On the evening of Sunday, September 14, young women voters were popping corks across Sweden after general election exit polls projected that the Feminist Initiative (FI) party had passed the four percent threshold required to win a parliamentary seat. In the end, their celebrations proved premature, with final counts apportioning the FI some 3.1 percent of the vote. But the surprisingly strong performance of their party -- headed by Gudrun Schyman, a former contestant of the Swedish version of Dancing with the Stars, who’d campaigned alongside ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Pharrell Williams (of “Blurred Lines” notoriety) -- was enough to win the FI headlines the world over the next day.
Founded in 2005, the FI aims to put gender issues squarely and explicitly at the top of Sweden’s political agenda. In particular, Schyman says, she founded the party to tackle pay inequality in Sweden -- where women now earn 86 percent as much as men for the same work, a mere two-percentage-point improvement over the past decade. Schyman’s message has apparently resonated across Sweden: since January, its membership has shot from 1,500 to 18,000, giving it the fourth-largest roster among Swedish political parties. In May, it became the first-ever feminist party to send a representative to the European Parliament, garnering over five percent of the vote nationwide and more than 30 percent in some of the country’s most left-wing districts in cities such as Malmö. Among those who voted for the FI in those elections, some 70 percent were under age 25 -- making it a truly singular phenomenon in global politics.
Prior to this month’s general election, Schyman had predicted that the FI’s momentum would be politically contagious worldwide: “When people see that this is possible, a lot of other countries will follow for the simple reason that a lot of other cultures have the same problems.” But in the United States, at least, FI-style calls for more politically institutionalized approaches to gender issues are more apt to provoke derision than serious debate -- this
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