There are not many people in politics as committed to equality as Alice Bah Kuhnke.
The progressive politician from Sweden, a member of the Green Party, is one of the few Black deputies in the European Parliament.
In interviews and speeches, she’s a constant champion for gender equality, workforce diversity and a humane response to the risks facing refugees on the EU’s borders.
“We humanity must do everything we can to face the challenges ahead,” she says in an interview with Parliament Magazine.
“Politics is my way of doing everything I can, for future generations and the thousands of campaigners all around the world and in Europe.”
Kuhnke started her career in TV with SVT’s Disney Club in 1992. She then studied political science at Stockholm University, before securing her own talk show on TV4 between 1998 and 1999.
After time spent working in philanthropy and with fair trade organization Rättvisemärkt, she entered the Swedish Government as Culture Minister in 2014—the first time the Greens had ever formed part of the government.
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Att få pausa en stund, mot Karin, i solen, i Falköping, är att få den magiska kraften från årtionden av miljöpartistisk kamp, för en bättre värld, transporterad in i varje cell av sin kropp. Tack Karin för att du finns och fortsätter! Och tack alla andra medlemmar och allmänhet vi mött på gator och torg i Västra Götaland, för jämställdhet och jämlikhet och mot våld och trakasserier ❤️. . #hoppiställetförhat #klimatetkanintevänta #miljöpartiet #falköping
Despite this success, she’s always had to face racism across her career. “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,” she added to Parliament magazine.
“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.”
This strength comes in a fearless ability to hold public institutions to account. She stresses that in EU regulations, there are currently “no measures proposed to alleviate the disproportionate impact of climate change on women” or offer protections in the face of racism. She even accuses the European Commission of using intersectionality as a buzzword while offering “no concrete solutions to support these groups.”
She said it was unfortunate that for more than a decade, 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.”
Speaking to Parliament Magazine, she also reflected on the “sad reality” of a lack of ethnic diversity in EU institutions—something which means the EU is building up a lack of trust with the continent it’s supposed to represent. “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.”
Alice Bah Kuhnke at the Nobel Prize Banquet 2017. Photo on Zimbio
Kuhnke is an indefatigable defender of refugee rights, challenging rising hatred from elected officials across the EU. “Ten years ago, questioning the right to seek asylum wouldn’t have been possible by the second biggest party in Sweden—the new normal is deeply alarming,” Kuhnke told the Independent, after a far-right Swedish politician distributed leaflets to refugees on the Greek border and told them Sweden was “full.”
“I feel sadness and shame that a Swedish politician is so desperate for attention that he goes hundreds of miles to humiliate desperate people who have fled for their lives,” Kuhnke added.
Despite the heavy subject matter she deals with, there’s a clear streak of fun in how Kuhnke deals with the world. When asked by one reporter to give advice to women, she said people should organise—or, in the words of Beyoncé, “get in formation.”