on the economic world.”

Linde didn’t pull punches in calling out the United States, Russia, and other countries that have reduced support for domestic welfare programs.

“We want more countries to adopt a feminist foreign policy, a [family-forward] domestic policy. We want more organizations to realize the benefits of gender equality,” Linde said. “We can never talk about democracy. We can never talk about security. We can never talk about freedom, if you ignore half the population.”

As Linde concluded and opened the floor for Q&As, many asked about the different policy agendas set forth by countries all over the world that have an assortment of political instability as well as other “more urgent” problems to take care of. Linde assured the audience that if this is not already a major priority for every country, it soon will be.

“Making life better for 3.5-billion people means that the other 3.5-billion will be better off as a result.”

— Catherina Gioino MPA ’20