Thu 7 Apr, 2005 11:09 pm
Some news from Scandinavia:
Feminist party threatens to unseat Swedish premier
By Stephen Castle in Brussels
08 April 2005
Sweden, where almost half of all MPs are women, is on the verge of striking a fresh blow for sexual equality as a newly formed feminist alliance is now tipped to unseat the Prime Minister.
The Feminist Initiative, launched earlier this week, is already eating into the support of the ruling Social Democrats and their Green and Left Party coalition allies. And, of those backing the group launched to fight for women's rights, more than one in three are men.
According to a survey published by the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the embryonic feminist grouping has captured 7 per cent of the vote. That would be enough to spell severe trouble for the country's long-standing Social Democratic Prime Minister, Göran Perrson, in next year's elections, and might cost him his job.
The poll findings have rattled the coalition and given a spectacular boost to the Feminist Initiative, which has not yet officially become a party or said that it will contest the elections. Its current priority is to tour the country and maximise the considerable publicity surrounding its launch.
Officially the grouping has no leader, though its public face is Gudrun Schyman, who already enjoyed a high profile as a former leader of the Left Party. Ms Schyman is one of the country's most effective political operators, but her career has been marked by personal controversy. Not only has she fought a long and public battle against alcohol abuse, but she was also embroiled in a scandal over a tax return before having to resign as leader of the Left Party.
So far there is no sign of a detailed policy platform, though the Feminist Initiative says that even egalitarian Sweden still has problems in areas such as equality of pay and violence against women.
Launching the party earlier this week, Ms Schyman said: "This is a question of power. We in Sweden live in a society which is built on an idea that men should have the most power and dominate."
Most of the rest of Europe sees the Swedes as role models in their commitment to sexual equality. Sweden has the highest proportion of female representatives in any European political system: 45.3 per cent of Swedish MEPs are women, compared with 18.1 per cent in the UK.
Although the Feminist Initiative is in its infancy, the threat it poses to the ruling coalition is real. The Social Democrats have governed Sweden for six of the past seven decades, and voter fatigue is thought to be one reason for a slide in popularity.
Polls were already showing a slide in popularity for Mr Persson's coalition and putting it behind an opposition centre-right alliance of four parties - the so-called "bourgeois bloc". That trend will be accelerated, according to yesterday's poll, which indicated that almost one third of Left Party voters would switch their allegiance to back the Feminist Initiative. In a sign of his alarm, the Prime Minister has suggested that the supporters of the new feminist group could let the centre-right back into power by the back door.
Here's an earlier report with local coverage:
Published: 4th April 2005
Schyman launches "Feminist Initiative"
Five members of the board, including former Left Party leader Gudrun Schyman, launched the Feminist Initiative ("Feministiskt initiativ") at a press conference at the Swedish parliament this morning. The much anticipated and hyped new feminist party has arrived! Or has it?
For the time being, it's a society, rather than a political party. And there's no party leader or official programme of policies at the moment. Despite this, they are setting their sites on participation in the general election in September 2006.
"Now we've joined forces," announced Schyman, "women who have been working for different organisations on questions which affect women's lives. We're starting by seeking support. But those people who join up also have the chance to shape our future."
Sofia Karlsson, also on the FI board, explained the lack of a party leader:
"Maybe we won't have one. We want to build an antipatriarchal organisation. We're going to mount a serious challenge to the current gender-based power structures."
Schyman was confident of the broad appeal of the FI:
"We've formed a feminist intiative which cross boundaries - both political and generational."
Sharing the platform was Monica Amante, 26, representing women from ethnic minorities and Susanne Linde, 50, formerly of the Liberal Party. Schyman was not worried that the FI would split the left vote and make a conservative victory in the forthcoming election more likely:
"The greatest risk is that we end up with a society which discriminates against half the population. I think there are enough voters for everyone."
A congress is planned for September when the FI's constitution and political programme will be finalised and agreed upon. For the time being they are highlighting five issues which they intend to tackle: a change to the rape laws so that men have to ask women if they want sex; eradicate discrimination in the health service where women wait longer and get fewer referrals compared to men; address the wage discrepancy between male-dominated and female-dominated professions; reduce inequalities in parental leave, sick leave and other job market issues; and make sure that women can get asylum in Sweden for persecution due to their sex.
The government's response was led by Social Democrat party secretary, Marita Ulvskog, who recently started a new feminist network, Feministas. She thinks the more people working on women's issues the better, but...
"The problem is if they actually go ahead and form a party. They'll take voters mainly from the Greens and the Left Party and maybe even the Social Democrats. It could be the decisive factor in the conservatives winning the next election. Having Christian Democracts and Moderates making the decisions won't help women."
Most commentators believe the Left Party and the Greens are most vulnerable to a new feminist party. However, their spokespersons were surprisingly positive to the development.
"Those of us working on feminist issues feel lonely," said Pernilla Zethraeus of the Left Party. "The creation of this party is an indication that more needs to be done in this area."
Peter Eriksson of the Greens likened it in a statement to a kick up the backside for his party.
Leaders from the conservative alliance used the opportunity to take a pop at the government.
Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderates said:
"Today the foundations have been laid for a new coalition party for the Social Democrats. It looks like we have a situation where Göran Persson needs help from Gudrun Schyman to carry on in government."
"A resounding rejection of the socialist coalition's policies," said the Centre Party's Maud Olofsson.
In an analysis of the new political landscape, Henrik Brors of DN felt that the new Feminist Initiative had a good chance of getting 4% of the vote in the next election, which would give them seats in parliament under Sweden's proportional representation system.
He considered it was worst news for the Greens and the Left Party, both of whom run the risk of losing their parliamentary status.
"But even the Social Democrats risk losing voters - over 21% of their supporters would consider voting for a feminist party."
Despite the talk at the press conference of the FI being a broad church, Brors is convinced it is firmly in the left camp:
"With Gudrun Schyman in charge, I can't see it as anything other than a party of the left... Faced with a choice of supporting Persson or Reinfeldt, it'll go for Persson."
And whilst on the subject of Schyman, Brors considers the move not to announce a leader has more to do with pragmatic politics than ideals about changing the established order.
"The risk is that the FI would be completely portrayed as Gudrun Schyman's party. Her credibility could be low with a number of voters who remember the tax fiddling revelations. And her political opponents can remind everyone that little changed for women when she was leader of the Left Party."
Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet
Andy Butterworth is a freelance writer based in Gothenburg.
Is a feminist party really necessary in Sweden? I thought they were one of the countries with the most equality between genders.
Anyway, I doubt they will 'dethrone' the Prime Minister.