Monitoring women in politics

Feminist Initiative goes Europe

[Brussels, 12 October 2016] Gudrun Schyman is not only a Swedish feminist thought-leader but also the founder and spokesperson of the Feminist Initiative party in Sweden. Founded in 2005, the party - currently has elected seats in both the European Parliament and in 13 Swedish municipalities. During her trip to Brussels, EWL’s Matilda Flemming interviewed her, as part of a European-wide study, conducted by the Feminist Initiative.

Gudrun, what brings you to Brussels?
Feminist Initiative is carrying out a European-wide study on how feminism acts under increased pressure from nationalists and right-wing extremists. The study maps the possibilities of a more coordinated feminist activism across Europe.

There has been a dramatic change in the political landscape, and as feminists, we are forced to act when human rights are attacked as clearly and brutally, as is happening in Europe as we speak. But how do we strengthen and defend women’s rights, abortion rights, LGBT rights, asylum rights and refugee rights in Europe today?

What we see right now is the result of the political collapse of the EU - a European Union in which humanist values have been left far behind. Rights we took for granted have been attacked in a way I never thought I would have to experience - and I have been in politics for quite a while and seen quite a lot. So many people have lost their moral compass - in Sweden, and in Europe.

The wave of nationalism, populism and right-wing extremism that Europe is witnessing has been planned, and history has shown us what can happen when undemocratic forces use the democratic system to undermine? democracy. But this wave is giving birth to feminist resistance - we have seen women taking to the streets in Poland and Ireland for instance. This resistance needs to be organised! The nationalists are well-organized, and we need to be too. We need to engage politically, especially with the European Parliament elections coming up in 2019.

We need to strengthen democratic institutions. People not feeling represented within the political system is a hotbed for populism. As feminists, it is our democratic duty to bring in human rights and women’s rights into politics, in the same way that the green parties brought in environmental issues into the mainstream.

Gudrun Schyman in Brussels. Photo by Mimika D Kirgios

Tell us a bit more about feminist parties in Europe - where are they and how are they doing?
Generally it’s a mixed picture. In some countries, feminist parties are having a hard time. For instance, there are feminist parties in Germany and Poland - but in their political context, feminism has been depicted as something ugly, as man-hating - master suppression techniques really - and these parties have not been able to influence the political debate very much. In some countries there are no feminist parties, but what you see for instance in Spain is a massive mobilisation across the country against violence against women. Roma feminists are also organising and running for office across Europe.

Feminist Initiative in Sweden has really been able to break new ground, and we have built our political platform on an intersectional feminist power analysis - we are not a one-issue party or a women’s party. There are also Feminist Initiative parties in Finland and Norway, which shows that organising politically based on a feminist power analysis is a successful concept.

The Women’s Equality Party in the UK are very successful - in a very short time they have been able to gain great support and visibility. They are focusing very much on the issue of women’s limited political representation, which is logical, considering the extent to which politics in the UK is patriarchal.

Most Swedish political parties call themselves feminist these days, but what I see among feminists, who are active in the mainstream parties, is that they are forced to become internal lobbyists. They are not heard by the party establishment.

If you were to give one advice to European feminists, what would it be?
Organise! Feminist issues are not only issues over kitchen tables. We need to move beyond the neoliberal idea that all issues are individual, and work together. Structural societal issues need structural solutions.

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