by Yoon Joung Lee
In a traditionally male dominated field, Margot Elisabeth Wallstrom has had a long journey in politics, and has recently been assigned as UN's new Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. This Swedish politician was born in 1954 in Skelleftea, Sweden. She started her first career in politics in 1974 as a member of Swedish Social Democratic Youth League and was later elected as a member of the Swedish parliament where she served for six years. In 1988, she began her ministerial career at the Swedish government as a Minister for Consumer Affairs. She later worked as a Minister for Culture from 1994 to 1996 and a Minister for Social Affairs from 1996 to 1998. She retired from Swedish politics in 1988.
Before she was appointed as a member of the European Commission for the Environment in 1999, she was the CEO at one of the regional TV networks in Sweden, called TV Varmaland from 1993 to 1994 and also worked as an executive vice-president at Worldview Global Media, a non-governmental organization in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 1998 to 1999. In 1999, she left media industry and served as a member of the European Commission for the Environment until she became first Vice President of the European Commission for Inter-Institutional Relation and Communication Strategy in 2004.
She has received numerous awards and honorary doctorates for her work on environmental and European issues including endorsing a European Union-Africa partnership on renewable energy, Sustainable Development, Climate Change, and gender equal opportunities.
According to a survey conducted by ICA-kuriren and Sifo, Wallstrom was selected as the most popular woman in Sweden in 2006 besting popular celebrities and royals. In 2007, she became a Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders Ministerial Initiative and was recently appointed as special UN Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Potential Changes After Her Entrance
In her article “A Womanly Virtue” in Harvard International Review, she shares more than 30 years of her insightful perspective as a woman in politics. What she found is that women in politics are not fairly represented. She worries about the societies or institutions that suffer from democratic deficit because a half of the citizens are not properly participating in public debate or decision-making.
Her main concern is creating a balanced society where the voice of women has a power to change societies and is respected as much as the voice of men. She says “it is about creating a more balanced society, and about taking decisions that better represent the people, for women are different, with different experiences, ideas, and points of view.” She sees male-dominated governments limited because they do not fully represent the people. More than half of the world population is women but they are very poorly represented at the political decision making level. Women have the ideas, experience and point of views that are fundamentally and qualitatively different from men. Thus, women are able to bring different and essential attitudes and perspectives to the political table and agenda.
As a new Special Representative for the UN, many depend on her future path and the potential changes she would make. Climate change and gender equality in politics are areas where she will have a strong influence.
Wallstrom recognizes the impact of climate change and how it reflects social inequalities. She points out that climate change increases gender-differentiated poverty because women are 70 percent of the 1.3 billion living in conditions of poverty. The women in those conditions are responsible for gathering water, firewood and other sources for living. However, if climate change causes shortage of these resources, more time and efforts on gathering resources is necessary. As a result, women have less access to education due to their time on work and it eventually creates social inequalities.
The UN, where Wallstrom joined, is expected to pay more attention to the relationship between women and climate change and help women in poverty fight against it as they educate women about the natural environment on local, national and international levels. Their knowledge of climate change will help not only women but also their families and communities to adapt to environmental changes more effectively.
Wallstrom in her article points out “when it comes to security, women tend to have a different view of what it means for today and for the future.” When we ask men about security, they mostly define it in military terms or other traditional ways. On the other hand, women define security in more practical ways such as having access to clean water, air, education, health care, freedom from poverty and social injustice, and money to feed their families. Women find that practical safety for family’s everyday life is more important and relevant to security than the government’s strong defense system.
Considering the fact that 80 percent of the world’s refugees are women and children who suffer from various sexual violence and rapes, the role of women in conflict zones are crucial. Wallstrom realizes the necessity of women’s involvement in conflict resolutions and stresses that women should not be limited to their territory in “soft” human security issues but they also must also be a key actor for “hard” security issues that have been male-dominant such as peace projects, terrorism, and war efforts.
Wallstrom’s entrance to the UN as a Special Representative will encourage women in the world and their participation in various fields including politics because she believes that democracy is impossible without gender equality and more women should be represented in major decision-making positions at the political negotiation table. She will also work hard to fight for sexual crimes committed against women around the world and to educate women to increase the quality of life and fair access to justice and security. Wallstrom’s ambitious visions and goals excite many people around the world.