“Feminism” may still seem like a dirty word in many parts of the world, yet feminists have made significant progress in European politics this week. For the first time ever, a candidate attached to an out-and-out “feminist” political party has been elected to serve on the European Parliament. Soraya Post, a 57-year-old mother of four, will represent Sweden as a member of the Feminist Initiative party after securing more than 5% of the public vote.
While the previous European Parliament had a not altogether horrible rate of 35% female representation, none of the members were aligned with a feminist party. The hope is that an increased feminist presence will help to actually address issues of gender equality rather than the status quo of giving these issues lip service followed by inaction. This year, the Feminist Initiative campaigned in favor of reproductive rights and equal pay.
Pointing to the intersectionality of modern feminism, the party’s most emphasized position was actually about the treatment of minority populations. Following a surprising Swedish resurgence of anti-immigrant sentiment, Feminist Initiative made its rallying cry, “Out with racists and in with feminists!” Last year, Swedish police were caught illegally monitoring and storing information on the country’s Roma residents, including more than 1,000 Roma kids.
Post, a Roma woman herself, is proud to stand up for not only her gender, but also her ethnicity. “The 15 million Roma in Europe live as if it is a state of war in the peaceful Europe of 2014… it is not acceptable, it is shameful,” Post said.
Sweden is generally touted as a world leader for equality due to its (relatively more) equitable treatment of women and racial minorities. However, the party’s founder, Gudrun Schyman, labels this perception a “myth.” “We have a gender gap, violence against women,” she said. “If you look at [other political parties’] agendas, you can see that they want to weaken human rights and it’s always for women and for immigrants.”
The Feminist Initiative has faced its share of criticism, not only from sexist groups, but those who agreed with their viewpoints. An op-ed writer in the Telegraph feels that its not a good move to have feminists remove their perspective from mainstream parties and instead situate themselves as a fringe group. On the other hand, why should feminists patiently wait for existing democratic groups to take their message seriously when they have the backing necessary to represent themselves politically?
As American looking in on this political advancement from a distance, I can only imagine the kind of reception an unabashed “feminist” party would receive here in the United States. The plight for equality would almost certainly be misrepresented as anti-man and fail to garner the supporters necessary to earn seats in office. Hopefully, groups like the Feminist Initiative will be able to bring about positive change and, in time, successfully model what an equitable society really looks like.