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’The Nordic countries need more Feminist Initiatives!’

The Nordic countries should use their position to promote a more advanced discussion on gender equality and equal treatment, said Gudrun Schyman at a gender equality seminar in Helsinki last week.

Gudrun Schyman
 Gudrun Schyman

Schyman, leader of the Swedish political party Feminist Initiatives, also criticised Finnish politicians for being too consensus-driven, saying it makes for toothless equality policy.

With reference to a panel discussion held earlier in the day, where representatives from eight parties participated, Schyman noted that the level of consensus was remarkably high. She also thought that the politicians on the panel had problems sticking to the core issue, which she said is typical when gender equality is discussed.

‘There’s a common notion that we all agree when it comes to gender equality and that we therefore don’t need to talk about it. At the same time it becomes evident how multifaceted the issue is. We need to rise up from the consensus soup!’

‘If the Finnish parties were as unanimous as they make it seem about the lack of gender equality being a problem, they would already have fixed it.’

Wants advanced discussion

According to Schyman, the Nordic countries should take advantage of their strong position and sophisticated welfare systems and instigate a more advanced discussion in the area of gender equality and equal treatment.

‘Politicising the gender equality issue is a way to move forward. Knowledge-transfer and organisation of effective opinion formation are also beneficial. The Nordic region needs more Feminist Initiatives,’ said Schyman, hoping that a Finnish party will take on the role as an explicitly feminist party in the parliamentary election this April.

‘The gender equality problem does not belong at the individual level. It has to do with social conflict. And the role of politics is to solve conflicts that are structural in nature, and not to create additional structures that cause problems,’ she said.

The resistance against true gender equality is according to Schyman related to coercive power patterns and structures in society that need to be made visible in all of our relationships, since they affect us from the cradle to the grave.

‘These key issues are often avoided. We need to ask ourselves who will benefit from things remaining as they are today.’

Violence against women – a disgrace

Several Finnish ministers attended Wednesday’s all-day seminar. Violence against women was described as a disgrace to the entire Nordic region.

‘The violence against women is an enormous problem. The money issue alone should be an incentive: It is estimated to cost Finland 90 million euro per year,’ said gender equality minister Susanna Huovinen.

She presented a final report of the current government’s gender equality policy 2012-2015. The report includes 66 measures to promote gender equality and eliminate gender-based discrimination in for example legislation, the labour market, education, citizen influence, economic matters, health and integration policy. The report also assesses the ministries’ success in reaching their targets. The assessment can be summarised as follows: Progress is being made. But far too slowly.

Justitieminister Anna-Maja Henriksson
Justitieminister Anna-Maja Henriksson

During her speech at the seminar, Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson proposed increased funding to crime victim support. She also proposed that a so-called crime victim fee be introduced. Such a fee would be mandatory for individuals found guilty of crimes that may result in jail time and would be used to fund support services for crime victims. She got the idea from the Crime Victim Fund in Sweden.

‘I cooperate a lot with my Nordic colleagues. Iceland and Sweden also have a model for parental leave that we need to look closer at and then try to create a flexible model that’s right for Finland,’ she said.

‘Gender equality – a matter of interpretation’

Finland differs from the other Nordic countries on several issues concerning the rights of same-sex couples and transgender persons. The country adopted a citizen initiative on gender-neutral marriage only last autumn. The final report on the Finnish government’s gender equality programme mentions increased equality for, among others, sexual and gender minorities as an important support measure to promote gender equality. Still, the Christian Democrats, one of the government parties, recently shot down a proposed new motherhood law that would have made it easier for same-sex female couples who would like to become parents.

The law would have made women in same-sex registered partnerships exempt from the internal adoption process. Also cohabiting two-mother couples would have been able to confirm the other parent’s motherhood when no father confirms fatherhood. Jouko Jääskeläinen, who represents the Christian Democrats in the parliament, thinks that the work to improve equality between women and men becomes more difficult when issues concerning sexual minorities and gender minorities are thrown into the equation.

‘As we see it, what to include in gender equality work is a matter of interpretation. Our opinion differs from the interpretation stipulated in the gender equality programme and in the proposed new motherhood and marriage legislations,’ he says.

Minister of Justice Henriksson regrets that the proposed new motherhood legislation did not go through. Now it is up to the next government to address the issue, ‘if there’s a will’.

Updated 18 June 2020