Taking feminism into the living room

5:24 min

The Feminist Initiative party is shaking things up in Swedish politics and its leader, Gudrun Schyman, says there’s no stopping her now.

“In politics, questions about gender and discrimination have been seen as something you’re supposed to engage with in your free time. It’s never involved in real politics and that’s how our party differs from the other Swedish parties,” says Schyman of the Feminist Initiative party, or Fi.

Schyman is one of three spokeswomen for Fi, which has been shaking up Swedish opinion polls lately, but she is undoubtedly the star of what she herself calls "a new popular movement". For about a year now, Schyman and her colleagues have been travelling around Sweden, recruiting members in living rooms, assembly halls and coffee shops. They call it the Homeparty Movement and they say it is unstoppable.

“It’s growing. And it started because lots of people asked me if they could come to a meeting or listen to me speak and I said you can’t because Feminist Initiative doesn’t have any money. We can’t rent halls or pay for advertisements. So I came up with this concept,” Schyman explains.

Fi received just 0.4 percent of votes in the previous general election and that is far from the minimum required to qualify for the state subsidy offered to other, bigger parties. And so the party relies on pumping up membership figures and scrambling for cash at their home parties. If you can get a crowd of at least 15 people together, then Schyman or another Fi representative will come and pitch the party's agenda to you and your friends.

Anna Lingman organised a home party at a café in Stockholm in May. She describes Feminist Initiative as a "necessary force". She says: “It’s a reaction against women being treated differently than men and also against homophobia and racism.”

The café that hosted Anna's homeparty rearranged its tables classroom style. When the mostly female crowd had got their cups of tea and coffee, they sat down, pen and paper at hand, to listen to Schyman deliver her two-hour speech. It is a sweeping history of Swedish politics, class relations and the global patriarchy, all illustrated with circles, lines and diagrams on a whiteboard. The overall is message is that Sweden has a long way to go before it becomes truly egalitarian.

The home party crowd is given some homework, too. Task number 1: become members of Feminist Initiative. Number two: recruit at least three friends before the EU election and at least seven more before the general election in September. And three: distribute as many Feminist Initiative ballot papers as possible at Swedish polling stations.

The strategy seems to be working. Since January, membership numbers have grown from around 1,500 to nearly 15,000, Schyman says, and opinion polls in May put the party above the four-percent barrier needed to get into the European Parliament.

However, critics say the homeparty movement is a fad, that Feminist Initiative does not have serious economic policies and that the party programme is full of left field and unrealistic ideas - like reforming marital laws in ways that come close to recognising polygamy, or introducing mandatory feminist self-defence classes in schools. Unpaid work should be counted into countries' GDP measures, the party says, and men should be "reeducated" into changing their consumption habits.

Critics on the left say the party's success could end up benefitting the centre-right coalition government, with Fi pulling away voters from the more established green and red opposition parties. That was a concern that many who came to the home party at the Stockholm café raised, too.

One attendee, Linda Madsen, has a strategy planned out. “I think I’m going to go for Fi in the European election but as for the general election, that’s more difficult because we need to switch to a red government. We need to make sure that switch happens now,” says Madsen.

Anna Lingman - the organiser of the homeparty at the Stockholm café - says she is a feminist and a member of Feminist Initiative. But she is also an environmentalist. So who should she vote for? At the end of Schyman's two-hour lecture, Anna is still not sure. “Well, she’s very convincing,” Lingman says of Schyman, “but I just can’t decide”.