There’s not much that can be lost in translation from the video footage. Gudrun Schyman, leader of Sweden's feminist party, talks to a crowd of reporters next to a small, black grill—the exact kind you imagine if you close your eyes and picture a backyard barbeque. But Schyman stands in front of a bright pink backdrop as she slowly tosses handfuls of colorful money from a plastic bag onto the coals. The bills shrivel into ash as a screen of white smoke blankets her face and she reaches into the bag for more. “I think a lot of people will be provoked,” she says to a reporter in Swedish. “I am provoked myself by standing here, burning money.” This was part of a media stunt in 2010, during which she burned a total of 100,000 Swedish kronor, or nearly $15,000, to represent the amount of money Swedish women lose every minute due to unequal pay between the genders.
Schyman is both the founder and leader of Sweden’s feminist party, Feministiskt Initiativ (FI). Support for FI has grown exponentially in the polls just in the last few months, and, with the upcoming European Union election, FI could see the first feminist party members elected into EU parliament. In Sweden, parties need 4 percent of votes to gain representation in parliament, and FI is en route to break that threshold. I recently spoke to Armina Etminan, a current FI candidate, about the party’s current platforms, the upcoming election, gender equality, pink chairs, Sweden’s music scene, political Tupperware parties, and the “man tax.”
Armina, tell me a little about your background.
I was six years old when my family and I came to Sweden from Iran due to the Iran-Iraq war. During my childhood in Sweden, I always wanted to be part of the norm, be a white girl with blue eyes and blonde hair. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I gained the knowledge that it’s not actually something wrong with me—it’s something wrong with society that creates this kind of feeling, that there are norms and structures that exclude and discriminate people that don’t fit into the norm.
How did you originally get involved with FI?
I work in the municipality of Stockholm with newly-arrived immigrants and, in the last couple of years, I’ve been active in Interfem, an organization that works against sexism and racism. I was headhunted by FI: they asked me if I was interested in being nominated as a candidate, and I immediately said yes. I had longed to be part of a party where human rights, gender equality and social justice are at the top of the agenda. Now I’m an FI candidate for the municipality of Stockholm.
What has the campaign been like for you so far?
It’s been crazy and lots of fun. Since we don’t have any financial resources, our party came up with the concept of “home parties.” Anyone who gathers at least 15 people can invite us to the party, and a representative from FI comes to their place to talk politics, instead of plastics.
From paid paternal leave to the percentage of women in parliament—Sweden is often seen as leading the charge for gender equality. So why, in your opinion, does Sweden need a Feminist party?
FI challenges the image of Sweden and Europe as the paradise of gender equality. This is a false image that diminishes the existing problems and stands in the way of genuine change. We have a long way to go until we have an equal society regardless of gender, age, class, religion, race, transgender identity and expression, disability or sexual orientation. If we continue at this pace it will take at least 100 years until we have equal payment between the genders. The income differences have risen by 43 percent since 1996. Hate crimes against Afro-Swedish people have risen by 24 percent in the last couple of years. One in two transgender persons have considered committing suicide. Nazis are attacking friendly demonstrations against racism. Men’s violence against women is considered by the UN to be one of the major security issues in the world. Asylum seekers die on their way to Europe and Sweden and many of them are sent back to countries where they face torture, war and even death. So yes, it’s time to create an open Sweden and EU where human rights, gender equality and social justice are at the top of the agenda.
If FI gains the 4 percent of votes needed to earn seats in EU parliament, what type of political impact do you expect your party to have?
The elections to the European Parliament need to be seen in light of the mobilization of parties with racist, Nazi and fascist ideologies around Europe. Several of those parties are already represented in the European Parliament and there is a significant risk that these groups will continue to grow. More action is needed to counter structural discrimination. If this does not happen, racist and conservative forces will gain more ground.
We need to raise the level of ambition in the struggle for democracy and human rights for all. Feminist parties are forming across Europe and our long-term goal is to work together for the establishment of a feminist political group. FI wants to establish EU commissioners for gender equality and anti-discrimination and prioritize gender equality in the EU parliament. Thorough gender analyses of EU’s annual budgets should also be made, and all member states and EU bodies should be given directives to rectify the underrepresentation of women in decision-making processes.
You’re probably tired of hearing about this, but I still can’t really get over the “man tax” introduced in Swedish parliament in 2004. Can you explain what this was about?
The "man tax" [in which a tax would be levied against men to fund domestic violence shelters] had nothing to do with FI as a party. It was one of our leaders, Gudrun Schyman, who wrote and signed a non-government bill when she sat in parliament for the left-wing party "Vänsterpartiet" before FI was founded. The act was a statement and a desire to open up to debate for the cost of men’s violence against women.
Again, I realize this is probably very old news to anyone in Scandinavia, but I’m interested to hear more about the burning of $15,000 to represent the unequal pay between men and women in 2010. How did this come to be? And is unequal pay still a cause worthy of money-burning to your party?
Yes, that’s pretty old news here. Since FI is a political party with no governmental financing or support, we don’t have money for advertising and rely strictly on donations. So, when the party received about $15,000, they discussed how they could get the most attention for that amount of money. The cost for an ad in a big newspaper is huge, and so they decided to burn the money as a statement to represent the $15,000 woman bleed every minute because of the pay differences between women and men.
While FI is currently the 10th largest party by votes in the polls in Sweden, last month you ranked at number one as the “most talked-about” party on social media. What do you attribute that to and what does that say to you about those who support your campaign?
We’ve used social media as a way to reach out with our politics; we’ve been writing a lot of articles and creating innovative ways to show the world who we are and what we want. Many of our supports are young people who are active on social media.
Tell me about the record FI put out to support your campaign.
For the first time in Swedish history, 65 of the biggest and most influential voices in the Swedish music industry took a political stand and openly supported a political party by releasing an election album. Artists on the album include Robyn, Jenny Wilson, The Knife, A Camp, Tove Syrke, HvH and many others who came together for the sake of the human rights, equality and social justice.
Famous people in Sweden are usually not open about their political views, but these artists, like many in Sweden, have had enough.
On top of social media, FI seems to be rising in popularity exponentially, particularly in the past few months. Has this surprised you?
No, not at all. The parties in parliament are not doing enough for human rights and equality. People are frustrated and don’t want to wait any longer. Many feel like they can finally vote for a party that actually wants to see a change now and not in a hundred years.
I see a lot of pink, empty chairs in your campaign ads. Assuming this isn’t product placement for children’s IKEA furniture, can you explain the significance of the pink chair?
The pink chair is part of the campaign, “sätt feministerna på plats” or “put the feminists in their place.” It means that we need to put feminists in their place in government. The chair is a symbol for the seats we aim to gain in Sweden’s parliament and in the EU. One night a couple weeks ago, we had a pink chair we put in different places all over Sweden with the web address taplats.nu (take a seat).
Apart from this being a symbol for the representation our party aims to gain, it was an encouragement for people to take a seat and talk about politics and ideology.
So, for the rest of us suckers outside of the EU or Sweden, why is your party still important to us?
FI is part of a movement that is needed, not only in Sweden and the EU, but all over the world. We want to inspire and empower other feminist parties and movements so that we can move towards balanced societies based on human rights, gender equality and social justice.
Lindsay Schrupp is a writer and feminist from Yolo County, California. She currently lives in Seattle.