Margot Wallström was born on 28 September 1954 in Sweden. She entered politics shortly after graduating from high school in 1973. She worked as an Ombudsman for the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League. Then, in 1979, she was elected as a Member of the Swedish Parliament where she served for six years.
Her ministerial career began in 1988 when she was appointed as Minister of Civil Affairs – Consumer Affairs, Women and Youth (1988-1991). She later served as Minister of Culture (1994-1996) and Social Affairs (1996-1998).
In 1998, she retired from Swedish politics to become Executive Vice-President of Worldview Global Media – an NGO based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The following year she was appointed as Member of the European Commission, under President Romano Prodi, and given responsibility for EU environmental policy.
In 2004, when the Barroso Commission took office, she became Commission Vice- President with responsibility for Inter-institutional Relations and Communication.
Margot Wallström has received honorary doctorates from Chalmers University, Sweden (2001), Mälardalen University, Sweden (2004) and the University of Massachusetts, Lowell (2005).
Other distinctions include being voted "Commissioner of the Year" by the European Voice newspaper in 2002.
In 2004, together with Göran Färm, Member of the European Parliament, she published the book “The People’s Europe or Why is it so hard to love the EU?” (“Folkens Europa eller Varför är det så svårt att älska EU?”).
In 2010, she was appointed U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Question: How have the conditions in the Congo disempowered women?
Margot Wallström: They are... they are dead tired. They are so tired of having to work so hard... they carry sort of the heavy burdens. The women, they fetch firewood and water, they go to the market, they grow things, they are the ones that carry the children and take very much responsibility for the families. And if this is also done to them, they are just traumatized, they feel very, very tired and let down. And very often, when they have been raped, they are also rejected by their husbands and by their families. And that means also that they will have no income and will be marginalized and stigmatized. So there are several problems following in the trails of sexual violence.
Question: What can the world learn from what’s happening in the Congo?
Margot Wallström: We can learn that this is such a heavy impediment to building peace and to have any kind of economic development in the country. We can learn that this will affect a society for generations to come. We can learn that this has to be addressed now; it cannot wait. And it is through fighting impunity that we can be effective in doing so. But we also need to make sure that the women who have been exposed to rape/sexual violence, that they are helped; that they are assisted with everything from medical care to psycho-social advice and counseling. So that’s what we all have to take responsibility for.
Question: What did women in the Congo tell you?
Margot Wallström: We listened to some women who wanted to bear witness to what they had been through. And they... one woman said that after the gang rape that she was exposed to, she lost a child. She could not have any more children. And she felt that her life was over. I mean, you kind of kill a person without taking their lives and... or the other way around. You take their lives without killing them. That was her feeling. And when we asked her, "What would be the normal? If this had not happened to you, what would be the normal relationship with your husband?" And... and she didn’t seem to understand the question. She said that "The life of the woman is to work. It’s to work and to give birth to children and then to sort of please your husband and do whatever he tells you sexually at night. That’s the life of a woman." And there was sort of no joy, no love, no concept of what we would think was a dignified life. And that was very, very depressing to hear.
Recorded on October 17, 2010
Interviewed by John Cookson