'We need focus for a systemic reboot': Live from the Stockholm Gender Forum

‘We need focus for a systemic reboot’: Live from the Stockholm Gender Forum

Way back in January, on my first official day back at work for 2018, an email caught my eye. It was an invitation to attend a global summit on gender equality being hosted by the Swedish Institute and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs in April.

The purpose of the event – to mobilise civil society, governments, private sector and academia from all over the world to intensify efforts for a gender equal world – immediately resonated. As did the matter of urgency stated in the invitation.

“It is held at a time when we are witnessing both progress and movements restricting women’s and girls’ rights and space. This makes it more pressing than ever to share and multiply breakthroughs that make a difference for individuals and societies alike.”

Indeed. And while traveling across the world to participate seemed a rather far-fetched proposition back then, I am thrilled that three months on I am your scribe here in Stockholm.

With the support of the Swedish Embassy in Australia, Parents-at-Work and Women’s Agenda I am in the utopic land famed for its determination and success in narrowing the gap between men and women.

(As an aside, I was barely on the ground an hour before it was clear that Scandinavia’s reputation for being zealously efficient, impossibly polite and effortlessly stylish – in form and function – is entirely justified. Everything works perfectly!)

The pre-conference schedule began on Sunday afternoon and 400 men and women from around the globe, each of whom put their energies into making the world more gender-equal, congregated.


From the outset the brief was clear. This cannot simply be a conference: it needs to provide a blueprint for accelerating and implementing change.

Working in silos is no longer viable. Collaboration is critical. It is only through the joint, concerted and unrelenting efforts that we will create change.

In her rousing keynote address feminist, advocate and director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World at the Lebanese American University, Lina Abirafeh said forging ahead is the only option.

She likened the purpose of this event to effectively plugging in our current position in trems of women’s rights on the global GPS, looking at where we want to be, and then mapping out the best way to get there.

The challenge, she said, is not easy. Fighting this fight is not always easy or safe but there is power in numbers.

“We cannot underestimate the powerful tribe we form in our collective,” Abirafeh said.  She described apathy as a greater threat to equality than active opposition but said the global insecurity, “that is the new normal”, is too readily used as an excuse to put off women’s rights until ‘later’, a mythical place she has never been.

To change this  fuel, fire and focus are critical.

“We are the fuel – the driving force. We have to use the political fire to move forward. And we need focus for a systemic reboot.”


Abirafeh called upon the Arabic word ‘yalla’ – which means to accelerate forwards – towards the day gender equality is “a matter of fact, not a matter of fight”.

Imagine that.

Three senior Swedish politicians, Margot Wallström, the Minister for Foreign Affairs

Isabella Lövin, Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate, and Deputy Prime Minister Ann Linde, Minister for EU Affairs and Trade, say this cannot occur without unambiguous focus.

It is why in 2014 the Swedish Government was the first government in the world to declare itself a feminist government with a feminist foreign policy. The rationale was that women and men should have the same power to shape society and their own lives.

It is a starting point that is unfathomable to delegates from most other parts of the world. Which is precisely why we are all here. There is so much to do and so much to learn.


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