Feminist Resistance Against War in Sweden
Russia’s military invasion in Ukraine calls for transnational feminist resistance. As feminists we are engaged with the protection of life and with the right to live a life without violence for all. We reject that our bodies, our dreams, and our future are sacrificed in the defense of national imaginaries of power. When the war in Ukraine is raging and military strategies appear as our government’s main response to people’s fear, stress, and devastation, it is our duty as feminists to search for peaceful alternatives to military logics.
In Sweden we are witnessing how militarization increasingly dominates public conversations. As feminists we must insist on what we have learnt from generations of women before us: military violence has never been a solution for the millions of people who suffer from the consequences of war. Neither have military mobilizations contributed to solve internal conflicts and patterns of inequality. When the imaginaries of the nation become an uncontestable site to develop technologies of power and military devices that expose people to the horrors of war we must speak out. We, as feminists, must create spaces for a broad range of narratives and ways to act that challenge militarized worldviews and the boundaries of the nation state. Rather than repeating the voices of powerful elites we as antimilitarist feminists join our voices with a growing transnational movement resisting war. We advocate policy-change in the interest of peace, and we align ourselves with those who make resistance no matter their location.
As feminists in Sweden, we challenge the recent shift in Swedish security policy, a shift towards increased militarization. In the past, Sweden’s non-aligned position was associated with the possibility to act as a neutral part in international affairs and to advocate international nuclear disarmament. In the present, calls are made for Swedish membership in NATO, a military organization that has made nuclear weapons a core feature of its security strategy. In general, the official Swedish response to the present situation in Ukraine has been heavily militarized. For example, all political parties in parliament now support increased defense expenditure with the goal to reach 2% of GDP. When militarization appears to be the solution of an overwhelming majority in public debate, it is more important than ever for us as feminists to question the fundamental logics of militarization and to denounce its consequences.
Furthermore, Swedish arms exports to Ukraine have been approved by all parties in parliament, including those that are generally against arms exports. Arms exports always involve the risks related to escalation and militarization. Organizations such as the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society have repeatedly warned us that arms exports to conflict zones are especially troublesome since the situation at the receiving end makes it even more difficult to assess where the weapons will eventually end up. There is always the risk that they will reach the hands of the adversary, of criminal groups that advance their position in the shadow of war. It has been documented that weapons produced in Sweden, exported to the UK since 2002, have now reached the hands of Russian forces and right-wing extremist Azov Battalion. When the war eventually ends, a high level of weapons in societies continue to cause insecurity for civilians. Higher levels of domestic violence including sexualized violence is known to mark both conflict and post-conflict contexts. The more arms in a society, the longer it takes for peace to prevail after a peace-treaty has formally been signed.
Through decades we have learnt that sustainable peace can never be built through military strategies and militarized worldviews. Even when military responses strive to bring about security, the use of armed force has historically been accompanied by great suffering among civilians. High levels of gender violence, such as domestic violence, rape, and trafficking, often mark contexts of war and militarized violence. Although men also fall victim to such violence, this has disproportionately negative effects on women’s security. Hence, the perception of military protection does not account for the security of all, and military violence has clear gender dimensions. Moreover, military spending extracts resources from budgets that could be spent differently.
When politicians in Sweden advocate NATO-membership and increased funding for the national armed forces, we must stand up and promote investments in human security. As feminists we are deeply concerned with the fate of war refugees and their different conditions of displacement. We know from past experiences how patterns of inclusion and exclusion act in war times and how hierarchies of gender, class and national belonging operate in these contexts. Humanitarian assistance and open borders to those in need no matter their origin are just a few examples of how we can contribute in the present situation. It is also necessary to find diplomatic solutions to the war and to plan for what comes after. We already know that post-war challenges are likely to include environmental contamination, food crisis, climate crisis, diseases, poverty, and gender-based violence including sexualized violence. Our joint efforts are needed to meet such challenges.
Our feminist solidarity also entails a responsibility to stand with those who resist war and to talk about alternatives to violence and the perils of military escalation. Contrary to wide-spread media celebrations of men with weapons as heroes and protectors, we as feminists should recognize those who make peaceful resistance no matter difficult circumstances. In an international call for feminist anti-war resistance, Russian feminists recently urged feminists all over the world to join their protest against, and to share information about, Russia’s war in Ukraine. Recognizing that the feminist movement in Russia has managed to navigate around the oppressive Russian regime since they (as women) have not been perceived as a threat, they call themselves “the opposition to war, patriarchy, authoritarianism, and militarism”. Such movements need our support. Meanwhile, Swedish aid to Russian human rights and democracy activists has been cut in half in recent years. Increased aid to human rights and democracy activists who challenge oppressive regimes is a necessary budget priority if we want to invest in peace.
As feminists, we have a responsibility to act locally, nationally, and transnationally. Those of us who are not in the epicenter of a conflict must do what we can to help those who suffer from the consequences of war, and to advocate peaceful alternatives to military strategies. Our unreserved solidarity lies with those who suffer from the consequences of military violence and war in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Read an extended and updated version of a feminist call for peace signed by 32 Swedish feminists on the international women’s day 2022.
Paulina de los Reyes, Professor of Economic History, Stockholm University; She is a member of the Scientific Council for CEMFOR (Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism) at the Uppsala University, board member of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Stockholm University, and associate editor of the European Journal of Industrial Relations.
Diana Mulinari is Professor in Gender Studies at the University of Lund, Sweden. Her research interests are inspired by Marxism and Black feminist traditions and explores ow gender and sexuality, class and race do the social and make the political at the cross-roads between personal lives: diverse forms of belonging and national and transnational institutions.
Emma Rosengren is a researcher (PhD) in international relations at the Department of Economic History and International Relations, Stockholm University. Her research interests include feminist and intersectional theory, nuclear weapons, and disarmament.
 Rosengren, Emma. Gendering nuclear disarmament: identity and disarmament in Sweden during the Cold War. Diss. Stockholm: Stockholms universitet, 2020.
 Farr, Vanessa, Myrttinen, Henri and Schnabel, Albrecht (ed). Sexed Pistols: The Gendered Impacts of Small Arms and Light Weapons. Hong Kong: United Nations University Press, 2009.
 See for example Cockburn, Cynthia. Anti-militarism: political and gender dynamics of peace movements. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Enloe, Cynthia. Globalization and militarism: feminists make the link. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007; Enloe, Cynthia. Maneuvers: the international politics of militarizing women's lives. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000; Enloe, Cynthia. The Curious Feminist, Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004; Sjoberg Laura. “Introduction to Security Studies: Feminist Contributions”. Security Studies. Vol. 18, No. 2, 2009: 183–213; Tickner, Ann J. Gendering world politics: Issues and Approaches in the Post-Cold War Era. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.