Is Sweden’s new foreign policy ‘feminist’ or just pointlessly undiplomatic?

So foreign minister Margot Wallström was rather undiplomatic in March about the way Saudi Arabia handles human rights issues. She was promptly blocked from speaking about democracy and women’s rights at an Arab League conference in Cairo. Ms Wallstrom’s government went on to scrap a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi recalled their ambassadors from Stockholm; the Arab League spoke up — severely — about Ms Wallström’s behaviour. And that’s it.

I fail to see how an exercise in being undiplomatic (without really managing to change the situation you’re complaining about) can be described as a brave, better and radically “feminist” foreign policy?

Stockholm has, undoubtedly, made some brave and hugely important foreign policy moves in the past year, since Stefan Löfven, leader of the center-left Social Democratic Party became prime minister.

It recognized the state of Palestine. Ms Wallström told her Israeli counterpart off, and in no uncertain terms, when Avigdor Lieberman had the temerity to chide Sweden. The Middle East, he said, is “more complicated than a piece of furniture from Ikea”.

Ms Wallström’s riposte was pitched just right: “I will be happy to send Israel FM Lieberman an Ikea flat pack to assemble. He’ll see it requires a partner, cooperation and a good manual.”

Now, there is some indication that Sweden may soon become the first western nation to recognize the independence of Western Sahara, a disputed territory claimed by Morocco.

To me this sounds like a continuation of a fine Swedish tradition of championing the underdog and unfashionable causes. When the late Olof Palme was prime minister, he was as judiciously distant as possible from the big powers and supported independence movements in developing countries.

I don’t see how it is particularly feminist now. And there’s no reason to be either. It should be fair. That will mean women and men will have the chance of greater equality.

Being rude to the Saudis may not be a ‘feminist’ foreign policy. Particularly, when it brings about no real change.


Originally published at www.rashmee.com on October 21, 2015.