Lessons from Sweden's feminist foreign policy for global health

Elsevier, The Lancet, Volume 393, Issue 10171, 9–15 February 2019, Pages 27-28.
Rachel Irwin

In 2014, the Swedish Government, a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Green Party, became the first government in the world to declare itself feminist and to pursue an explicit feminist foreign policy, with a purpose “to combat discrimination against women, improve conditions for women, and contribute to peace and development”. Within global health, this approach has been demonstrated by commitments to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to contraceptives, maternity care, and safe abortions. The policy was both a radical step and a logical progression for a country that has been internationally engaged in these issues since the 1950s.

In practice, a feminist foreign policy (FFP) involves asking about gender in all situations: do women and men have equitable access to treatment? What are the different vulnerabilities of men, women, girls, and boys in humanitarian crises? Are data disaggregated by gender? An FFP should also repeatedly raise questions about representation and gender balance at WHO and within other international organisations, and ensure that the financial resources are in place to support gender equality initiatives and research.