In the shadow of the swell in support for far-right political parties during last year’s EU elections was the more localised, yet still remarkable success of a party based on the polar opposite of all that the extreme right-wing stands for. Sweden’s Feministiskt Initiativ (Feminist Initiative) received enough votes to secure parliamentary representation, becoming the first exclusively feminist party to gain a seat in the European Parliament.
How did they do it?
Feminist Initiative’s most important move ahead of last year’s elections may have been to highlight their position on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Sweden Democrats, Sweden’s equivalent of UKIP. As was the case across Europe, 2014 saw the Sweden Democrats enjoy one of their most successful years to date, landing them their first two seats in the European Parliament. Feminist Initiative tapped into widespread concern over the predicted success of the Sweden Democrats, announcing themselves early-on as challengers of right-wing extremists. Their slogan? “Replace the racists with feminists”.
The rise of a feminist party may not seem ground-breaking in a country ranked as highly on equality and civil liberties as Sweden, but it’s the way they did it that should make us sit up and take notice. Feminist Initiative managed to justify why their viewpoints are in greater need of representation than ever before by promoting human rights as the single issue informing all of the party’s political action. It was most likely their policies on anti-racism that lead to them passing the threshold necessary for parliamentary representation in the EU. But the lens of human rights allowed them to stress the importance of a feminist presence in politics, in order to reduce the gap between rhetoric and practice when dealing with issues of gender equality.
What should this teach the rest of us?
Although several feminist parties exist across Europe, Feminist Initiative has come to lead the field, both in terms of its political success and the amount of attention that it gets from the media. If similar European parties are to learn anything from the Swedes’ recent success, it should be to tailor their feminist agenda to one of the great issues currently facing their respective societies. Although a shift away from the feminist agenda may seem self-defeating, the role that the rise of the Sweden Democrats has played in Feminist Initiative’s success cannot be ignored.
Despite its success in the European elections, Feminist Initiative failed to pass the threshold necessary to acquire seats in the Swedish Parliament in the general election that followed in September 2014. Many consider the party’s depth within areas beyond women’s rights as insufficient for ever acquiring parliamentary representation. Indeed, the party’s lack of a viable economic platform and plans to scrap the nation’s defence forces are likely to have made voters wary.
While we wait to see whether Swedish voters will take a pro-feminist stance in the 2018 general election, we should look to Brussels to see the consequences of Feminist Initiative’s politics.