WILPF Sweden was founded in 1919, making it one of WILPF’s oldest Sections. Over the past century, the Section has been actively involved in some of the most critical social and political issues of our time – including advocating for women’s right to vote and campaigning for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Today, the Section is undertaking a wide range of projects focused on disarmament, conflict prevention, and the Women, Peace and Security agenda. More recently, WILPF Sweden has emerged as a major force for raising awareness of the links between militarism and the climate crisis.
To get an inside look at the work of WILPF Sweden, particularly as the Section navigates through a period of unprecedented challenges for Sweden and for the international community, we spoke with Elin Liss, WILPF Sweden’s Communications Manager, and Marie Sjöberg, who is responsible for the Section’s feminist and antimilitarist organising.
What are the current priorities of WILPF Sweden?
Elin: This spring has not at all been what we planned it to be. Last year we started really focusing on highlighting the links between climate and militarism on a very strategic, national level. Then the Afghanistan takeover by the Taliban took place in August, and we decided to also step up our work on Afghanistan, in large part because of Sweden’s role both in providing international aid and in military operations.
And then the war in Ukraine began earlier this year and that shifted our focus once again. We advocated for the importance of women’s involvement in peace processes and for awareness of how the war is uniquely impacting women. We also worked on raising awareness of Sweden’s role as a supplier of weapons and calling for disarmament.
Things once again took a turn when the discussions about Sweden’s involvement with NATO suddenly began to accelerate in the wake of the onset of the war. We have witnessed the extreme militarisation of Sweden when it comes to media, policy, and political decisions over the past few months. At the same time, spaces for civil society activists and organisations to convene and operate have shrunk extremely fast. In May, Sweden decided to apply for membership in NATO, and we now are in the process of being accepted. Turkey has placed conditions on Sweden’s acceptance, including allowing weapons exports to the country.
For WILPF Sweden, this means we are struggling to get responses to our advocacy efforts or participate in public dialogue. If you speak out against NATO, you’re met with a lot of hatred and pushback.
Now, we’re focusing on the NATO issue and trying to help people understand what NATO is and the implications of Sweden joining. This information is not coming from anywhere else.
We’re also continuing to try to draw attention to what’s happening inside Afghanistan and Ukraine, and of course continuing our work on the environment. We do also have ongoing projects with WILPF Colombia and WILPF Cameroon that we’re pushing forward and developing together.
On that last point, WILPF Sweden has played an important role in supporting the growth of WILPF Sections across Africa. Can you tell us a bit more about that aspect of your work?
Elin: About 10 years ago, we were approached by WILPF DRC and WILPF Nigeria to see if we could help find innovative ways of supporting their work. We just started on a small scale and tried to find funds for them. Then it grew from there. The Sections met and involved other women in the region, and we tried to take every opportunity to include emerging groups in what became yearly regional meetings, to strengthen their capacity and connection to the WILPF movement.
It’s been very grassroots and organic, and has helped lead to a huge increase in the number of Sections in Africa.
Our work with sister Sections in Africa has brought tremendous value to the work we do in Sweden. Every year, we have representatives from other Sections – whether in Africa or other countries around the world – visit us and speak directly to our foreign ministry or other decision-makers about the impact of Sweden’s policies. We’ve had a chance to learn and grow from so many people and strengthen ties across WILPF’s global movement.
Despite all the challenges WILPF Sweden has faced over the past year, the environment remains a core focus area for the Section. Can you tell us about your work in this area?
Marie: The urgency to deepen our focus on climate change and environmental degradation has been bubbling within the movement for a long time now. Last year, after it became very clear at WILPF Sweden’s Congress that our members wanted to see a greater focus on this issue, we adopted new goals and strategies to link militarisation to environmental destruction and to integrate climate considerations across all of our work areas in a more strategic manner than before.
Throughout the fall, we hosted a series of webinars to help raise awareness about the links between militarisation and climate change. There’s so much expertise on this topic already within the movement, so we used those forums to showcase that and deepen engagement with our members. We also brought in representatives from environment-focused organisations like Green Peace and PUSH Sweden, a youth movement working on climate.
We also provided funding to six local branches of WILPF across Sweden to support their work on the environment. And we conducted a series of interviews with feminist peace and environmental activists from Sweden and around the world, which led to a publication and an exhibition featuring 10 personal stories of women fighting for the future of the planet.
We also participated in COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and have been engaging more with WILPF International’s Environmental Working Group, which has been a great way of connecting with the broader movement on these topics.
WILPF Sweden also participated heavily in the UN’s recent Stockholm+50 conference. Can you tell us about that?
Marie: Stockholm+50 was a two-day UN conference that brought together activists and leaders from around the world to discuss solutions to the climate crisis. We engaged in the conference along with representatives from WILPF International Secretariat, WILPF Colombia, WILPF Zimbabwe, and WILPF Cameroon.
Together, we also participated in a side event two days before the main conference called the People’s Forum, which was geared toward civil society activists and organisations. We hosted a panel discussion at the event to speak about the impacts of militarism and military activity on the environment.
What’s coming up next for WILPF Sweden’s work on the environment?
Marie: We’re going to keep moving ahead with raising awareness about the links between militarism and the environment in any way we can. We’re always striving to make sure that link is there – it continues to be a major gap in conversations about the environment and climate change.
We are also continuing to push forward with our internal climate transition. As a Section, we’re considering how we can reduce our environmental impact through the ways we work, live, travel, and so on. And, of course, we’ll continue to deepen our engagement with WILPF’s Environmental Working Group to advance global projects and initiatives.
How are you feeling about the challenges and opportunities ahead for WILPF Sweden?
Elin: Despite all the challenges we’ve faced, we have had over 100 new members join this spring.
People are realising what’s happening in the world and looking for somewhere to connect with others who share their concerns and desire to take action. So we’ll be very focused on ensuring all of our members are engaged with this work and finding ways to get involved that are meaningful and impactful.
We’re excited that so many people are determined to create change, and we’re looking forward to what’s next even as the context in which we’re working continues to rapidly evolve.
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