2023 Equality, Organisation and Management of Aid Analysis, Evaluation

More Than a Label, Less Than a Revolution: Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy

Ann Towns, Elin Bjarnegård, Katarzyna Jezierska

During eight years, 2014–2022, Sweden pursued a feminist foreign policy (FFP). Sweden was the first country in the world to declare an FFP and also became the first country to retract one. Since 2014, FFP has spread internationally, and around ten countries have declared their own versions. But to what degree and how was Sweden’s feminist foreign policy translated into practical action in terms of gender equality work?

The EBA report More Than a Label, Less Than a Revolution: Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy (EBA 2023:02) presents the first systematic study of the implementation of FFP. It follows the implementation chain from the Government to embassies and public authorities within the three areas of foreign policy – development cooperation, security policy, and trade and promotion.

Based on several sub-studies and large amounts of quantitative and qualitative data, the authors draw four main conclusions:

  • The feminist foreign policy led to a stronger emphasis on gender equality in Government directives, though with loose vertical steering of implementation and without additional funding.
  • The gender equality work of Swedish embassies and public authorities increased with the feminist foreign policy, but the methods for gender equality work largely remained the same.
  • The intensity of gender equality efforts increased across all three foreign policy areas, but particularly in the area of trade, which had a limited focus on gender equality prior to the feminist foreign policy. The feminist concept also came to serve as a driving force for integration of and coordination between the three foreign policy domains.
  • The “feminist” label did not fundamentally change the nature of gender equality work, and was mainly used by the political leadership, but it raised the ambition and strengthened Sweden’s international leadership in gender equality, and increased tensions with right-wing conservative forces.