NEW: “Gender equality can only be achieved with the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and girls” 

17 Mar, 2022 - 14:03 0 Views
NEW: “Gender equality can only be achieved with the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and girls” 

The Sunday Mail

GENDER equality is one of 17 goals singled out by the United Nations as a blueprint to achieve a better and sustainable future. Among the leading countries with a robust Government policy on Gender Equality is Sweden. The Sunday Mail’s Gender and Community Editor, Fatima Bulla (FB), interviewed former Swedish Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Her Excellency Sofia Calltorp (SC). She is now Sweden’s Ambassador for Gender Equality and Co-ordination of Feminist Foreign Policy. Read on: 


FB: Ambassador how do you sum up your experiences during your tenure in Zimbabwe? 

SC: My experiences during my tenure in Zimbabwe were very rich in many different aspects. Sweden and Zimbabwe’s relations go long back, and I am grateful to have been part of that joint history of our two countries. Democracy, human rights and gender equality have always been at the heart of our relationship, and I hope to continue to contribute to these areas also in my new role. I carry with me so many wonderful memories from my time in Zimbabwe. In particular, I cherish all the meetings with women and especially young women activists from all walks of life of Zimbabwean society. There are so many strong and important women and grassroots organisations that are doing a fantastic job in advancing gender equality at all levels in Zimbabwe.   


FB: Ambassador for Gender Equality and Co-ordination of Feminist foreign policy, has Sweden always had this office running? 

SC: Sweden’s foreign policy has long been characterised by a gender equality perspective. But, it was in October 2014 that Sweden launched the feminist foreign policy as the first country in the world. The policy represents an increase in ambitions and is a response to the systematic subordination and discrimination of women and girls all over the world. The policy aims to change discriminating structures and empower women and girls so they can have the same power as men and boys to shape society and their own lives. 


FB: What does the portfolio as Ambassador for Gender Equality entail? 

SC: The feminist foreign policy is an agenda for change and entails a strategy on how to implement gender equality. It is based on three “Rs” – Rights, Representation and Resources – and means that the Swedish Foreign Service shall strive to strengthen all women’s and girls’ rights, representation and resources, based on the reality in which they live. Gender equality can only be achieved with the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and girls. This includes combating all forms of discrimination and violence. Women must also have representation and influence in decision-making at all levels and in all areas. Resources must be distributed in such a way that gender equality is achieved. The method has an intersectional perspective and takes into account that women and girls have different lives and needs. 


FB: How does Sweden’s Ministry of Gender co-relate with your current office? 

SC: Sweden’s Ministry of Gender works mainly with gender integration domestically, while my office deals with gender equality in our external relations. But, we work very closely together. 


FB: How do you engage other countries like Zimbabwe within the mandate of Gender and Feminism? 

SC: Gender equality is not only a goal in itself, but also a prerequisite for sustainable peace, security and development. Gender research shows that gender-equal societies enjoy better health, stronger economic growth and greater security. Gender equality contributes to peace processes and the likelihood of lasting peace increases when women are involved in the process. Sweden’s, and my engagement strives to ensure that the promotion of gender equality is not just a matter of women’s rights, but a matter of ensuring peace and security for all. Our feminist foreign policy is a central part of our political engagement as well as development cooperation assistance, which is also reflected in the context of Zimbabwe. 


FB: Gender equality is central to Sweden’s priorities, how has this benefited the country’s development? 

SC: Sweden is regularly placed at the top when the countries of the world are ranked on gender equality. Sweden has one of the smallest gaps between women and men, according to indicators within health, education, economy and politics. The progress made towards gender equality has contributed to Sweden’s high levels of employment and growth.  This is a consequence of successful policy such as the separate taxation, generous childcare provisions and shared gender-neutral parental leave. Gender mainstreaming policy and gender budgeting are applied throughout our Government, which promotes gender equality as far as possible. It is important to say that this happened because of political struggle and decisions together with hard work from a strong civil society and movement led by women. However, Sweden still has significant challenges as women and girls do not have access to resources and power on equal terms as men and boys. It is important to continuing the efforts both nationally and internationally. 


FB: In addition to your office, Sweden has a Ministry for Gender, do you think the gender agenda is being taken seriously as it ought to be generally? 

SC: I think there is still a lot to do for gender equality, both in Sweden and globally. But, having a Ministry for Gender is a good step in the right direction. 


FB: And, also based on your experiences during your tenure in Zimbabwe? 

SC: During my tenure in Zimbabwe, Sweden was, and still is, a champion advocating for gender equality by supporting women’s political participation, combating gender-based violence and supporting sexual and reproductive health rights. A lot of progress has been made in Zimbabwe on issues of gender equality and a lot still remains to be done. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic we are reminded of how fragile progress on gender equality is. The pandemic has caused an increase of gender-based violence, globally and also in Zimbabwe. With schools closing down young girls are more at risk for abuse, including forced marriages and different forms of economic exploitation. This negative development underscores the need for awareness raising and building strong protection mechanisms for girls and women. The economic equality/resources of girls and women continue to be a core challenge and obstacle for equality. Therefore, equal access to employment and working conditions will be central in achieving a more equal society, both in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. 


FB: Deriving from your stay in Zimbabwe and other experiences in the continent how can attitudes about gender be changed from it being a “woman issue” to everyone’s issue? 

SC: Involving men in the fight for gender equality is key. During my tenure in Zimbabwe, the Swedish Embassy collaborated with prominent men from different parts of the Zimbabwean society to act as role models and male gender champions. That campaign, called ‘Because I am a Man’, is one example on how to work to change attitudes. I hope to reconnect with them again!

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