May 19

What’s the future for human rights activism?

A beer garden. That is the perfect spot for a political discussion according to Feministiskt Initiativ (FI). People sneak in front of the panel consisting of party members and activists opposing antiziganism to order in the bar indoors. The audience is sipping beer and coffee while listening to the discussion. Antiziganism and the upcoming European election are the main themes of the evening. While the election for the European Parliament, where FI has a seat, is on May 26, the current date, May 16, marks 75 years since the Romani rebellion in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.

This historical date gives a serious tone to the otherwise rather lighthearted conversation. Concrete goals for the coming term in the Parliament are overshadowed by core beliefs and personal journeys, as well as reflections over the commonalities between the stances of the party activists and the antiziganist activists. A common goal seems rather easy to identify: they fight for human rights.

This may seem like old news in most political parties. But the true significance of human rights becomes apparent by listening to the stories of the panel. Unlike many parties where members have a long background in political youth organisations, the speakers of the evening share roots in local activism and small-scale projects.

”I didn’t even want to become a politician”, says Soraya Post, the member of the panel who currently holds a seat in the European Parliament. ”I think we all rather share a background as activists. ”

While traditional political parties struggle with declining membership, the starting point far away from politics can hint at how a future political landscape may look like. Rather than an ideological awakening, these activists talk about hands-on experiences of human right work that they did not perceive as political to begin with. They do not identify themselves foremost as politicians.

Rather than national organisations, their activism sprung from a micro-level where friends or local communities focused on helping groups of people in rather concrete ways. What they are doing here tonight just followed as an extension of activism. Could this be an alternative to traditional political engagement? When the focus shifts from the divide between left and right on the political scale and the spotlight is turned towards the struggle between right-wing populism and liberal strivings for human rights, the view on political activism should change accordingly. Political engagement in the everyday fights for values and beliefs should not be overlooked.

Even though most contemporary parties embrace human rights, this party states human rights as their main foundation while it also plays a big role in its supporter’s struggles. The party is hard to separate from activism, something many parties probably envy. But is this an upcoming trend? Although hard to tell, many of the activists and supporters of the party are quite young.

Apr 19

IFEMA: directing women towards change?

by Caroline Ulvros

Colorful silhouettes transforming by sneezing. Protesters and police forces clashing in a dystopian version of Poland. Jews hiding during the Second World War. A mother meeting her young daughter right before Christmas. A wide variety of genres and themes are displayed in the Polish short films at the International Female Film Festival Malmö. Early signs of spring outside are blocked by thick curtains this weekend in April. It’s definitively worth it.

This annual festival, IFEMA for short, screens films by female directors. Some aspirations for the festival are to act as a platform for gender debate, to give women a place for networking, and to highlight the importance of women’s view of the world. The event is arranged by Imagenes del Sur, a non-profit, publicly funded organization that focus on gender perspectives and female film production.

“The best fireworks ever” Director: Aleksandra Terpińska Photo: Munk Studio

Gender equality in Swedish film production is a long struggle. The national policy for supporting the film industry stems from the 1960s. International female film festivals had their global lift-off during the 1970s when gender inequality in the industry gained domestic and global attention. This is when the national promotion of gender equality in the Swedish film industry took form on grounds that still prevail. Ever since then, many reforms focus on quotas for women.

Looking at the increased numbers of female directors, such ambitions seem successful. But these measurements have received a fair share of criticism. Quality and commercial success are the main goals of the film industry and gender equality amongst directors can be perceived as input in the production seemingly dislodged from these goals. When assessments of quality are viewed as unaffected by gender and equality aspirations are seen as hard to combine with a commercial logic, demands for equality may appear to clash with these goals.

From the latest national report on gender equality in film. Photo: Svenska Filminstitutet

Moreover, gender equality is more complex than fulfilling austere quantitative guidelines. Structures beyond percentages risk being obscured, for example how norms can obstruct pitches of films with female leads or exclude certain themes. The crucial dynamics of networking also risks being overlooked. And this is certainly an industry where networking is central.

Networking is however not ignored by the festival program. After the screening, female directors present ongoing projects and asks for relevant feedback. The following discussion with the audience spans production processes, personal interpretations, and concrete technical tips from experts. Seamlessly, the feedback session merges with the following item of the day; mingle with the directors.

I briefly chat with Anna Lönn Franko, spokesperson for the network Women in Film an Television (WIFT) which is co-hosting the festival. WIFT receives public funding and works for a wider medial representation of women and non-binary. Lönn Franko emphasizes how networking is the gist of their strategy, rendering the festival a general theme of making women heard through interaction rather than through the screen. Her view on what actually changes the industry is interesting. She does not highlight theoretical feminist statements or finding tools for measuring female presence. But instead, the actual process of networking.

Sweden’s only feminist scholarship, promoted by WIFT. Photo: WIFT.

Female film festivals are globally united by a feminist background and a will for social change, and on good grounds. Both in Sweden and internationally, female directors receive lower funding and A-list festivals are heavily dominated by men. A female presence is sometimes used as a token and proof of equality, even when it is not linked to general terms for women in the industry. A way of changing this is to acknowledge that diverse experiences and perspectives rely on informal and creative processes.

Internationally, female film festivals may be seen as the most evident way that female directors are contributing to a transnational, feminist, alternative public sphere. Screening a certain amount of women’s work is not nearly as important as the creative industry that is a result of these film festivals. Audience participation and networking dynamics creates experiences and perspectives, and thus works as a cultural and social hotbed for change.

“Beneath” Director :Joanna Satanowska. Photo: Panstwowa Wyzsza Szkola Filmowa

Judging by the festival, public policies today include changes of male domination in creative rooms that are hard to measure, especially compared to numbers of directors. Considering my own experiences of producing film in male-dominated creative spaces, these kinds of physical, traditional processes are still needed. Norms and interactions are hard to change while looking at percentages. Voices need interaction, not just space.



Carocci, Enrico: A counterpublic sphere? Women’s film festivals and the case of Films de Femmes. European Journal of Women’s Studies. 2016, Vol. 23(4): 447–453

Jansson, Maria, 2017: Gender equality in swedish film policy: Radical interpretations and ‘unruly’ women. European Journal of Women’s Studies, Nov. 2017, Vol. 24(4):336-350

Jansson, Maria 2019: The quality of gender equality: gender quotas and Swedish film governance. International Journal of Cultural Policy. Mar. 2019, Vol. 25 (2): 218-231

Apr 19

Women’s spaces in Malmö: Metood

by Caroline Ulvros

A late afternoon sun shines through white curtains in an exhibition hall in Malmö. Around a large table, about thirty artists are gathered. Long shadows fall over the white table cloth and the light glitters in chairs of clear plastic and a massive chandelier in gold. The room doubles as a wedding hall. All eyes are on three female artists in front of the white curtains; Jenny Grönvall, Ellen Suneson, and Julia Björnberg. Tonight, they initiate a discussion on how to use feelings of failure, paranoia, and passivity in artistic methods.

The discussion at Alta Art Space is arranged by Metood, a group working to prevent sexual harassment, expose power structures, and counteract silence culture within the art sphere in the city. The group emanates from the #metoo-movement and receives funding from the state and the municipality. Events are presented on their Facebook page, where Metood uses the hashtag #konstnärligfrihet protesting sexual harassment in the Swedish art realm and likes the page for #tystnadtagning, a Swedish hashtag about sexual harassment in acting corresponding to #silenceaction.

The three artists depict their lengthy collaboration with a focus on the joint exhibition examining the role of failure in art. Together they created a safe space to process feelings of shame as well as reflect on experiences and structures. Issues they have faced are used to comment on classic feminist notions of the personal versus the political and master suppression techniques. Relating personal stories to recognized theories about gender structures is no doubt effective. A glaring contrast to how male experiences are perceived as universal and political is inevitable for the audience. Sadly enough, the validity and durability of the theories cast clear shadows over the white table cloth.

The artist’s collaboration, predating #metoo and not centered around sexual harassment, gain political importance through emotional and subjective aspects. Except demonstrating the crucial role of personal stories for raising political awareness, what does the discussion tells us about how to achieve change? It is not uncommon to encounter separatist movements as a strategy for creating mobilization and challenge power structures. Metood is separatist for women and non-binary individuals, seeing diverse perspectives as essential for political change.

Could the legacy of #metoo be a lasting upgraded status for female experiences, or does the change lies in how these personal stories are expressed? After #metoo, the combination of hashtags, Facebook mobilization, and physical meetups seems crucial for many political strategies. Even though neither social media mobilization nor struggles to expand the notion of ”the political” are new, questions about credibility seem to become more palpable. Metood arranges events each month. The audience is interested and numerous, there is barely enough chairs for everyone. Is the long-standing feminist will to change what is political finally coming true in personal narratives masked by hashtags?

When the artists depict how their exhibition was received, I can’t help to wonder about how female artistic expressions will be perceived in a longer comparison. It may be too early to declare #metoo to be a watershed, but what would their discussion be like if they collaborated again in ten years? Or twenty? As the speakers as well as the audience tonight are mainly professionals, who will be reached by these political practices? After the discussion, the audience is invited to write down own experiences and look at an ongoing exhibition. The questions evoked by the evening will probably remain with me for quite some time. When I leave, the sun is still setting over the exhibition and in a hall downstairs, wedding guests arrive.

Mar 19

No love story between hashtags and party platforms?

by Caroline Ulvros

New social movements, loosely held together and without leaders or obvious strategies, may appear as the total opposite of the political establishment resting in dusty Parliament halls. But can a political party of the old school work together with these new movements or are they forever separated? The force of international hashtag movements can hardly be ignored, but do we witness the emergence of a competing political system? What is politically possible for traditional parties?

same old communication, new screens?

While the Swedish feminist party Feministiskt Initiativ is commonly placed to the left on a political scale, the party itself claims to be based on a feminist ideology separated from this traditional categorization. Such an aim doesn’t seem too far from the intentions of new social movements. Still, it could be. Previous election campaigns by Feministiskt Initiativ have been described as relying on traditional narratives of politics when their supporters were looking for new alternatives. They have also been accused of not conveying a clear message about their politics. So are they really challenging traditional politics or not?

Looking at their party platform, some elements stand out among traditional political objectives. They emphasize social movements transgressing national borders as well as international solidarity, but that’s nothing new. In the last election for the European Parliament, they shared global solidarity as a central objective with two other national parties. What would indicate that this solidarity resembles the global justice focus of new social movements?

from the campaign for the European Parliament election


One way the party detaches this global solidarity from national decision-making is to point out that their ideology has nothing to do with nations and should not merely be realized inside of institutions. The will to move even further away from traditional party politics can be seen in their campaign for the coming election for the European Parliament. Here, the left-right scale in politics is stated as insufficient for covering power structures and the #metoo-movement is pointed out as an important feminist movement and is connected to their cause.

A similar attitude towards new, global movements is also apparent on the Instagram and Twitter accounts of the local, national, and youth sections of the party. The hashtag #metoo is frequently used. Other hashtags referring to new types of protest are also recurring. For example, #fridaysforfuture and #climatestrike are connected to the ongoing youth strike for the environment. #inteentill is the Swedish translation of #niunamenos, referring to a social movement opposing violence against women. #unheardnomore deals with the empowerment of women in Syria. #timesup is against sexual harassment.

The party does contain a traditional party framework, but it looks like the shape of the frame is somehow shifting. Taken together, the statements about politics and the inclusion of new social movements in political communication may indicate an approach to politics that is not totally conventional. At the very least, it is hard to point out an abyss between the old and the new. As easy it is to disregard this as a political experiment of a small party on the outskirts of the political realm, this party has a seat in the European Parliament and has been close to gaining seats in the national Parliament. Maybe there could be a point to keep an eye on the feminists, in Sweden as well as all over Europe.

Mar 19

Feminist Malmö through art, festivals and politics

by Caroline Ulvros

Where can you find local, creative feminism in Malmö? The international trend towards party politics becoming more professionalized and less dependent on volunteers also rings true for Sweden. Participation in traditional parties is decreasing. Citizens choose political engagement through protesting, signing petitions and participation in loose or informal networks. This professionalization manifests in how the feminist party Feministiskt Initiativ, Feminist Initiative in English, is often assumed to be an elitist movement.

Feministiskt Initiativ arranging a street party

In an earlier post, I compared a demonstration by this party with an extra-parliamentarian demonstration, but alternatives to traditional party politics go beyond these kinds of organizations. The radical left-wing in Sweden is not especially active online and prefer other ways of political communication, partly because of its demand of more straight forward communication.

So where are the feminist movements? To find dynamic, creative reinterpretations of messages, it could be an idea to look at more artistic and event-based feminist movements. It is safe to say that the comic art scene in Malmö is thriving. The city has tried to establish itself as the ”comic capital” of Sweden and is the home of a popular comic art school as well as an assortment of comic publishers and exhibition halls. On International Women’s Day, I participated in a demonstration with established political parties, but the poster for the demonstration is made by Dotterbolaget.

Dotterbolaget is a feminist, separatist comic art network counteracting patriarchal structures, working both as a professional network and as a social arena for artists. It prioritizes community and political statements above profit and has managed to maintain a rather flat organization. The Facebook group for its node in Malmö has 1,3 thousand likes, while the national network has around 770 followers on Twitter and over 2,6 thousand followers on Instagram. The network has gained attention in both TV and newspapers.

Although many hundreds mark themselves as attending their events on Facebook, they only arrange a few physical activities a year, mainly in the form of exhibitions and poetry readings. By looking at their active Instagram account, it is clear that a focus lies with participating in festivals and creating art rather than arranging meet-ups.

Just as the party Feministiskt Initiativ, Dotterbolaget has frequently participated in the yearly feminist festival in Malmö. This festival is organized by a non-party network for feminist organizations in Malmö, ”Malmö’s feministiska nätverk”, with 2,5 likes on their Facebook page. To celebrate International Women’s Day, this network organized another art and film event in Malmö with close to a thousand interested and around 170 people attending. The shifting, loose affiliations in these feminist networks is apparent by how the participants and content of the yearly feminist festival vary significantly with art, lectures, music, and standup being represented in various ways. The Facebook page for the festival has around 6,3 thousand likes and the festival has attracted thousands of visitors over the years.

Street art promoting the feminist network in Malmö

A remarkable feature of these organizations is the connections between them. Regarding reach and activity, the size of the local section of Feminist Initiative on Facebook could be compared to Dotterbolaget and the network for the feminist festival. The groups are clearly interlinked, as the members and supporters frequently like and attend each other’s events and comment on the same posts. To me, this implies a vivid interaction between different kinds of artistic expressions and different approaches to politics, both new and old.

When looking at these feminist efforts, it is important to keep in mind that they do not necessarily dominate the picture of feminism outside of established media. For example, right-wing movements constitute a large part of the alternative movements. The right-wing group ”Stå upp för Sverige” is one of the three most influential political non-party Facebook groups in Sweden with 166 thousand likes. A recent share of an article can illustrate how feminism is interpreted on this site. A news site wrote about the trial of a former leader of Feminist Initiative in an article which on “Stå upp för Sverige” received 1,3 thousand Facebook reactions, 150 shares and 430 comments, most of them obviously very negative. I tried to sketch a comic of my own to describe my feelings about this:

Mar 19

Swedish gender equality in the streets

by Caroline Ulvros

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I join the feminist party Feministiskt Initiativ, or ”Feminist Initiative” in English, for a demonstration in central Malmö. Different left oriented national party groups organize the protest together with leftist Iraqi and Chilean organizations and the global focus becomes obvious when I arrive at the square.

”International solidarity”, the slogan for the demonstration, is written on many banners including the main banner for Feministiskt Initiativ. Signs with Swedish slogans intermingle with international hashtags. I catch sight of #niunamenos, from the international movement ”Ni Una Menos” protesting violence against women, and signs written in English and Arabic. Like so many other speakers of the evening, the first orator for Feministiskt Initiativ puts emphasis on global inequalities and international unity.

The protesters, estimated to a thousand by a participating party while the police say five hundred, march towards another square where concluding speeches are held. After trying to listen to the speeches on both squares, it is clear that the global theme is central for all participating groups. I would argue that another common feature of the speeches is a will to connect broad gender issues to race, capitalism and a global power balance determined by colonial heritage.

The ideological foundation is evident which makes me wonder whether the political statements make the protest less appealing than causes presented within new types of social protests. As new kinds of protest often center around subject perceived as detached from traditional political stances, does the political context discourage potential protesters from participating?

While calls for international solidarity echoes of global justice objectives found within new social movements, the creativity within the event also agrees well with new forms of protest. One organizer is an institution for adult education that offers courses in comic art and creative writing. A panel discussion set up after the demonstration is mixed with poetry reading and musical performances. These artistic ambitions of the event could hint at a will to include cultural jamming, a characteristic of new social movements, in the event. The protesters are nevertheless reminded of a divide between different protest movements when the extra-parliamentarian demonstration arrives at the square during the final speeches.

Reaching out

So how did the evening reflect on social media? On Facebook, the most used social media site in Sweden, the smaller extra-parliamentarian demonstration gained a limited response. Three arranging groups received between 20-70 likes on their pictures and two groups affiliated with the protest did not post anything afterward to induce feedback. When looking at all groups protesting this evening, the most palpable response was directed towards the most established and numerous participant, which is also represented in Parliament. The Left Party received about 4,6 thousand views on one of their demonstration videos on Facebook and over 330 likes on their photo album of the evening. Their most liked picture on Instagram received more than 500 likes compared to the around 70 likes given to Feministiskt Initiativ.

However, Feministiskt Initiativ got 1,6 and 4,3 thousand views respectively on two Facebook videos of speeches and over 600 views of their video of the panel discussion. Neither the youth section nor the educational section of the Left Party posted on Facebook directly related to the demonstration and received around 120 likes and 40 likes respectively on Instagram pictures. If this reach could indicate agency in social media, Feministiskt Initiativ is proportionally more influential than other participants.

banner for the extra-parliamentarian protest

As neither the largest local newspaper nor the most influential news sites in Sweden covered the demonstration, the reach in traditional media was very limited. The only serious news coverage is a short text on the site of the largest tv news network in Sweden. This could reflect the problems Feministiskt Initiativ has had with gaining political legitimacy in traditional media, as the party is often either depoliticized or described as extremist.

Since five of the ten most influential Twitter accounts in Sweden belongs to traditional news channels, traditional media actors are still very influential in the media landscape. Among the top ten Facebook pages regarding national influence, three represents traditional news channels and one represents ”alternative” news sites. This ”alternative” site together with two traditional news sites are the only societally oriented actors among the top ten most influential actors on Swedish social media.

As the means for influence as well as the issues and narratives of Feministiskt Initiativ can be compatible with new forms of social movements, the party can hardly be unequivocally categorized as a traditional political movement. Since the group however also contain a traditional party structure, no total dichotomy between traditional and new or alternative politics seems evident.

The ambiguity of the movement does not end there. The small size of the party could indicate that trends in new movements for gender equality cannot be derived from it. At the same time, it is very successful in an international comparison of feminist political parties. Even a skin-deep understanding of feminist movements clearly needs more than an early evening march through central Malmö.

Mar 19

Mobilizing Swedish gender equality

by Caroline Ulvros 

On a rather windy Thursday night in February, I drop by the campaign start-up for a March 8 demonstration organized by the party ”Feministiskt Initiativ”, or ”Feminist Initiative” in English. In a cozy community hall in Malmö, activists offer pamphlets and hot meals under banners and balloons in the trademark bright pink color scheme of the party.

The party was founded in 2005i, and in a time of social media on the rise it aimed to deviate from traditional political scales by stating feminism as its ideological foundation. It was the very first party to gain a seat in the European Parliament based on this ideology. In a rather standard approach to social media for modern Swedish political parties, both the main and local party sites link to very active Facebook pages and accounts on Twitter and Instagram. The hashtag ”#metoo” is the theme for the cover photo on the main Facebook page. The party describes itself as sprung from a grassroots-movement and takes pride in its ability to reach out to different demographic groups, but how does the party spread its message in an era of new political movements?

After all, it has more traits of a traditional political organization using social media than of a new social movement. Unlike the loose networks based on shared identities, values and lifestyles that characterize new social movements, the party is organized like a traditional political party, presenting a party program with a clear ideology and using established ways of mobilizing action just as earlier feminist movements did. Although feminist activism is typical for new social movements, this party is clearly to the left on a traditional political scale.

But if a traditional political party framework is formed in an era of new social media, how does it perceive mobilization? I wonder while helping myself to a vegan stew and joining the activists that wait for the first presentation of the evening. The party has met setbacks. In the last election, its popularity fell to 0.46% of votes and the party has never reached the 4% limit to win seats in Parliament, while however remaining the largest party outside of Parliament.

The first item of the evening is a film from the feminist organization ”Parir y Nacer” in Argentina, sending a greeting to their partners in Feministiskt Initiativ. Feministiskt Initiativ’s broad collaboration with different international organizations for gender equality may resemble the transnational cooperations around common issues that distinguish new social movements, while I suspect that this cooperation is not as continually reorganized.

The main speaker of the evening is Gudrun Schyman, one of Sweden’s most prominent politicians with a political career going back to the seventies. This symbol for Swedish feminist politics was a very popular leader for the Left Party before partaking in the formation of Feministiskt Initiativ, which she has led until she stepped down this year. Her role in the spotlight does not chime with new social movements that, although arguably not totally without leadership, relies on narratives of broad, bottom-up movements which require leading figures to keep a low profile.

Gudrun Schyman has reached the level of fame where t-shirts are printed with her motif

Schyman describes the effects of this small party on politics through reactions from other political parties, an emphasis is also put on how some issues for equality remain the same and on their global characteristics. This depiction of the political landscape and recurring political clashes is thereby within a rather traditional understanding of political movements. Although not mentioning the party’s stagnation, the account echoes of her earlier explanation for the declining support as consistent with general trends of shrinking political and nonprofit movements, while not highlighting alternative political mobilization. She has also used the physical presence of companies in offline platforms for political parties as a sign of capitalist impeding of dialogue. Does this rhetoric indicates a preference to focus on traditional forms of mobilization? Or is it important to point out how the trend towards company ownership obstructing communication through governing of social media platforms has offline equivalents?

On a question from the audience about working with non-party groups, Schyman supports toning down party promotion when this can facilitate collaborations.

-We don’t need more internal development of our policies, we need to reach out!

A lack of coverage from traditional media due to the size of the party is presented as an impediment and as a remedy, the audience is reminded of a demonstration in April. To focus on offline, traditional activities in a meeting with this purpose seems logical, but my first impression is of a traditional understanding of mobilization where social media is basically yet another tool for spreading the party message. Is this impression fair?

After this speech, I get a chance to quickly mingle with the audience. When I ask about the role of social media in contrast to traditional political meetings, an activist points out that the party is doing rather well on social media. Later that night, I look up the online activity concerning local demonstrations on March 8.

The largest political gathering in Malmö on March 8 is the demonstration arranged by Feministiskt Initiativ in collaboration with other party organizations. While 362 people have marked themselves as going,1.4 thousand are interested in demonstrating. The considerable number of intended participants compared to the participants in the physical start-up meeting could reflect the contingent, event-based participation of new social movements, while the great disparity between the number of respondents intending to actively participate and those merely being interested could reflect how modern movements often are structured around a small core of activists connected to a larger periphery, which nonetheless are not just ”slacktivists” but is expanding the audience for the group.

To compare to an alternative collective action, the next largest mobilization for a demonstration in the city is described as an ”Extra-parliamentarian March 8” with 135 people intended on going and 385 marked as interested. The event is organized by extra-parlamentarian groups such as the Syndicalists and Anti-Fascist Action that contain elements of traditional ideological standpoints, but their emphasis on politically marginalized content and unconventional action while protesting against established politics could indicate a protest role associated with new social movements.

Of course, the attention gained by the demonstration organized by established parties could reflect how both International Women’s Day and collective action through demonstration is closely tied to traditional movements. It could also reflect how Facebook is more useful as a marketing tool than as a mobilization tool. However, my first impression of collective action through established channels does not seem to give the whole picture.