Swedish PM homes in on feminism in key speech

Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven returned to the hot seat after the summer holidays on Monday with a speech referencing international feminist icons Lena Dunham and Emma Watson.

Swedish PM homes in on feminism in key speech
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven speaking at a meeting of the Social Democratic Youth League in Västerås on Monday. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Prime Minister was making his first public appearance since he was taken to hospital after falling ill on a plane from Ethiopia back to Stockholm last month.

Speaking at an annual general meeting held by the youth wing of his Social Democrat party, Löfven addressed the key theme of the congress, 'Equal Future' ('Jämlik framtid'), at length by arguing that increased equality generates growth and development.

“It is wrong to think that gaps spur. It is not correct that hungry wolves hunt the best,” he said, adding: “80 people today own as much as 3.5 billion people. How can a person own that much? How can a person own that little?”

READ ALSO: Who are the top dogs in Swedish politics?

Löfven, 58, also focused on Sweden's ever-trending topic of gender equality, highlighting young Swedish artist Zara Larsson and US writer and director Lena Dunham as important role models.

“Step up, make your voice heard and ask yourself: If not I, who? If not now, when?” he said, quoting actress Emma Watson, behind the United Nations' international feminist campaign #HeForShe, for which Löfven is one of the goodwill ambassadors.

“They are forerunners, they are opinion builders,” he said after the speech about the female trio.

“I think that you should use these role models because it is going to inspire more to make the leap and step up,” he told reporters.

Stefan Löfven addressing the Social Democratic Youth League. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Löfven's speech marked the start of a new political season in Sweden. Swedes tend to claim their summer holidays in blocks of four weeks over the summer, including top ministers. As a result, political activity has more or less lain dormant in the Nordic country since Almedalen Week in June.

But it comes just two weeks before his Social Democrat-Green coalition government is set to meet to prepare its crucial budget proposal for the coming year. Since the end of 2014, Löfven's government has largely been following the Alliance opposition's financial plan, after a political crisis in Sweden last December.

READ ALSO: What is Sweden's December Agreement?

“We will focus on the jobs. That's what we've been doing from the start,” the Prime Minister told reporters after Monday morning's speech, but did not elaborate further to present exact policy proposals.

The formal start of the politics season will be the opening of parliament on September 15th. Löfven has not commented on speculation in Swedish media that he is mulling an imminent cabinet reshuffle ahead of the ceremony.

Sweden's ministerial posts were the topic of hot debate last month after Löfven's hospital visit revealed that Deputy Prime Minister Åsa Romson had not been appointed as the official who would replace him at the helm of the government in the event of a crisis.

On Monday Löfven confirmed that he was back to full strength after acute nausea in the wake of a visit to Ethiopia saw him taken to hospital in Stockholm by ambulance in mid-July.

“It was food poisoning, quite simply. A powerful case of food poisoning. It's good to be able to say that, because that meant it quickly subsided as well,” the Prime Minister told the Expressen tabloid.

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Sweden Elects: I’ve got election pork coming out my ears this week

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren rounds up this week's key talking points of the Swedish election campaign.

Sweden Elects: I've got election pork coming out my ears this week

There’s an old Swedish Word of the Day in The Local’s archives: valfläsk (literally “election pork”, or pork barrel politics).

This week, there’s been enough of it to feed a Swedish town large enough for both a Biltema and a Dressmann store and still have half the pig left!

You could say it started the week before last, when the Social Democrats’ Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman floated a test balloon loaded with a 50-percent cap on non-Nordic residents in troubled neighbourhoods (it went down among the other parties like it was made out of lead).

Then last week, the Liberals threw their hat in the ring by proposing mandatory language assessments for two-year-olds who don’t attend preschool, and then make preschool mandatory for the toddlers whose Swedish isn’t deemed good enough. This, they said, was meant to help integration in areas where bilingual children don’t speak Swedish at home.

“Studies show that early preschool benefits children whose mothers are low-educated and whose parents are born abroad,” their manifesto read.

Liberal leader Johan Pehrson’s statement that in the most extreme cases – where parents clearly refuse to let their children learn Swedish – led to a social media storm that conjured up images of crying toddlers being taken into care for failing to distinguish between en and ett when quizzed.

For any parents of multilingual children (who know better than most how language works in early childhood – I’m raising a multilingual baby myself, but I’ve only just started so if you have any tips, do let me know!), I should stress that the proposal is less extreme than how it was first presented.

This is typical for valfläsk, by the way. Take something that’s perfectly obvious and hard to argue against (of course mixed neighbourhoods and children being encouraged to learn languages are generally good things) but dial it up a notch, insert something immigration-related, promise to get tough on whatever it is you want to get tough on, and propose either something that already exists or would be near-impossible to implement.

Then the Stockholm branch of the conservative Moderates proposed that entire school classes in vulnerable areas should be screened for ADHD through optional rapid tests, in order to increase the comparably lower rate of medication among foreign-born children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.

“Detached from reality,” said their Social Democrat rival and pointed out that the partly Moderate-run region was planning to cut the number of psychiatric care clinics for young people.

The Christian Democrats, never ones to be outdone, wanted to chemically castrate sex offenders, give police access to healthcare biobanks, and let police take DNA samples from people stopped in internal border checks.

But while many of the election pledges that get tossed around this close to the election (less than a month to go, now!) tend to range from the radical to the ridiculous and are unlikely to ever be implemented, they’re still worth paying attention to. They give us an indication of the direction the parties want to take, and could well reappear in a more watered-down format later on during the governmental cycle.

They may also become part of post-election negotiations, where even small parties hold key cards as the larger parties fight to cobble together viable government coalitions.

They also say something about Sweden and the direction of the political sphere as a whole, where the parties are currently racing to outdo each other on who can be toughest on immigration and law and order.

The Local’s reporter Becky Waterton has gone through all the parties’ election pledges to see how they specifically would affect foreign residents in Sweden – in case you’ve missed her article, click here to read it.

Also in the world of Swedish politics, a new poll by SVT and Novus has the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats neck and neck, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson promised lower taxes in his summer speech and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson tougher sentences on gang criminals in hers, and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson suggested changing the name of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) to the Penal Office (Straffverket).

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.