For the time being, it’s a society, rather than a political party. And there’s no party leader or official programme of policies at the moment. Despite this, they are setting their sites on participation in the general election in September 2006.
“Now we’ve joined forces,” announced Schyman, “women who have been working for different organisations on questions which affect women’s lives. We’re starting by seeking support. But those people who join up also have the chance to shape our future.”
Sofia Karlsson, also on the FI board, explained the lack of a party leader:
“Maybe we won’t have one. We want to build an antipatriarchal organisation. We’re going to mount a serious challenge to the current gender-based power structures.”
Schyman was confident of the broad appeal of the FI:
“We’ve formed a feminist intiative which cross boundaries – both political and generational.”
Sharing the platform was Monica Amante, 26, representing women from ethnic minorities and Susanne Linde, 50, formerly of the Liberal Party. Schyman was not worried that the FI would split the left vote and make a conservative victory in the forthcoming election more likely:
“The greatest risk is that we end up with a society which discriminates against half the population. I think there are enough voters for everyone.”
A congress is planned for September when the FI’s constitution and political programme will be finalised and agreed upon. For the time being they are highlighting five issues which they intend to tackle: a change to the rape laws so that men have to ask women if they want sex; eradicate discrimination in the health service where women wait longer and get fewer referrals compared to men; address the wage discrepancy between male-dominated and female-dominated professions; reduce inequalities in parental leave, sick leave and other job market issues; and make sure that women can get asylum in Sweden for persecution due to their sex.
The government’s response was led by Social Democrat party secretary, Marita Ulvskog, who recently started a new feminist network, Feministas. She thinks the more people working on women’s issues the better, but…
“The problem is if they actually go ahead and form a party. They’ll take voters mainly from the Greens and the Left Party and maybe even the Social Democrats. It could be the decisive factor in the conservatives winning the next election. Having Christian Democracts and Moderates making the decisions won’t help women.”
Most commentators believe the Left Party and the Greens are most vulnerable to a new feminist party. However, their spokespersons were surprisingly positive to the development.
“Those of us working on feminist issues feel lonely,” said Pernilla Zethraeus of the Left Party. “The creation of this party is an indication that more needs to be done in this area.”
Peter Eriksson of the Greens likened it in a statement to a kick up the backside for his party.
Leaders from the conservative alliance used the opportunity to take a pop at the government.
Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderates said:
“Today the foundations have been laid for a new coalition party for the Social Democrats. It looks like we have a situation where Göran Persson needs help from Gudrun Schyman to carry on in government.”
“A resounding rejection of the socialist coalition’s policies,” said the Centre Party’s Maud Olofsson.
In an analysis of the new political landscape, Henrik Brors of DN felt that the new Feminist Initiative had a good chance of getting 4% of the vote in the next election, which would give them seats in parliament under Sweden’s proportional representation system.
He considered it was worst news for the Greens and the Left Party, both of whom run the risk of losing their parliamentary status.
“But even the Social Democrats risk losing voters – over 21% of their supporters would consider voting for a feminist party.”
Despite the talk at the press conference of the FI being a broad church, Brors is convinced it is firmly in the left camp:
“With Gudrun Schyman in charge, I can’t see it as anything other than a party of the left… Faced with a choice of supporting Persson or Reinfeldt, it’ll go for Persson.”
And whilst on the subject of Schyman, Brors considers the move not to announce a leader has more to do with pragmatic politics than ideals about changing the established order.
“The risk is that the FI would be completely portrayed as Gudrun Schyman’s party. Her credibility could be low with a number of voters who remember the tax fiddling revelations. And her political opponents can remind everyone that little changed for women when she was leader of the Left Party.”