Every year on March 8, we recognise and celebrate International Women’s Day. This important event has been commemorated for more than 100 years, serving to acknowledge the rights of women, women’s empowerment and the valuable contributions of women to society.
Since International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911, we have witnessed an unprecedented expansion of women’s rights globally. The right to vote is nearly universal, and women are increasingly taking up leadership positions, in businesses and in politics. More women have entered the labour market. Today the majority of countries have outlawed violence against women. And women live longer.
In Cambodia, the gains in gender equality are mirrored in, for example, the enrolment rates of girls in primary and secondary education, which are today equal to that of boys. Maternal mortality has decreased substantially. The Rectangular Strategy (2014-2018) of the royal government recognises gender equality as a key component of development. The Neary Rattanak IV, which was recently launched by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, constitutes a strategic guide for promoting gender equality in Cambodian society. These are important and positive steps.
Sweden has, for a long time, been at the forefront of promoting gender equality. We are proud of our society where equality constitutes a cornerstone. In Sweden, 50 per cent of the ministers in the government and 50 per cent of the members of parliament are women. In family life, mothers and fathers often share the parental leave between them.
When we, as representatives of the Swedish Embassy, tell our Cambodian counterparts and friends that all our superiors are women, we are often met by surprise. Can it really be true that the minister for foreign affairs, the minister for development cooperation, the head of the Asia Department in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency are all women? Yes, it is true!
Globally, despite the achievements made in past decades, we are still underperforming on gender equality, and large gaps remain between laws and their implementation. In many countries, women are still seen as subordinate to men as a consequence of traditions or societal norms. A general perception that gender equality constitutes a women’s issue rather than a social issue is another factor that stands in the way of achieving greater gender equality.
In order to share the Swedish experience and to help close existing gender gaps in our own society and organisations, the Swedish government recently introduced a new “feminist foreign policy”.
While this foreign policy seeks the same goals as any visionary foreign policy – peace, justice, human development and respect for human rights – it takes further steps to “engender” the approach to foreign policy.
Sweden will use five interlinked strategies for implementing the feminist foreign policy:
• Strengthen the rule of law and human rights, for example, by strengthening institutions working against men’s violence against women and by providing support to local women’s rights organisations.
• Stop violence against women by focusing on human security and by analysing structural causes of violence against women.
• Focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights by actively pursuing the legal aspects of sexuality and reproduction, including the right to abortion.
• Strengthen women’s economic empowerment by promoting women’s entrepreneurship.
• Support sustainable development by emphasising the connections between climate change, poverty reduction and women’s rights.
Sweden recognises that men and boys have an important role to play if equality for women is going to be achieved. Therefore, men and boys, along with women and girls, should be engaged in advancing the rights, health and well-being of women and girls. Equality is only achievable if we work together.
Celebrating International Women’s Day is important, but gender equality is not to be observed only one day per year. What we do during the remaining 364 days is what make the difference.
The Embassy of Sweden appreciates all the hard work done by the champions of gender equality in Cambodia. We look forward to a continued dialogue with all stakeholders – the government, civil society and the private sector – on how we can work together to further promote gender equality in society, both in Sweden and in Cambodia.
Anna Maj Hultgard is the Swedish ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia. Kristina Kuhnel is the head of Development Cooperation at the embassy. Erik Wallin is the first secretary and gender point person at the embassy.