Crowds of people demonstrating.
Photo: Zacharzewski

Feminist foreign Policy and the battle for civil society in Europe

Research project
Active research
Project period
2019 - 2023
Project owner
Department of Political Science

Short description

In the fall of 2014 , the Swedish government launched an expressly “feminist” foreign policy (FFP). Equality between men and women was now to permeate all aspects of Swedish foreign policy in the entirety of the foreign ministry, including the more than 100 embassies and delegations that represent Sweden around the world. The importance of civil society in this effort was made clear. Indeed, one central dimension in carrying out the FFP is the emphasis on cooperation with civil society actors abroad. The FFP thus follows the new “network” or “polylateral” character of diplomacy, as diplomacy increasingly involves reaching beyond formal state representatives to connect with civil society and other actors.

In the Polish and Hungarian civil society contexts – the two context our project centers on – the FFP needs to contend with the upswing of conservative currents hostile to the very idea of feminism or the notion that gender is socially malleable. To make matters more complex, narratives about “Sweden as the rape capital of the world” have taken hold in both countries, serving to challenge the idea of Sweden as a model society for women. Diplomats and other embassy personnel in countries such as Poland and Hungary need to reframe and translate the message so that it appeals and does not fall on deaf ears.

Research questions

The aim of this research project is to examine the relations between diplomats and civil society in contexts where norms collide, with a focus on the Swedish feminist foreign policy as enacted in Poland and Hungary.

The project asks two basic sets of questions:

• What is the character of the networks between Swedish diplomats and Polish and Hungarian civil society actors? Do the strategies and relationships look different in Poland, with its rich civil society, and Hungary, where civil society is weak?

• How is the FFP framed and discursively adapted to local understandings, to be persuasive to larger swaths of Polish and Hungarian civil society?



2018. Jezierska, Katarzyna and Ann Towns. “Taming Feminism? The Place of Gender Equality in the ‘Progressive Sweden’ Brand” Place Branding & Public Diplomacy 14(1):55-63.

Conference participation

2018. “Gender Equality as a Nordic Brand? Comparing Sweden, Denmark and Norway” Paper presented with Katarzyna Jezierska at the “Gender Equality as Branding: Moving Beyond Nordic Exceptionalism” Workshop, Refsnes Gods (Moss), June 20-21 2018.

2018. “Feminist Foreign Policy and the Battle for Civil Society in Europe.” Paper presented with Katarzyna Jezierska at the conference ”Activism at a Time of Backslide: Feminist and LGBTQ Responses to Opposition to Gender and Sexual Equality,” Central European University, May 11-12 2018.