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Speech on international women’s day (March 8th 2017)

Speech on international women’s day, New Delhi 8.3.2017

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear honorable guests

 

 

Happy international women’s day!

 

Hundred years ago, Finland was a rural and developing country. Small northern land with status as autonomic state of the empire of Russia. The idea of independent Finland was just an idea, but supported strongly by our own governmental structures, language, laws and culture. Little did our great-grandfathers and -mothers know, what kind of success story our country would become.

 

Last year we celebrated 110 years of Finnish suffragette. Eleven years before the declaration of independence, Finland became the first country in the world where women had both right to vote and were eligible for parliament. In the first parliament elections in 1907, nineteen women were selected in our 200-seated parliament. These nineteen women were the first female MP’s in the world.

 

Until post-world war 2-era, Finland remained rather rural and underdeveloped country with tense political situation and very few chances to progress. After the war, Finnish industry began to grow. Our country started to export more and began to prosper. With industrial development, loans from World Bank and support from the United Nations pushed Finland forward. The economic prosperity gave Finns more options to develop our country. The idea of social structure that would support all the people depending on their needs, more effective school system and values of equality, human rights and rule of law all began to form up as a model of Nordic welfare state.

 

It is fair to ask what really is the most essential component to Finnish equality. I would say it is education. The fact that our grandmothers and fathers decided to invest in education and in the future. Equal access to education for both boys and girls. Free education. Free school meals. Highly professional teachers and a stable school system that lets children learn, grow and find themselves in safe environment. Today 100-year-old Finland is an equal, Nordic welfare state with remarkable skills in science and research, often ranked as the most innovative country in the world. This would not be so if we had not treated people as equals and made use of the human potential we have.

 

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In 2015, United Nations launched the sustainable development goals, agenda 2030, to support global development. The sustainable development goals are universal and put heavy focus on human rights, especially on women’s rights. Every country has their own homework to do but we can also help each other to reach these ambitious goals.

 

Considering human rights, gender equality is the most meaningful one of the seventeen goals. It states out the most obvious when it comes to equality between genders and serves as roof for all goals that support and encourage all kind of participation of women. Goals like “no poverty”, “good health and well-being”, “quality education”, “decent work and economic growth” and “reduced inequalities” all give their own important support for women’s rights.

 

The development policies focused on women can be placed in three categories. First one is the basic human rights. Right to grow up as a girl without forced marriage, child rape or violence with decent health services that take into account sexual and reproductive health. Right to your own body should be an unchallenged principle. However, even today girls’ right to their own body is not clear and issues occur all over the world in forms of violence, forced marriages and both physical and mental discrimination. It is also a problem in Finland, where women face domestic violence too often. Ongoing problem with violence against women at home is shameful for Finland’s reputation as a country that drives heavily woman rights and well-being. Even one hit is too much.

 

The second one is right to be an equal citizen. It all starts with quality education giving girls an option to educate themselves more and creating more chances in life. As society recognizes the potential that comes from educating girls, the amount of skilled labor grows and creates better chances for economic growth. Including girls in education and women in working life have remarkable impact on the development of society. Decent education is a problem in many developing countries where girls education is still not considered as a priority.

 

The third one is the role of social security services and structures. Social security, maternity leaves, maternity clinics, childcare and care for the elderly all have a great impact on equality in society. These social structures are especially important for women, family and parenthood. They have been a key component in the development of Finnish society, ensuring that both parents have an option to stay home or participate into working life. Currently there is big discussion in Finland considering the reform of family leaves, as the current system does not encourage mothers enough to use their option to return to work.

 

Agenda 2030 has been taken seriously in Finland. We have made empowerment of women and fighting for women’s and girls’ rights as top priority in our development policies. Unfortunately we stand in a rather inclusive group of countries with only few other European countries, Canada, Australia and United States. USA has been the biggest funder of international organizations that support women and girls, but it seems that funding will undergo major cuts by president Trump. We do not let this stop us. Finland is part of “She decides”-initiative as one of its biggest funders. She decides is an initiative started by the Netherlands, which looks ways to patch the hole in development funding left by USA. Last time something like this happened in the United States, EU allocated more of its resources towards women in development funding. Unfortunately, conservative powers have gained foothold also in Europe and support for women rights and sexual and reproductive health are not as obvious as they should be. In these difficult times, European values of equality and human dignity need their defenders.

 

Gender equality on global scale is still far away and we need more countries, organizations and people to support this goal. Women can be powerful agents of change if their rights are fully realized. This is something every country has something to work at.

 

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Finland tends to top most equality ratings and women in working life are doing quite well. The employment rate is quite similar with women and men. However, women do considerably more part-time jobs than men and short-term contracts are more common. Women also face more discrimination in working life than men.

 

Gender wage gap between men and women is a major issue in Finland. When we talk about pay gap, we mean the amount of payment women get in comparison to men during their lifetime. Finnish women earn around 82 percent of the salary of men. Academics have pointed out that around 70 percent of this gap is caused by segregation between female- and male-professions. For example, our social and health-sector consists mostly of women, around 87 percent of people working on health and social sector are female. If put bluntly, the main difference is between women-occupied public sector with low salaries and men-dominated private sector with better salaries.

 

Segregation in work force is mostly caused by old attitudes. Women got equal status with men in Finland quite early. However, back then not all professions were seen fit for women. This legacy carries on even today and the seeds of segregation that were sown over hundred years ago still affect the society and attitudes. Education and working life are both heavily affected by ideas of professions suitable only for women or men.

 

The number of women entrepreneurs in Finland has grown in recent years but only around every one of three entrepreneurs is a woman. Research has shown that women are more careful when building their businesses. The percentage of single or small-scale companies among women is much larger than among men. Women entrepreneurs tend to face more obstacles than their male counterparts do. For example, getting a loan from bank can be more difficult and might immediately stop even the most promising business idea from coming true.

 

In Finland, it is estimated that about 40 percent of employees have a woman as their closest superior. However, this does not carry on when progressing towards higher positions and in many companies glass ceilings are still waiting to be crashed.

 

Encouraging women to start companies and make them grow have also impact toward woman leadership. Women leadership leads to growing number of visible and empowering stories and encourages girls to look forward with more ambition.

 

The continuing empowerment of women makes equality sustainable. Too often people settle with a once broken glass ceiling. In Finland we have had women as president, prime minister and chair of the parliament. Women have also held very male-dominated positions like minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance. Reaching these milestones is extremely important, but they are not to be taken as something rare after they have happened. Otherwise, the ceiling fixes itself and makes it harder for the next woman to reach the same height. The participation and success of women does not depend on the skills of women. It depends on the attitude of us all.

 

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Women in the world face many problems and the most disorienting of them is gender-based violence. In daily life, women are almost always defendants and so many have to face violence because of their gender. From daily life to most difficult times, let it be refugee crisis, earthquake, civil war or some other humanitarian catastrophe, women and girls are always the ones most vulnerable. The culture and attitude towards women needs to change everywhere. Full potential of people cannot be realized if half of them face systematic oppression and understatements from the other half.

 

When I served as minister of development in Finland, I visited the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordania. There I saw the harsh reality women have to face in these situations. The camp was uphold by UNHCR in co-op with other organizations. UN Women was there also and they did very important and remarkable job aiding women who had suffered violence. I would like to use this opportunity to thank the UN Women Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka for all the work you do here. It is truly remarkable and definitely deserves more support. Thank you.

 

*****

 

Dear all,

 

The international day of women is a special day. It gives us great opportunity to cut the borders of nations and discuss about role of women globally. We all have our challenges with equality but we all can support each other and find solutions to our problems. Finland’s success is formed by gender equality, which is not only matter of justice and fairness; it also serves a purpose in economic sense. Economies become larger and more versatile when both men and women participate as equals. Only economies that make use of their full potential will remain competitive and grow.

 

I would like to thank Ms. Ambassador, Embassy of Finland, UN women, Fortum and all the sponsors, my colleague from parliament of India and all the other speakers who are here today to discuss these important matters. Equality is a road that we can always look back and feel proud of everything we have done, but we also need to look forward and be ready to overcome new obstacles.

 

I end with words by Minna Canth, Finnish writer and woman with European values, who paved the way for Finnish women in late 19th century:

“Women's issues are not just women's issues, but a question of humanity.”

 

I wish you all happy and empowering international women’s day!


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