European Centre of the International Council of Women


"Women of Europe - Towards Equality"

Berkshire Conference Suite, Holiday Inn, Maidenhead
Friday 25 April 2008 at 2p.m.

The View from Finland

In 1906 Finnish women became the first in the world to receive all their political rights – the right to vote and the right to be electoral candidates. In 1907 in the first parliamentary elections 19 women, almost 10 %, were elected to the parliament. This was such an achievement that even the Cossacks of the river Don in Russia sent a telegram to congratulate women of Finland on it. Today there are 84 women out of 200 Parliamentarians in the Finnish Parliament which makes 42%.

The Network of Finnish Women of Parliament was founded in 1991. All women across party lines belong to it. It aims to promote equality between women and men as well as women’s rights, and to introduce a female approach to all legislative work in general. The network makes the decisions by consensus and over the years it has been successful in working together. Now for instance every child under school age has a subjective right to day-care and there is a system of pre-primary education for one year for every child. The network has also succeeded in convincing the Parliament to establish a special credit for women entrepreneurs and in suggesting some amendments to the law on sexual crime. With this example I wish to underline the importance of women working together across the party lines at all levels.

The Act on Equality was passed in 1995. This law is quite unique because it also covers other areas besides the working life. For twelve years now we have had a quota system of 40 - 60% for all the councils and boards nominated on political basis. Recently it has been extended to all political decision-making instances and the parties have to nominate one man and one woman candidate to all positions. The quotas have been most beneficial in paving the way and increasing the number of women in decision making positions. Formerly it seemed to be self evident that men were more competent than women to take any seat but with the quotas women finally got the chance to show their competence. The quota system is not applied in municipal and parliamentary elections.

In state government and leading positions in business life the share of women is negligible. We don’t have quotas for the private sector as in Norway. In politics Finnish women have risen to the position of Ministers, Speakers of Parliament and President. A few years ago all three Speakers of Parliament were women. At that point male Parliamentarians started to question whether this was equality and they said they would form their own networks. The quota system has proved to be useful also in securing the representation of men: of the present Cabinet the majority of ministers are women. Out of 20 ministers 12 are women and 8 men, beautifully following the principle of 60-40 %.

Concerning working life the Act on Equality stipulates that if there are more than 30 people working in a company the employer must include in the annual personnel programme actions to promote the realisation of gender equality in the workplace. The plan must include a salary survey and the positioning of men and women in various jobs. The aim is to narrow salary differences, and to get women and men to position themselves more equally both business-wise and job-wise. Attention is also paid to the recruitment and career development of personnel and to the use of family-political leaves, such as parental leaves. The employers are to fulfil these requirements on the pain of a fine.

Most of the Finnish women who work, work full time. This is made possible by the welfare services offered by the public sector. Already in 1943 free school meals were fixed by law. This is important as it enables women to work for a full-day. Other important services are the day-care system and the care of elderly and disabled persons. In 1973 the day-care system became statutory, in 1990 all children under 3 years of age could get a place in day-care. In 1996 the law was extended to include all children under school age (which is 7years) so that they received the subjective right to a place at the day-care centre – regardless of whether one or both parents were at home.
Many other benefits also available for families enhance equality between women and men. Mothers are entitled to a maternity allowance which is paid for 105 working days. During this period the father can also take a paternity leave up to 18 weekdays in order to participate in child care. A parental allowance is paid for 158 weekdays after the period of maternity allowance. This makes it possible for parents to take turns in caring for the child when the other parent works.
It has been proposed that the parents could be given an extended 18 month period after the birth of a child: the mother the first 6 months, the father the next 6 months and 6 months they could share or vice versa. In Finland this is still a dream but in Iceland a similar system with 4+4+4 months works very well.

Nowadays men engage more than before in the care of children and the home. Now they really want to take part. Almost all take their paternity leave of 18 days but are still reluctant to take the longer leaves because they might maybe be discriminated against in the work place or jeopardize their careers. Men have now also begun to engage in the discussion on gender equality, e.g. a book with the title “Men and Equality” has recently been published. A big concern for men nowadays - as many couples separate – are the rights of fathers in the case of divorce and the future custody of children.

Women have lower salaries than men in most countries; this is also true in Finland. The gap in pay is 20 %. The Governmental action plan for gender equality aims to diminish this gap to 15% by the year 2015. But women are tired of waiting. Quite a new phenomenon unexpectedly arouse last year when women’s trade organisations challenged the employers with the threat of a strike. The reason was that during the Parliamentary elections campaign several parties spoke for the sake of nurses and promised higher salaries. However during the pay talks the nurses were not given more. The disappointment was really so great that an extensive strike was planned- the nurses would go on strike from the most important duties in the hospitals. As they were told they could do this they were not allowed to strike they resigned from their jobs instead. Altogether 15 000 nurses signed their resignation papers. The Parliament passed a law in order to force the nurses to work and they were even threatened with imprisonment in case they refused! Luckily the strike was called off at the very last moment as the employers promised to raise their salaries by 15 %!

The Governmental action plan for Gender Equality which I already referred to was taken into the governmental program in 2004. It states inter alia that promotion of gender equality is the responsibility of the entire government. It also aims to mainstream gender throughout all public administration.
Measures linked to it have been initiated within the state administration. The most extensive ones are 1) development of gender equality in working life 2) gender mainstreaming measures within the state administration and 3) reduction of violence against women and of intimate partner violence.

In March this year the Ministers of Finance and Equality (both men) presented the newest project called “Gender equality glasses” to be used throughout the state administration. The Budget for 2009 is going to be a gender equality budget – this is a part of the gender mainstreaming policies. All the civil servant are told to use these gender equality glasses when preparing the state budget, they have to take into consideration how to distribute the common resources so that they benefit equally both women and men. The ministers said: good glasses have two lenses: one for the visual angle of men, the other of women, and both lenses are needed so that overall view will be clear. They emphasized that it is good economic management if assets are divided in a sensible way. They point out that the whole country will profit from this and at the same time equality between men and women will be furthered.

To work for equality is not only women’s responsibility. Men should be engaged in this work on an equal basis. Women and men are both needed to govern and improve society. Working together side by side they are able to take the best decisions and contribute to the positive development of a society which offers a better future for all citizens and the coming generations.

Laura Finne - Elonen
Former President of ECICW
Vice President ICW

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Berkshire Conference Suite, Holiday Inn, Maidenhead, Friday 25 April 2008

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