STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - With much of Europe veering to anti-immigration groups, Sweden has elected the only formal feminist party to the EU parliament with a Roma woman as its representative.
The Feminist Initiative (FI), founded by a politician famed for publicly burning 100,000 Swedish crowns to protest unequal pay and funded in part by an ABBA member, grew from almost nothing in polls a few months ago to win over 5 percent of the votes and one MEP.
The party garnered votes with its “Out With Racists And In With Feminists!” slogan.
The victory highlighted Sweden’s fault lines - a country proud of its treatment of women and minorities but facing both gaping wage differentials and an anti-immigrant backlash that saw the populist Sweden Democrats win 10 percent of votes.
Immigration into and within the EU propelled far-right parties to big wins across the bloc, most notably in France and Britain, in the European Parliament elections.
Mainstream politicians are now promising tougher policies in an attempt to win back voters soured by years of economic doldrums and crisis.
FI has campaigned by linking the risks the far right pose for both immigrants and women.
Soraya Post, a 57-year-old mother of four and Roma, is now set to take a seat in parliament. One of Europe’s oldest minorities, Roma is widely seen as one of the most discriminated against minorities on the continent.
“The 15 million Roma in Europe live as if it is a state of war, in the peaceful Europe of 2014,” Post told Reuters at a victory celebration party in Stockholm. “That is the situation for the Roma today in Europe and it is not acceptable. It is shameful”.
About 15 percent of Sweden’s population is foreign-born. While many are from neighbouring Nordic countries, others are drawn by the country’s policy of welcoming asylum seekers from war-torn countries. Women immigrants suffer from some of the worst employment and salary rates.
Revelations that the Swedish police established an illegal database of Roma sparked outrage last year. The file was in the form of a genealogical tree covering 4,029 Roma, many of whom had no criminal record. More than 1,000 were children.
The success of the Feminist Initiative has much to do with party leader Gudrun Schyman, a charismatic politician who captured world headlines in 2010 when she pulled handfuls of cash from a plastic bag and threw them onto a smoking barbecue at one of Sweden’s biggest annual political events.
“Many people see Sweden as a kind of paradise for women in Europe. But that’s a myth. We have a gender gap, violence against women,” Schyman told Reuters, adding that fighting Europe’s growing nationalist parties was paramount.
“If you look at their agendas you can see that they want to weaken human rights and it’s always for women and for immigrants.”
The former head of Sweden’s Left Party has also made headlines comparing women’s situation in Sweden to life under Afghanistan’s Taliban. She once called for a “Man Tax” to be levied to compensate for years violence against women.
The party has been backed by celebrity supporters including Jane Fonda and ABBA’s Benny Andersson who has donated more than 1 million crowns to the party to fund its campaigns.
Sweden has one of the world’s most generous welfare states, offering subsidised child care with up to 480 days of parental leave per child. Women also make up over half of the centre-right Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s cabinet.
But there are few women in top management. Sweden’s statistics office said this year women’s wages are on average about 14 percent lower than men’s.
Added reporting by Simon Johnson and Daniel Dickson. Editing by Mike Peacock