H.E. Helena Gröndahl Rietz

Ambassador of Sweden to Jordan

Euro-Med Regional Dialogue:  From strengthening the role of women in society

to gender-equality policy making

Amman 3 February 2016

Remarks by Helena Gröndahl Rietz, Ambassador of Sweden to Jordan


Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the invitation to this follow-up dialogue on the Euro-Med ministerial conclusions from 2013 on Strengthening the Role of Women in society. It is encouraging to follow this process with so many committed stakeholders to transform these conclusions into policy making and concrete action.

I will try to briefly introduce Sweden’s feminist foreign policy and give you an update on Sweden’s engagement in the Middle East in support of human rights, democracy, peace and sustainable development including our support for women’s rights and gender equality. Finally, I will also make a few comments on developments here in the Middle East.

Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy has its foundation in the overall policy of the Swedish government. In fact, Sweden’s Prime Minister has declared he is running a feminist government. The Government’s ambition is “to combat inhibitive roles and discriminatory structures” and “to give women and men equal power and opportunities to fulfil their innermost aspirations”. This is also the point of departure of our Feminist Foreign Policy.

The Feminist Foreign Policy is summarized into three “R:s” seeks to enhance Rights, Representation and Resources for all women and girls. It can only be implemented in partnership with stakeholders around the world; governments, parliaments, civil society, private sector, bilateral and multilateral partners.

An action plan for 2015–2018 has been developed. It is based on the following six long-term objectives to contribute to all women and girls’:

  1. Full enjoyment of human rights
  2. Freedom from physical, psychological and sexual violence
  3. Participation in preventing and resolving conflicts, and post-conflict peacebuilding
  4. Political participation and influence in all areas of society
  5. Economic rights and empowerment
  6. Sexual and reproductive health and rights

These objectives are broad in order to match broad challenges and cover all of the Sustainable Development Goals. For 2016 the following focus areas have been identified:

  • Strengthen the human rights of women and girls in humanitarian settings
  • Combat gender-based and sexual violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations and impunity for such crimes
  • Promote the participation of women as actors in peace processes and peace support operations
  • Promote the participation of women and girls as actors for economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development,
  • Strengthen the economic empowerment of women and girls and their access to economic resources, including through productive employment and decent work
  • Strengthen the sexual and reproductive rights of girls and young people 

As you can hear, these focus areas are highly relevant to current developments in the Middle East. One of the vehicles by which the Feminist Foreign Policy is implemented is through our development cooperation. Two fresh government decisions are important in this regard:

Firstly, Sweden has renewed its Regional Development Cooperation Strategy for the Middle East and North Africa with a financial commitment of 215 MUSD for 2016-2020. The aim is to support regional cooperation. Countries currently covered by the strategy are Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

The strategy has three main themes; 1) strengthened democracy, human rights and gender equality, 2) sustainable management of natural resources and climate change 3) economic integration and trade. Compared to previous strategies Sweden now emphasises even further the rights of women, children and young people, but also increased investment in renewable energy and sustainable management of natural resources, as well as an increased focus on decent working conditions in the region.

Secondly, Sweden has adopted a new Development Cooperation Strategy for the Syria Crisis with a financial commitment of 200 MUSD 2016-2020. This multi-year, regional, development approach to the Syria crisis will be presented by our prime minister at the Syria conference in London tomorrow 4 February. (This is in addition to our large contribution of humanitarian aid.)

The Strategy will try to meet needs inside Syria as well as in the most affected neighbouring countries – Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The Syria crisis Strategy focuses on strengthening resilience inside Syria and the neighbouring countries and one basic goal is to prepare for a future peace agreement to last. The goal of Sweden’s support is to increase opportunities for people, especially women, to provide for their families, strengthening local actors’ capacity to deliver basic services that will enable more children to go to school, increase access to clean water and health services. It will also seek to prevent sexual and gender-based violence and increase local capacity to provide services for victims of such violence as well as provide for dignified rehabilitation.

 In the neighbouring countries, support within these areas will benefit both refugees from Syria and vulnerable host communities that are affected by the Syria crisis.

The Syria Crisis Strategy’s second focus is a continuation of a program that started already in 2013 with the aim of strengthening the capacity of Syrian civil society to contribute to peace building, institution building, respect for human rights and gender equality. In fact, EFI is one good example of a partner organisation that works with the Coalition of Syrian Women for Democracy in preparing and inclusive and gender-equal new constitution for Syria.

Finally, a few words on developments here in the Middle East. The region is going through massive transformation, from war to peace (hopefully), from authoritarian regimes to demands for dignity and democracy, from traditional to modern societies. Gender equality and the role for women are key challenges - both in the transformative processes but also as an objective in its own right. No country in the world can afford not to make use of the potential of all its citizens; women, men, young and old.

Advancing the rights of women and girls is key to promoting and reinforcing the rule of law in all societies. Enhanced political participation by women contributes to inclusive, transparent and democratic governance. Enhanced gender equality in education and labour markets contribute to human development and economic growth. Further, the empowerment of women and girls is essential in promoting peace and security. This is why the Arab world has to start advancing the gender agenda now, or it risks being left behind the rest of the world. There is a win-win opportunity in gender equality with enormous potential for growth both for individuals and society.  It’s an opportunity the Middle East cannot afford to miss.

Helena Gröndahl Rietz, Ambassador of Sweden to Jordan

Feb 2016