In our home country, Sweden, we often complement ourselves for being progressive, gender equal and safe. We have a government that proudly call themselves feminist, claiming to let feminist values characterise all decisions and campaigns run by national politicians. However, in recent decades there has been a gradual dismantling or privatization of public welfare services, especially in rural parts of Sweden. Every fifth emergency health care unit has closed since the beginning of year 2000, leaving rural citizens around Sweden with increased travel time, reduced safety and increased insecurity regarding their accessibility to healthcare. This inability to maintain basic health care services in rural areas has happened simultaneously with a general shutdown of service facilities, and urbanization as rural dwellers choose to, or are forced to move to bigger cities in order to find a job or secure better access to public services. Almost exclusively, this dismantling is explained by a strained economy, as the political administrative units that are responsible for public healthcare in Sweden always seem to struggle financially. In order to deal with a struggling economy, decision makers are increasingly turning towards reasoning aligned with masculine rationality in order to “take responsibility” by cutting down on women’s health care.
Evidently, these cuts in the welfare sector do not affect all people equally. A report written by Sveriges Kvinnolobby (Sweden’s Women’s Lobby) shows that since the year 2000, no less than 13 birthing clinics have closed around the country, almost all of them in rural regions, making access to maternal and reproductive healthcare worse for those already poorly served. The report also states that in times of economic crisis, women’s healthcare (healthcare specialised for people with uteruses) is the first to go. This is due to the male norm that historically and presently characterises medical practice and theory, constructing women’s healthcare as a luxury that can be withdrawn when times are rough. Consequently, rural women are especially hit by the dismantling of women’s health care as it predominantly affects the rural parts of the country. Thus, rural women face a two-pronged punishment, both as women and as rural dwellers.
The fight for a “living countryside” is a hot topic in Swedish politics. Recently the government appointed a Landsbygdskommittée (countryside committée) to investigate the cause of the rift between rural and urban, and present suggestions for a prosperous countryside in the future. In the 300 page report, and the 75 concretized suggestions, gender equality is mentioned twice, and never in relation to healthcare services and employment. In fact, throughout the report, accessibility to hospitals and maternal healthcare is not mentioned once. Instead, the main focus is on enabling private business and supporting infrastructure such as post offices and internet access. The neoliberal solution leaves public welfare increasingly dismantled. In turn, the lack of state support in rural healthcare weighs heavier on women’s bodies as hospitals and care centres are workplaces heavily dominated by women. Consequently, women’s ability to access safe employment is also undermined.
However, in the last couple of years there has been a popular rise against the dismantling of services in the Swedish countryside. In the town of Dorotea, activists occupied the local care centre for more than three years before it was reopened, and in Sollefteå, a massive occupation movement started as a reaction to the closing of the local birthing clinic in January 2017. In October 2016, almost 15 000 people marched against the healthcare dismantling in Västernorrland region. In the summer of 2017, we visited Sollefteå to participate in the occupation of the hospital birthing clinic. The closing was a result of budget cuts, and has led to increased travel time for people in delivery, whom are forced to drive on roads in bad condition, with bad cell reception and heavy traffic, to the two remaining birthing clinics in the region, now suffering from overcrowding and lack of staff.
The occupation can be seen as a reaction to the lack of supporting infrastructure that lead to restricted personal freedom for people in Sollefteå. In contrary to the political actions, the resistance mobilised through the occupation, and the placing of vulnerable bodies in a certain space, characterised admitting the vulnerability caused by destructive rural politics, and was an attempt to step out of the binary of vulnerability and resistance. The resistance in Sollefteå also puts a finger directly on the problematic report written by the countryside committée, where a lack of intersectional feminist analysis resulted in suggestions that cemented an oppressive and exploitative system rather than challenging and changing it. Moreover, these actions of protest are relatable to a theory formulated by Judith Butler, Leticia Sabsay and Zeynep Gambetti, saying that there is potential for resistance in admitting vulnerability. The authors argue that there is a feminist action to step out of the binary of vulnerability and resistance, and to rather see the potential of mobilising resistance through vulnerability. This opposes the authoritarian, masculinist resistance to vulnerability as a manifestation of power. Instead, vulnerability is used as a means to demand change and the fulfilment of human rights.
However, politicians in the county council of Västernorrland (administrative unit for healthcare services in the area) argue that there was no other option, and instead of admitting their vulnerability in a broken system (rural areas in Sweden produce energy, forestry and food for urban centres, but taxes and profit is sent to the state and does not benefit the local community. Still, rural areas are constructed as “too expensive”, “too inefficient”, and in need of “support”) they try to claim power by dismissing it, and following the rite of passage for a “good politician” in patriarchal capitalism.
A politician in a Sollefteå municipality, My, told us that the counties in Norrland (the north land, 58% of Sweden’s total land area, inhabiting 11-12% of the population) need to ally and manifest their vulnerability in order to claim their rights. As Carina, one of the occupation founders, says: “Healthcare must be allowed to cost money, especially with the distances we have here in Norrland.” (my translation).
 SVT (2018) Dokument Inifrån: Den stora sjukhusstriden. Sveriges Television. [Online] https://www.svtplay.se/dokument-inifran-den-stora-sjukhusstriden [Accessed: 2018-05-06]
 Plumwood, Val (2001) Environmental Culture – the Ecological Crisis of Reason. Taylor & Francis Ltd
 Alm Dahlin, Johanna (2017) Med Rätt att Föda – En granskning av satsningar på förlossningsvården i budgetpropositionen för 2018. Sveriges Kvinnolobby
 SOU (2017) För Sveriges landsbygder – en sammanhållen politik för arbete, hållbar tillväxt och välfärd. Statens Offentliga Utredningar. Elanders Sverige AB, Stockholm 2017
 SCB (2016) Inom vården finns Sveriges vanligaste yrken. Statistiska Centralbyrån. [Online] https://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/sverige-i-siffror/utbildning-jobb-och-pengar/sveriges-vanligaste-yrken/ [Accessed: 2018-05-21]
 Butler, Judith. Gambetti, Zeynep. Sabsay, Leticia (red.)(2016) Vulnerability in Resistance. Durham: Duke University Press
 Carina, personal interview, 2018