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GLOBAL | fall 2006

Vote “F!” for Feminism
A new Swedish political party fights for equal rights

By forming a political party for equality, Swedish women see themselves as pioneers. “This is something new, unique,” says party leader Gudrun Schyman. “We are spearheading a global liberation movement.”

A general election on September 17th will decide whether such euphoria is justified. The party, Feminist Initiative— F! for short—faces an uphill battle to win the 4 percent needed in Sweden’s proportional-representation system for minimum representation in the Riksdag (parliament).

The big fight for Swedish legislative power is between two blocs. On one side, the Social Democratic Party, led by current prime minister Göran Persson, are allied to Vänster (the Left Party, formerly Communist) and Miljöpartiet (the Greens). On the other, Moderaterna (the Conservative Party) is allied to Folkpartiet (the Liberals), the Center Party and the Christian Democratic Party. However, with the blocs pretty evenly matched, a minority party can, in theory, hold the balance of power.

Schyman, age 58, is a tough, experienced politician. Under her guidance, with women’s priorities up front, her former party, Vänster, won 12 percent of the vote in 1998, its best result in its near-century of existence. That success was achieved despite a scandal over Schyman’s admitted alcoholism, as she went on the wagon, fell off and climbed back on, under intense media scrutiny. In 2003, forced to quit Vänster after allegations of tax fraud, she again bounced back. Last year, with other Swedish women activists, she formed F!

It wasn’t an easy birth. To many middle-of-the-road voters, the party never fully recovered from its first congress in autumn 2005, where one member denounced women who slept with men as “traitors to their sex,” and a proposal to end gender discrimination in naming children caused media merriment.

“Journalists vied with each other to put us down. It was very ugly,” says Schyman, “but the campaign back-fired, really, and had a mobilizing effect.” Still, polls by the Sifo research institute showed probable support for F! plummeting from near 15 percent when it was founded to only 1.2 percent today.

Yet F! has kept up its grassroots campaign. “We’re focusing on the salary gap and men’s violence against women,” says Schyman. “We’re also calling for real shared responsibility for children by changing parental-leave insurance to make it half/half between mothers and fathers. Now…women take 81 percent of parental leaves and men 19 percent, while a fourth of all men take no parental leave at all. We need parliamentary representation to really change this country.”

To some, Sweden doesn’t need change. According to a 2005 World Economic Forum 58-country survey, Sweden leads the world in sex equality, followed by Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland (the United States is 17th). Of the present Leftist government, 10 of 22 Cabinet members are female, as are 45 percent of MPs and almost half of all municipal and county councillors.

“But in Sweden there’s a gap between words and reality,” says Schyman. “Internationally a lot of people look upon Sweden as [equality] paradise, but that is not the truth—and now things are actually going backwards. Almost nothing has happened in the past 20 years for women in the labor market, and now more women are being forced to take nonsecure, part-time work. Even in secure jobs, women earn 83 percent of men’s salary. There has been a back-lash against feminism. Sexism is growing.” F! aims to put a stop to that.

For more information: www.feministisktinitiativ.se.