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What Donald Trump Could Learn From the Feminist Government in Sweden

It should be self-evident that women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Yet throughout history, those in power – usually men – have tried to control women’s bodies. And some modern expressions of this are still limiting access to contraceptives and making safe abortions more difficult.


President Donald Trump’s decision to ban American aid to all organisations that in any way advocate women’s right to abortions is very unfortunate. All experience shows that this kind of decision does not reduce the number of abortions; rather, it forces girls and women to revert to life-threatening procedures. Aside from the curtailment of human rights this represents, the policies of anti-abortion movements are catastrophic for those women who are at risk.

For several decades, the Mexico City policy – also known as the global gag rule – has been implemented by Republican presidents and abolished by Democratic presidents. So we were not surprised that President Donald Trump reintroduced it. This time, though, it is more comprehensive and applies to all health aid. The US is one of the world’s largest donors of health aid in absolute terms, so there is a risk of this having far-reaching consequences.

Maternal mortality has been halved since 1990; decisions of this kind risk endangering the progress that has been made. Some 800 women still die every day as a result of pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, with an absolute majority of these deaths in poor countries. These women and girls do not need less support – quite the contrary.

We also see a risk that work on behalf of LGBTQ people’s human rights will be hampered, both in the US and around the world. Beside the global gag rule, there is a a worrying trend within the EU and elsewhere towards trying to hamper women’s freedoms, especially when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights. The Swedish government has launched a plan to limit the damage of this harmful policy ,and to help to reverse the trend.

Sweden is increasing its support in 2017 to the UN population fund (UNFPA), the programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) and the global fund, which are three key institutions in global sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) efforts. We are one of the world’s largest donors, and we will use our influence to strengthen women’s rights.

We will contact UN leaders and ministers in progressive countries in the EU and around the world to mobilise political and financial support. We will coordinate new initiatives with the Netherlands and Belgium. Succeeding in building alliances with progressive countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa will be of particular importance.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) will send out concrete proposals on how Sweden can strengthen support to organisations working on SRHR, including those that provide information about, and offer, safe abortions. At the same time, Swedish embassies are initiating strategic advocacy efforts to encourage more countries to actively participate in this work.

We will push for the EU to raise its political profile, stand up for women’s rights, and increase SRHR initiatives in EU aid. We will now contact those EU countries that do not take a position when these issues come up, and encourage more of them to raise their voices. Finally, we will closely monitor the effects that the new US policy has on the financing of various initiatives. We still do not know how Trump’s policy will impact on democracy assistance, support to human rights defenders or poverty reduction.

We are in a transition period, in which women’s economic and political influence is strong and there is growing consensus in the international community for equality. Today’s resistance can be seen as a reaction to this success, and as proof that the struggle for the rights of women and LGBTQ people is a battle that must constantly be fought.

The most controversial issue is also the most basic: the right to decide over your own body, sexuality and reproduction. There are still many women who are unable to decide whom to marry, whom to have sex with or when to have children. This is absurd, and should be relegated to the annals of history.

The question remains: who should decide over a woman’s body, if not herself?

Sweden has a feminist government. For us, the answer is obvious. Sweden’s development is based on the equal rights of men and women. We know that investments in gender equality and sexual and reproductive rights pay off.

The world need strong leadership for women’s rights. Sweden will have an increasingly important role to play in this, and we will ensure that Swedish aid goes where it does the most good. Many countries could learn an important lesson from this.

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