RFSU: ‘An intersectional feminist perspective is part of the main strategy’

The Foundation’s José Alvarado interviewed Belén Sobrino and Åsa Eriksson at the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) to learn more about how their organisation works with intersectional feminist perspectives. 

Following the publication of the 65th edition of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation’s Development Dialogue Volume ‘Intersectionality: Experiences, views and visions for change’, the Foundation strives to continue the conversation on intersectionality; reflecting on ways that organisations design and implement interventions to bring about transformative change.

This brought José Alvarado, Programme Officer for Human Rights and Inclusivity, to interview Belén Sobrino, Lead, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) and Thematic Advisor and Åsa Eriksson, Thematic Adviser, International Programme Manager and Process Leader at  the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (commonly known as RFSU).

RFSU is a Swedish non-profit organisation and its main work is creating awareness about sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as the production and dissemination of information and education on sexuality and relationships. They have since 2015 [1], applied an intersectional feminist perspective as a way of thinking about and addressing power inequalities throughout all their programming. In this interview, Belén Sobrino and Åsa Eriksson explain why RFSU started this work:

‘We realised that some of our partners didn’t really understand what we meant when we spoke about intersectional feminist perspectives’, says Belén Sobrino.

In order to clarify RFSUs approach, the organisation decided to offer courses on intersectional feminist perspectives on SRHR, and the application of these perspectives in practice in 2020.

‘We did this to better understand this concept in relation to the work and also in order to to explain it to others. How this concept is applied within organisations can vary… there’s no right way of doing this. There’s no checklist on the way one should work with intersectionality. We don’t believe there is,’ she says.

Both Belén Sobrino and Åsa Eriksson then explored the topic in the context of RFSU’s work, providing insight into their journey.

According to Åsa Eriksson, self-reflection within one’s own organisation and challenging one’s thinking about power and inclusion in practice is essential, and it can also lead to interesting questions.

She gave the example of how one partner organisation working to address the needs of trans people began to question whether they were fit to address the needs of this community. Another organisation in Mexico wanted to engage more broadly with diverse feminist movements in Mexico.

‘By going through internal processes, they realised that they needed to strengthen their tools and mechanisms to engage with the specific conversations with indigenous women or trans women’, she said.

Åsa and Belén go on to explain that RFSU is currently assisting partners interested in documenting how they are applying an intersectional feminist perspective and how they understand it in relation to their work. The learning from this effort is currently being documented as case studies which will be presented later this year [2023].

Belén Sobrino highlights that ‘in many cases, RFSU’s partners are already applying an intersectional perspective in their work even if they do not call it that way and even if the use of the word differs in different regions. Intersectional work always has to be grounded in the particularities of each organisation and the context in which they work, she emphasises.

‘In Georgia, a women’s rights organisation is working with small-scale grants for small organisations in rural areas. The organisation translated the grant opportunities into minority languages and made sure that the selection committee included people from the communities that the organisation intended to reach. In essence, they were an organisation that had an intersectional feminist approach in their funding practices.’

Coming back to their own application of the concept, Åsa Eriksson describes that RFSU´s identification of partners and allies is one of the most crucial components for putting into practice intersectional feminist perspectives.

‘A portfolio analysis means being very conscious about the type of organisations we are funding. This also means looking at organisations that normally have more difficulties to access grants. They may be unregistered, or they are small organisations, or they are working on specific topics that normally find it quite difficult to find funding for that type of work,’ she expands.

Åsa Eriksson emphasises that ‘sexual and reproductive rights is not an isolated issue, it always links with broader social justice issues’.

Additionally, RFSU has decided to expand its lens in working with SRHR, by engaging in solidarity initiatives with local and transnational SRHR, youth and/or feminist movements, as well as other actors who fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, including organisations working for climate justice, labour rights and against racism.

Åsa Eriksson ends with an important reminder for all of us.

‘If we are really going to make sure that people are not left behind, our work has to be grounded on the terms of the people being affected’.

About Åsa Eriksson and Belén Sobrino González

Åsa Eriksson works part time as thematic adviser in RFSUs international unit. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies, and is currently working on two research projects: one on anti-gender politics in Sweden and South Africa, and one on reproductive justice. She has worked for 15 years in international development cooperation, based in Sweden, South Africa and Kenya.

Belen Sobrino works as thematic advisor and MEAL lead in RFSU´s international unit. She holds a master degree in Political Economy of Violence & Development (SOAS/UK) and MA Theory and Practice of International Human Rights (Oslo University). She has nearly 20 years work experience in equality and non-discrimination, working with women´s rights organizations, INGOs, UN and university. She has worked internationally in Latin America, Central Africa, Maghreb and EU countries.


José Alvarado By José Alvarado

About José Alvarado

José Alvarado is a Programme Officer for peacebuilding and sustaining peace at the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation where he is coordinating a series of roundtable discussions on the UN’s Sustaining Peace Resolutions. Other tasks include organising sessions at various international forums such as the Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development. Alvarado’s broader experience includes working at several research institutions and publishing on gender and peace processes, arms transfer controls as well as climate change and peace.

He is a Rotary Peace Fellow with a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from Uppsala University. Before moving to Sweden, Alvarado worked for the United States government in Guatemala and on social issues in the non-governmental sector in Mexico, Central America, and Colombia.