Finland has always been proud of its commitment to gender equality and is a nation that doesn’t have to cling to its feminist ‘firsts’.
With an overall impressive pipeline of female politicians with the potential to continue to advance to top political as well as business leadership, Finland has even made a quirky international campaign out of its gender-neutral pronoun “hän”. The Nordic nation has exported its linguistic commitment to a world where no one is defined as “he” or “she”.
Last week, Finland found a far more potent ambassador for gender equality when Social Democrat Sanna Marin was sworn in as Prime Minister. The 34-year-old is the youngest serving Prime minister in the world. She will be heading a coalition of five parties and a cabinet dominated by women. Finland is the first country in Europe to give women the vote in 1906 and allow them to stand as candidates in elections that same year. The pioneering nation in political gender equality had a widely liked female president who served for 12 years as well as two female prime ministers since the beginning of this century.
Amidst a weakening economy and growing pressure on Finland’s expansive welfare state, the country’s left-wing coalition will be preserved by Marin’s rise to the top of Finnish politics against an increasingly popular conservative opposition. Finland’s liberal voters are hoping that she will work on the bloc’s liberal ideas more effectively than her predecessor.
Since a photograph of the new prime minister with three of her women cabinet members, all in their thirties, made the headlines, there has been a lot of focus on gender. Even though feminists across nations applauded and congratulated the new prime minister, others have been highly critical. A lot of sexist tendencies were observed with excessive mainstream media coverage on the looks of the new prime minister. The question of how an “inexperienced” woman be entrusted with all that power was, unfortunately, also raised.
The attention being paid to Marin’s gender is “jarring”, according to a political-science professor in Helsinki who told The Times that women had held significant power in Finland since the 1980s. The attention should be focused on the shift in representation with the age of the coalition leaders. Johanna Kantola, professor of gender studies at Tampere University, said that the labor market has been at the heart of women’s political progress in Finland.
There is no doubt that the composition of the coming new government sent a powerful message. It gives us hope for a day when gender will no longer be of any importance in politics. After Spain, Finland now has the second-highest percentage of female ministers in the world with twelve of the nineteen new Finnish cabinet members being women.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This article is written by Apoorva Vardhan, our intern.