Quick facts

Qualitative facts

1.  Electoral system and party system and their impact on women

2.  History of Women's suffrage

3.  Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and women in political decision-making
   a.  Infrastructure responsible for EO
   b.  Women's participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy
   c.  Actions initiated to promote women's participation in politics

Europäische Datenbank: Frauen in Führungspositionen

Report from Finland by our transnational partner
Jaana Katriina Kuusipalo

Quick facts
Women in Politics:
Women's suffrage active: 1906
Women's suffrage passive: 1906
1st Women in parliament: 1907-1919 10% women in the first parliament
1st Women in government: 1926 Miina Sillapää,
Ministry of Social Affairs
1st Ministry on women's issues: No Ministry
% women in national Parliament: 37,0% (2000)
% women in national Government: 38,9% (2000)
Electoral System:
Proportional: PR with preferential voting, d'Hondt regional list-system, multi-member constituencies.
Quota Law: Act on Equality between Women and Men (amendment in 1995).
Party Quota: On party no quota regulation level for candidate selection, but for decision-making bodies.
% women with secondary degree: 58,0% (1996/1997)
% women with degree in higher education: 58,0% (1997)
% women in senior management: 4,1% (1999)
Women's employment rates:
Full time: 54,7% (1998)
Part-time: 16,9% (1998)
Activity rate: 70,4% (1998)
Unemployment: 12,0% (1998)
*sources: Employment in Europe 1999 and Schlüsselzahlen zum Bildungswesen in der Europäischen Union, Amt für amtliche Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Gemeinschaft 1997, Luxemburg; European Database - Women in Decision-Making and data by transnational experts.

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Qualitative facts

1. Electoral system and party system and their impact on women

Finland has a multi-party system and PR electoral system (d'Hondt) with multi-member constituencies. This system opens lists and offers preferential voting that seems to favour women. * This is especially noticeable since more than half of the female voters (57%) and 25% of the male voters vote for women (poll, 1991). The system enables the tactic of supporters to concentrate their votes on a few (female) candidates. (To minimize vote splitting, a person can be elected with often relatively limited support.) Previously this was the main tactic of women's organizations within political parties. Since 1978, primaries among party members have been required by law for the selection of candidates. This may also have helped women in the multi-party system with hard party competition. Increasing the number of female candidates has also enabled political parties to attract female voters.
Most (53%) of the female MP's are from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Coalition Party (KOK). These are among the three largest parties (with the Centre Party). In addition, the small parties have female MP's. For example, the majority (82%) of the MP's of the Green League (VIHR) are now women.

* Source: Victoria Garcia Munoz: Differential Impact of the Electoral Systems on Female Political Representation; European Parliament, 1997.

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2. History of Women's suffrage

Finland, then an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia, was the first in Europe and the second in the world to give women the right to vote and to stand for Parliament. In 1906, universal suffrage extended to both sexes at the same time. This was the aim of both the Social Democratic Party (1899) and the temperance movement, but it was the women's movement that kept the issue of women's suffrage on the public agenda. Since only 8% of the whole population had the right to vote, universal suffrage was not only women's issue. Women participated along with men in the national movement (across the class lines) against 'russification' (the tsar's decision to reverse the autonomy in 1899). The struggle ended to the General Strike in 1905. After this point, the radical parliamentary reform with unicameral 200-member parliament came into force in 1906. The first democratic elections were held in 1907 and 19 women, 10% from nearly all existing political parties, were elected. Universal suffrage in municipal elections was received in the same year as the Independence (1917). Since this time, the Finnish women have had a high representation in the Eduskunta breaking the record of 20% in 1970, 30% in 1983, and nearly 40% in 1991. Now the proportion of women in the Eduskunta is 37% (1999) and in municipal councils 31.5% (1996).

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3. Legal framework for the promotion of a balance between men and women in political decision-making

The Constitution Act of Finland (1995)*: A general aim of promoting equality of the sexes: (Section 5(4)): Equality of the sexes shall be promoted in social activities and in working life, particularly in the determination of remuneration and other terms of service, in a manner more precisely specified by Act of Parliament.
Act on Equality between Women and Men (1987; amendments in 1988, 1992, and 1995)**: (1) The promotion of the equality of the sexes is an official duty of public authorities: (Section 4(1)): Public authorities shall promote equality between women and men by planning and setting objectives, and especially by changing such circumstances which prevent equality of the sexes. (2) Gender quotas (40/60): (Section 4(2)): The minimum percentage of both women and men in government committees, advisory boards and other corresponding bodies, and in municipal bodies, exclusive of municipal councils, shall be 40, unless there are special reasons to the contrary. (Section 4(3)): If an agency, an institution or a municipal or State-majority company has an administrative board, board of directors or some other executive or administrative body consisting of elected or appointed representatives, that organ shall comprise an equitable proportion of both women and men, unless there are special reasons to the contrary. (3) The promotion of the equality between women and men is a responsibility of employers:(Section 6a): If an employer regularly employs a staff of at least 30, said employer shall include measures to further equality between women and men at the workplace in the annual personnel and training plan or the action programme for labour protection. (4) Special measures (positive actions) to promote equality between women and men are allowed: Employers are also otherwise encouraged to draw up these so-called equality plans. According to the Section 9 procedure based on a plan aiming at practical fulfillment of the aim of this Act shall not be deemed to constitute discrimination.

* Basic reference in the Constitution: A constitutional law or similar legal text.
** Equal opportunities legislation: Quota concerning electoral lists, parties, advisory boards, the civil service etc.; if relevant, also failed important attempts to produce such legislation.

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a. Infrastructure responsible for EO

Permanent equal status institutions in Finland: (1)The Council for Equality between Men and Women is appointed by the Government for a period of 3 years, and comprises 13 members, nominated by political parties. The Council has a permanent Secretariat, including a Coordinator for Women's Studies (since 1981). (2) The Office of the Ombudsman for Equality;The Equality Board (1987) have 5 members representing expertise in the areas of law, industrial relations, and gender equality.
The 'equality movement' (Yhdistys 9) and a state committee on status of women (1966-1970) initiated the idea of founding the Council for Equality between Men and Women in 1972 1. Set up as a standing committee under the Prime Minister's office, it indicated that gender equality issues (at least should) concern all sectors of public administration (mainstreaming). In 1986, the Council was moved under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. A 'committee structure' reflected the trend to integrate different interest groups into the state machinery. However, it also reflected a low status placed on the gender equality issues. The Council had no direct authority, but was instead given a 'policy-advisory role' of rendering advice to policy-makers and initiating public debates in order to 'change attitudes'. However, it gave a forum for politicians and representatives of women's organizations to discuss, for example in different 'divisions' (working groups) special themes. Present 'divisions' include ones for research (since 1981), for men's role (since 1988), for violence against women as well as for 'welfare state and gender equality' (1999). These divisions reflect the recent interests of the Council. The tasks of the Council include co-ordination of research as well as initiatives and drafting of reforms in co-operation with other public authorities 2. A cabinet minister for gender equality (since 1980s), whose task is tagged on to some other area of responsibility 3, secure support for reforms. A minister and government's gender equality programmes (1981-1986 and 1997-1999) have guaranteed a certain degree of recognition by the government. It is also important for mainstreaming to have a cabinet minister especially for gender equality. Furthermore, mainstreaming, already the aim of the Council in the 1970s, was the main principle of the Government's Action Plan for Gender Equality for the period 1997-1999. The Finnish equality legislation focuses primarily on working life, but includes quotas and recommendations on promoting gender balance in political decision-making. 4 The mandate of the Equality Ombudsman and the Equality Board (1987) is to oversee the observance of the equality legislation, the latter having the authority to prohibit actions and give fines (sanctions). The tasks of the Ombudsman are: to further gender equality in society, render advice, disseminate information, handle complaints as well as to assist complainants and bring their cases before a court. She also has an authority to inspect workplaces 5. The statements on the interpretation of the equality legislation made by the Ombudsman have directed the implementation of the gender equality legislation 6.

1 State machinery to promote gender equality was initiated in early 1960s by the United Nations.
2 The major reforms are the Act on Equality between Women and Men (1987; amended 1988, 1992, and 1995) and the Act on the Equality Ombudsman and Equality Board (1987).
3 Rather uniquely, from 1991 to 1995 the minister in charge was a female minister of defence. At this time, the Minister for Gender Equality is a minister for social services.
4 Promoting gender balance in advisory bodies and public committees was recommended by the Council in 1974. The aim was later strengthened by gender quotas (amendment, 1995) that changed the composition of the new Council for Equality between Men and Women (1995). It now includes 6 male and 7 female members.
5 The division of labour between the Council and the Ombudsman has been considered in a special working group. The task of the former is the general political preparation of the gender equality policy. The task of the latter will be to take a stand on the new reforms. This may occur in her duty of overseeing the observance of the legislation.
6 According to the present Ombudsman, the courts have generally begun to take gender equality issues more seriously, particularly after Finland joined the EU (1995).

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b. Women's participation in politics as a governmental objective and strategy

The objective written in the (first) Action Plan for Gender Equality of the Finnish Government (1981-86) was to find measures to increase women's representation in government committees, advisory boards and alike. This objective was initiated by the Council for Equality in early 1970s, and was 'inspired' by the UN's women's decade and CEDAW. In the Act on Equality between Women and Men (1987), a general objective was stated that there should be both men and women in government committees, advisory boards and alike. This legislation was one of the conditions of the ratification of CEDAW (1986). Since the proportion of women in those bodies did not increase much, gender quotas (40/60) were applied to them as established by the amendment of the Act in 1995. In the final vote concerning the proposal, all the male ministers voted 'no', while all the female ministers voted for quotas. In the second Action Plan for Gender Equality (1997-99), there are no objectives or strategies to promote gender equality in political decision-making. There is, however, a modest target to increase women's proportion in administrative boards of State-majority companies to 30% and an aim to increase women's participation in decision-making on agriculture and forestry issues*.

* The only concrete measure, excluding the legislation on gender equality, probably ever undertaken (initiated by the Council for Equality) by the Finnish Government to promote gender equality in political decision-making, was in 1975. One ninth of the state support for political parties (legislated by a decree in 1973) was to be given to women's organizations within political parties by the government decision. However, the Act on Equality states that the promotion of gender equality is a duty of public authorities. It asserts a responsibility to make actions plans for gender equality. This, in principle, allows for measures to increase women's proportion in decision-making positions of public administration (such as top-level civil servants).

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c. Actions initiated to promote women's participation in politics

Based on the initiative of the Council for Equality between Women and Men, one ninth of the state support for political parties (legislated by a decree in 1973), was to be given to women's organizations within political parties by the government decision in 1975. The women's organizations within political parties - along with the Council for Equality - are the main actors in promoting women's representation in politics in Finland. There is a unique network for political and nonpolitical women's organizations (NGO's) called the Coalition of Finnish Women's Associations for Joint Action (Nytkis, founded in 1988). This includes all the women's organizations within political parties. Nytkis works for gender equality across party lines. Often in close cooperation with the Council for Equality, it has organized numerous seminars, awareness raising campaigns, and even electoral campaigns (in municipal and parliamentary elections) to back the female candidates. The cooperation between the Council and Nytkis resulted, for example, in the 1991 parliamentary elections, in a campaign called "Elect 101 women to Eduskunta (the parliament of Finland)!" A problem, which Nytkis has tried to solve for several years, is that women's organizations (NGO's) in general, and Nytkis itself, do not receive financial support from the Government on regular basis. However, the aim to establish state (financial) support on a regular basis for women's organizations involved in international cooperation on gender equality (such as Nytkis and its member organizations) was stated in the Action Plan for Gender Equality of the Finnish Government in 1997-99. Another 'ally' of the Council has been Statistics Finland, and especially its Gender Statistics' department. Among other things, it has published, on annual basis, statistics on women's position in society, including women's representation in political decision-making bodies. In addition, the Gender Statistics has published special reports, for example, on women leaders in private sector (Women and Men at the Top, 1997 etc.) and on women in political decision-making (Women and Men in Decision-Making in the Finnish Society, 1989/99). As a result of the cooperation between Statistics Finland and the Council for Equality, the first Barometer for Gender Equality in Finland was published in 1998. This will soon be followed by the report based on the results of the indicators developed to measure gender equality in decision-making. Scientific (academic) research on women in politics is not financed by any government programme, but the Council for Equality has published some special studies on this subject in the 1970s and 1980s.

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