Maria Kaisa Aula
Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments
© Jan 2001
Maria Kaisa Aula
I was interested in society and social questions even at school and participated in politics more or less even as a young girl. At the university, my major was political science. Politics and, so to say, 'saving the world' have always interested me. I am a kind of idealist...
2. Do/Did you have a role model?
I am not sure if I have had any 'role models', but members of my family both from my mother's and my father's side have been in politics. My mother is a chairperson of the municipal council in Tervola (her home village in Lapland). She started her political career in the 1970s when I was a schoolgirl, and I remember the political work she was doing then. Also my grandfather, from my father's side, was active in local politics.
3. Does political involvement or policy making have a tradition in your family?
I never had a plan to go into politics, even if politics had never been unfamiliar to me. I thought I might become a journalist or an academic researcher, and I have even worked as a university teacher. At that point, there were parliamentary elections, and I did not have a permanent job - a university teacher seldom does - and the job was quite insecure and the salary was low... So, even this kind of thing can be an influence... On the other hand, I had spent a year (1989-1990) at Harvard University, where students were encouraged to participate in politics. Perhaps this also had an effect... so I became inspired by the idea...
4. Have you been engaged in political grassroots activities before your involvement in party politics - e.g. in a citizens' rights, parents or other initiative? If so, in which function, in which institution and when did your political carrier begin?
Yes, if one includes youth and student organizations as grassroots activities... At the university I was involved in student union politics, and was a member of the council and government of the student union at Helsinki University... Issues related to developing countries have always interested me. So, if I think about grassroots activism, it was about more or less dealing with developing countries or fair trade. I have even been to Africa a couple of times as a university student. I also participated in Anti-Nuclear Power movement... Grassroots activities seem to be like trends changing from topic to topic according to the situation, at least back in the 1980s. Therefore, we were involved in several kinds of activities.
5. Where there disruptions in your political career path and why?
Naturally, in a period when I was abroad (at Harvard University, where she wrote her licentiate thesis), and also in the late 1980s when I got tired of all the associations once and a while... Especially during the period when I was abroad as a postgraduate student, I thought that it would be nice to take a breath for a while. However, after that, I became interested in politics again.
6. How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
When I started in parliamentary politics, I was still more like a student politician and I was demanding better student grants and other typical objectives of student politics. Now my objectives are more general - such as renewing society and economic policy; they have widen out...
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I became a member of the youth organization of the Centre Party when I was at the higher secondary school, in 1979 or in 1980. It is possible to join the youth organization at the age of 16... When I began my studies at the university, I joined the student organization of the Centre Party and became the first female leader of that organization. It was during the year 1984 -1985. No woman had never been elected to that position; I was the first one.
2. Does your party have an equal opportunities regulation?
Yes, there is something about that in the new rules of the party, which have been in force for couple of years now. Before that, it was not mentioned... They came when the rules were renewed... the preceding rules must be from the 1980s, I think. Now we have equal opportunities regulations which include certain objectives such as: in the member selection of the decision-making bodies of the party the principle of gender equality should be taken into account - or something like that... The rules does not include gender quotas, because, actually, quotas are quite difficult to implement in an organization, which has a lot of regional associations like the Centre Party does... Quotas would be, at least partially, inconsistent with an Associations Act... Perhaps, not so strictly but, it was thought, "let's try this first". Otherwise it would have caused a quite complicated situation in many ways.
3. Which function/offices did you hold in your party at the beginning? How long after your joining the party was that? How did you get into running for an office?
I have been a Vice-President of the party from the year 1994... and I was Esko Aho's special political assistant from the year 1993 to 1994 - a year and a half (the present leader of the Centre Party, Mr. Aho, was a prime minister at that time, 1991-1994). Before that, I was the leader of the student organization of the Centre Party, and a member of the party government (which kind of follows, if one is a leader of the important member organization of the Centre Party, he/she is usually also a member of the party government).
4. Did you have mentors within your party?
Of course I have mentors, how else would I have moved on (pushed forward) if I would not have supporters inside the party? However, they have been more like, as one can call them, peer mentors, not older than me, but people of the same age.
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As a researcher with my main interests being media and politics and the state, naturally (they correspond).
2. What kind of qualifications do you have?
In addition to my university degrees in political science I have passed an examination of the Conservatory of Music (college of music). After that I have studied piano playing, and would have become a music teacher, if I had continued the studies...
3. What kind of jobs have you done?
I was a journalist in the newspapers in the 1980s. When I was still studying at the university, I became an acting legislative secretary in the Parliament, assisting the parliamentary group of the Centre Party, for six months. After I graduated, in 1981, I worked in several research projects (grants and short-time contracts) as a researcher in the research department of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE).
4. Are you linking both your professional and your political career?
Not so much as I would like. At the beginning of my parliamentary career, I tried to finish my dissertation (doctoral thesis) during the summer holidays, but I gave up, because I was tired and wanted to have even this time off, but I do follow what is going on in my field so that I am not totally out.
5. In which areas do you see your special competencies?
Economic policy, integration policy (EU issues), communication and media questions. I am also familiar with issues of education policy.
6. Which are your political priorities?
Well, it is a kind of general justice. Naturally, different people could define this in different ways, but to me justice is the leading principle. In politics, I prefer collaboration; I am seeking solutions, which connect the interests of different social or interests groups. I am more like a 'both-and' type than 'either-or' politician, more a mediator than a person with antagonistic views. Justice has so many dimensions - social justice, regional justice, and both national and international justice. As a matter of fact, justice covers all the important matters.
7. Which are your main fields of actions?
EU issues, education policy, economic policy etc.
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It is difficult to say after I have been so long in politics. So many objectives have emerged that it is difficult to take up just one or two, but... What connects economy and justice are such reforms in taxation, in social security schemes and in employers' social security costs which stimulate... so that as many people as possible would be employed - all reforms which would decrease unemployment. In my opinion, unemployment and long-term unemployment are the main factors behind social injustice. Unemployment is followed by poverty and social exclusion. On the other hand, if we think about the rapid development towards the information society... This also pushes people aside, to an 'outer circle'.
2. How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
Naturally, concrete objectives like they used to be - such as student issues etc. - have changed in course of time. And naturally, because I am in the field (as a political scientist ) my objectives have always been far-reaching or related to the renewal of society. I have never been a one-cause politician. For example, I am now a member of both the Grand Committee of Parliament and the Finance Committee Parliament... I am the chair of the Finance Committee of Parliament. Both of these Committees deal with issues that go beyond the boundaries of public administration. I have always been interested in general issues and not so much in single issues. Well, perhaps previously, one could say that education policy was my field, which I examined and into which I got an insight. After that I have updated and achieved expertise so that education policy may be the one from which I have extended my interests to economic policy and EU issues.
3. Do equal opportunity strategies - in your opinion - have an impact in your country to promote women in decision-making? (quota, EO legislation, etc... please name the strategy)
The legislation on gender equality has naturally melted attitudes so that during the 1990s, we have moved from the 'policy of token women' to the 'policy of necessary women'. Previously, there had to be an obligatory woman, which meant one woman only. Today, this is not enough; it is necessary to have more than one woman. Even in my party, it is now evident that there should be more women; one woman is not enough. The parliamentary elections of 1991 were such a breakthrough that they really changed attitudes... Especially, if thinking about the Centre Party, many more women were elected in parliament and appointed in the Government in the 1990s than in the 1980s. I think that this change from an obligatory woman to necessary women has been the greatest change. Furthermore, gender quotas have had a positive effect in local politics. In municipal executive boards they have even doubled the number of female members, on average, in the whole country.
4. Did you benefit from these strategies?
Yes, partially. I have to admit that in politics my (female) sex has been an advantage more than a disadvantage - I have benefited from being a woman. Perhaps I just happened to be in a right place at the right time - when there was this great interest to get young women into politics. Young women were really wanted in politics. Perhaps it is now even so, that young men are feeling that they are discriminated against on the grounds of their sex. Even all this 'goose' publicity (women's magazines and tabloids) is mostly about women politicians. Women really benefit from by this too. These kinds of publicity means women politicians are able to reach people on an everyday level.
5. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in "conventional" policy-making? What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
Yes, I think that there are, relating to attitudes, so to say, but I think that it is now more a question of age or generation. Many older men may have hidden stereotyped attitudes towards women so that they do not believe in women's capabilities and competence, but the younger men do not have this anymore. Then sometimes, you find that in journalism - perhaps they are the same hidden attitudes of middle-aged men - that women's sayings or statements, for example, in plenary sessions of the Parliament or when making statements, are not taken seriously. Especially, when the topic is economic policy or other kinds of 'hard' issue, women's sayings are ignored or not taken seriously. This is what I have noticed.
A good example would be that if a party gives information in a media spot attended by leading figures of the party, both men and women, it may be that everything that female politicians say is put into men's mouths or that it may be printed that 'in general, it was said...' and so on. Women's sayings are left without attention. However, all the names of the men attended are mentioned and it is surely printed that these (male) politicians were present and said something.
6. You are the third woman politician who mentions that political journalism discriminates women?
One feature in political journalism may be interesting, namely that most of the professional journalists in this field are middle-aged men, which have been buzzing here in the Eduskunta for many decades. I think that it is a matter of the world view of the middle-aged men - as they saw it, all that the male politicians say seem to make more sense and look more like news compared with the issues the female politicians take up.
7. What is that keeps women from committing themselves to politics? What are the major obstacles?
It is not any regulation or something like that, but it is women's double-burden: a lack of time in general. This is the greatest obstacle, I think. Most women are working outside the home, and they usually have a family and children and all this domestic work at home. In addition, the pressures at work have enormously increased during the 1990s. This means that all this, the request of life-long education and all the other demands at work, and then to arrange time if you have to for political activity, is not so simple... especially if you really want to influence and not just sit on the back bench of municipal council, for example. Yes, this is the main obstacle. We have to recognize that there is not enough time to do all this and we need measures, which would ease the workload at home.
8. What obstacles have you had to overcome in your own career?
Well, since I do not have children, it is easier to participate. How should I put this, but it is perhaps because of the politics, at least partially. I may even think that politics have even too much influenced my life, since I do not have children. But of course this situation has made things easier for me.
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