Alice Kuhnke: Battling for equality

Written by Rajnish Singh on 19 March 2020 in Interviews
Interviews

Former Swedish TV personality and one of the few black deputies in parliament, Alice Kuhnke, tells Rajnish Singh that she wants the EU to do more to tackle violence against women, racism and to show solidarity with Greece in finding a solution to the refugee crisis.

 Alice Kuhnke MEP | Photo credit: Natalie Hill


Given you already had a successful career on Swedish TV, why did you enter politics and what was your main motivation?

I have always had a great passion for politics and studied political science at Stockholm University in parallel to developing my TV career.

Entering politics was never a question of prestige, or of a successful career, or about earning more money. It has always been my inner calling to do what I do today.


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As, we humanity must do everything we can to face the challenges ahead. Climate change, the rise of right-wing populism and the threats against women and girls is things that I want to address and actively work to combat.

Politics is my way of doing everything I can, for future generations and the thousands of campaigners all around the world and in Europe.

What, if any, are the similarities between a career in tv and politics, considering both roles have a high media profile? How do you deal with negative comments?

“As a black woman, as a progressive politician and as a feminist, there will always be people who hate me, for what I look like, for what I stand for and what I speak out for”

The main similarity between my career on TV and my current work in politics is the importance of communication. In order to make a connection that allows people to understand you, trust you, and listen to you.

You must know and understand who you are speaking to and how to reach out to each and everybody.

This is something I learned when working in television, and something I am trying to bring to my work in the European Parliament.

As a woman of colour, racism and hateful comments on both social media and elsewhere have unfortunately always been a part of my life; it is something that you get used to or get defeated by.

As a black woman, as a progressive politician and as a feminist, there will always be people who hate me; for what I look like, for what I stand for and what I speak out on behalf of.

But this doesn’t stop me, it strengthens me.

What are your impressions of the gender equality strategy unveiled recently by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Commissioner Helena Dalli?

Having waited five years for the EU Commission to take gender equality seriously, we welcome the adoption of a Gender Equality Strategy, and in particular the commitment to present a pay transparency directive.

However, we’ve been let down by weak language and a lack of new legislative proposals. This was a critical opportunity to commit to a directive combating gender-based violence - and the Commission have wasted it.

The crisis of gender-based violence cannot be allowed to continue without a legal framework. Ursula von der Leyen has said she wants to put gender equality high on the agenda, but she falls short of delivering equality within her own Strategy.

There are no measures proposed to alleviate the disproportionate impact of climate change on women.

While the text includes a reference to adopting an intersectional perspective in all EU policies, there are no concrete actions proposed for migrants, insecure workers, care workers, LGTBI people and women of colour.

The Commission seems to be using intersectionality as a buzzword, while offering no concrete solutions to support these groups.

As Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur, what will your main priorities regarding the strategy be?

As a Greens coordinator in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, my aim is to highlight the importance of analysing climate and environment policies from a gender perspective.

“This was a critical opportunity to commit to a directive combating gender-based violence - and the Commission have wasted it”

In order to succeed with a European green transition, it is of great importance that we get all citizens onboard.

For real change to happen there is a need for genuine climate justice and a just transition into a world that can handle the climate crisis collectively.

Decision makers need to build a strong foundation of feminist policies with intersectional approaches today in order for the transitioning process to succeed in the next decades.

It is not possible to achieve climate justice without gender justice.

What should the EU do to combat violence against women? And how should those countries who have not ratified the Istanbul Convention - Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, and Slovakia - be persuaded to do so?

We need to seriously address gender-based violence, as a crime against humanity and a violation of fundamental human rights.

To combat gender-based violence in all forms, we need to introduce legal tools, and I had hoped that the new strategy would present measures for this now.

New proposals on gender-based violence may be presented in 2021, but only if the EU’s accession to the Istanbul convention remains blocked in Council.

We need both the ratification of the Istanbul convention and a directive on gender-based violence. Violence against women is endemic, with women being murdered every day.

We do not have time for these laggard countries to ratify the Istanbul convention. I cannot accept that a few Member States are slowing down this work.

“Decision makers need to build a strong foundation of feminist policies with intersectional approaches today, in order for the transitioning process to succeed in the next decades”

Therefore, it is important that the Commission keep pushing these countries to respect the human rights to all citizens, including women and girls.

During the Commissioner hearings, I asked Helena Dalli how she intended to push the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

Although she answered in very vague terms, it is positive news that the Commission have declared that they will prioritise getting all Member States on board. As a feminist, fighting for gender equality on a daily basis, this is the minimum we can expect from all Member States.

Having said that, we can and should do much more.

International day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is on 21 March. On a personal level, why do you think it is important to mark the day?

Racial discrimination is still widespread across the world, including in Europe, something that I personally have experienced all my life.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is an important opportunity to fly the flag, but it is far from enough.

We have seen a significant rise in hate speech and attacks on ethnic minorities all over the EU. This is disturbing, as in many cases it has been supported - if not directly initiated - by democratically elected politicians. Abusing their public mandate to attack minority groups in society.

This development is disturbing and needs a strong political response. It is unacceptable and intolerable development, not least in societies founded on the Treaties and the fundamental rights of the EU. As a rapporteur for the Equal Treatment Directive, which has remained blocked in the Council since 2008, there is little room for action.

On a positive note, the Directive touches upon the fight against all forms of discrimination, and it includes - after suggestions from the parliament - the fight against multiple discriminations.

However, the unfortunate situation for more than a decade is that the European Council have discussed, but never managed to agree on, action to adopt proper legal measures to tackle all forms of discrimination outside the workplace.

This is deeply regrettable, and as rapporteur I will do everything I possibly can to advance this file.

As one of the few non-white deputies in the parliament, what do you think about the lack of diversity in the EU institutions?

The lack of ethnic diversity in the EU institutions is a sad reality.

We, who are supposed to represent the people of European Union, are not a reflection of the people that live here. This is building up lack of trust.

Being a leader is still seen today as predominantly a white man’s job, or at least a white person’s job, irrespective of whether it is for an NGO or in politics.

Non-white people are rarely, if at all, seen in a leadership role. This was true in the government where I was a minister, it is true in the Swedish Parliament and it is true here as well.

We have to address this issue with a wide scope. It is not a question of lack of competent people. It is a question of racial discrimination in all parts of society, both in politics and elsewhere.

As a member of the LIBE Committee, how well is the EU handling the current migration crisis on the Greece-turkey border? And where does any fault lie and what needs to be done?

Migrants at the Greek-Turkish border are currently being left without food and water, with families sleeping outside in harsh winter conditions.

Journalists, politicians and humanitarian workers at the refugee camps, in particular on the Greek islands, witness war-like images.

The current situation at the Greek-Turkish border could be solved, yet EU Member States continue to react with panic and inhumane measures.

“All Member States must commit themselves to a fair and sustainable distribution mechanism for accepting refugees, so that those applying for asylum can be protected and treated with respect”

My message is clear: As a Swede, I have seen my country make extra eff orts to find solutions when faced with the migration crisis in 2015. Therefore, it is essential that the European Union shows solidarity with Greece.

All Member States must therefore commit themselves to a fair and sustainable distribution mechanism for accepting refugees, so that those applying for asylum can be protected and treated with respect.

There is no other long-term solution to this disastrous situation.

The Greens/EFA are far from the only ones stressing to the Council and the Commission to take such measures. The time for the European Union is to act is now.

My work during the coming years will focus on pushing the EU institutions to reach a common European asylum system in respect of human rights and orderly constitutional procedures.

About the author

Rajnish Singh is commissioning editor and journalist at The Parliament Magazine

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