Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments
© Jan 2001
There were no role models at the beginning. I was interested in society and history already as a schoolgirl. Even then, I was very active... After the matriculation examination from higher secondary school, I went into professional training for nurses. I planned to go to work abroad in some developing country as a trained nurse, but instead I moved to Helsinki and started to work as a trained nurse in a hospital. While working there, I started to think about women's position in working life in terms of wages, particularly. At that time, trained nurses really had low salaries (compared with other professionals with similar education). This was before the strike (the strike of trained nurses in the beginning of the 1980s).
I wrote to the newspapers (to 'public opinion' pages)... My first political act, so to say, was when I wrote to Savon Sanomat (a regional newspaper) about women's low wages in female-dominated fields (like health care) and about underestimation of women's occupations - so as to make these problems a part of public debate and not just a quarrel inside the hospital buildings. Ordinary people set high value on the work of trained nurses, but this was not shown in wages.
Then I was active in Tehy (the Finnish trade union for trained nurses and other staff in the field of health care), but not in any leading positions. Then I thought that I would not stay at the hospital and that I wanted to study something else. At that moment, I had already joined the Women's Rights Movement Union. I was not a member of any political party at that time, I was 'studying the world'. I was interested in environmental questions, 'green things', but I also had a strong interest in social (welfare) issues and women's issues.
I left the hospital work and started my studies in social and political sciences at the University of Helsinki. At that time, I became very active, and was involved in university student activities. We organised a discussion group on social and political questions and even a 'women's club' within the university students' association called Savolainen Osakunta (for students coming from the Savo region in Finland) which was unheard-of! In this 'women's club' ('akkakerho'), there were a lot of female students and we had lively discussions on different themes.
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Among my friends there were such persons who were involved in party politics and also in the Social Democratic Party. So, I started to participate in the meetings of the Social Democratic Student Association. After a while, I wanted to join the party. It was quite natural choice... My 'path' went from a low-wage, female- dominated sector of working life to being part of an independent feminist organization. Then I pondered if this were not enough. Women's questions could not be solved without trying to influence society in other ways too. I decided to do that through the trade union movement and politics. This is how it went.
2. Does your party have an equal opportunities regulation?
The Social Democratic Party of Finland has regulations for gender equality including gender quotas (40/60) which guarantee a minimum representation of women or men in a party council and in a party government. The party government meets once a week and the leader of the party chairs the meeting. Members of the party council are elected regionally so that all the electoral districts get their representatives in the council, which comes together two times per year. There is also a working group on gender equality in the party. The Social Democratic Women (the women's organisation within the party) is responsible for women's activities inside the party.
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 joined the party (SDP) in 1983... In 1989 I got an office as a General Secretary of the Social Democratic Women (the women's organisation of the Social Democratic Party of Finland) in which position I was for seven years before I was elected in the Eduskunta (Parliament of Finland)... I had been an active worker in the party as well as in the Helsinki district organisation of the Social Democratic Women.
In those days, I was planning a career as a researcher. I was working in the research department of the Social Insurance Institution (KELA) and was then 'espied' by the social democratic women. This was after Riitta Myller had followed Marianne Laxen as a General Secretary of the Social Democratic Women. I was elected to that office in 1989 and worked there until 1996 (she was elected in the Parliament in 1995). Before that, I was elected to the Helsinki City Council in 1988... Inside the party (SDP), I have had responsibilities all through the 1990s - I was a chairperson of several expert work groups of the party including issues like gender equality, equal pay, health care policies, social policies and so on. Then I was a member of the party government in the 1990's and ran for the leading offices of the party, but did not succeed.
4. Did you have mentors within your party?
The women's organisation (the Social Democratic Women) as a whole as well as youth and student's organisations of the party have supported me during the 1980s - when I was a university student; I had joined the party in the early 1980s. First I was a member of the Youth Organisation of the SDP while also being active in the women's organisation of the party. So, it was the people in the youth and the women's organisations of the party which have supported me. And also people who work or are close to the fields of social and health care.
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As a university student, I was working at the research department of the Social Insurance Institution (Kansaneläkelaitos, KELA). I was a research assistant and wrote my master's thesis while being there. From KELA, I moved to the Probation and After-Care Association (Kriminaalihuoltoyhdistys) where there was a research project on recidivism financed by the Ministry of Justice. I conducted interviews in prisons and planned to make my licentiate thesis on that subject, but when I was pulled into the Social Democratic Women, I have to leave the career of a researcher behind me. I thought about it for two days or better to say, nights (and made my choice)...
2. Are you linking both your professional and your political career? In which areas do you see your special competencies?
As a member of the parliament, I try to maintain my expert knowledge (in the field of social and health care)... I have never been able to 'get rid' of my background... By reading and studying, I have tried to follow the debates on these issues that for me are: equality and social and health care, as well as working life issues. These are the fields in which I am an expert.
3. Which are your political priorities?
At the moment, working life, of course. I am a member of the Labour Committee of Parliament and I think that working life issues overlap with gender equality issues; they are strongly related... When I am talking about working life issues, I am doing that from the point of view of gender equality.
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The major challenge is the transition period of working life which started in the 1990s and is still going on. By this, I mean the role of new information technology that is related to education and to which also the issues of gender equality are strongly connected.... The latter manifests itself in a way that girls tend to choose traditional, old occupations, while boys are more interested in the new information technology, which also offers better opportunities for career advancement and higher wages. Girls seem to stick to the traditional alternatives.
Another cleavage following this transition will be between those who are able to maintain their skills, expertise and knowledge over their lifetime and those who are not able to do that. I think that the political problems embedded in these cleavages should be solved in the field of education policies.
Still another cleavage or segregation is related to the social exclusion, which was followed by the economic recession of the early 1990s. By social exclusion I mean a group of people who seem not able to find their way out and who seem to have lost their prospects for future. I think that this (social exclusion) is a great threat to the welfare society. It seems to be so that employed and well-off people are quite ready to make socially excluded people guilty for their own position as well as blaming welfare policies for the situation. This is a new kind of thinking in Finland and very dangerous, because it will crumble the basis (of the whole welfare society)...
To solve these problems, I hope that we can hold onto our traditional principles of social equality, which means balancing income differences as well as social equality and gender equality... Connected with the financing of the policies aiming at social equality is the future of the public (welfare) services. The opinions in the air seem to refer to various kinds of models of privatised welfare services. Nobody quite dares to speak in plain terms, but these models are now being developed everywhere.
And this, I think, is fundamental - to hold to the basic principle of a welfare society - that we will continue to have a network of high-standard public welfare services which treat all citizens equally. This is what we have believed in, and this is what people have believed in. What I want to say is that we should not consciously start to dismantle the basis of the public health care services....
2. How and why did your objectives change during your political career?
Perhaps it was easier, when I was younger, to see things as black and white. My capacity to see things from different viewpoints is something that has clearly changed. For example, how to take a stand for private business, small-scale entrepreneurs etc. This has changed during my political career in a way that I have learned... to widen my views so that I now better understand that the 'money must be made' somehow, new jobs must be created somewhere and by somebody's efforts.
Previously, since my background was in the field of public welfare and health care services, it was kind of self-evident to me that the money was to be found somewhere, and you did not have to ponder where you got it. However, those were good times in Finland, in the 1980s, nobody knew where to put all the money...The lesson we learned during the economic recession in the early 1990s was that somebody is supposed to make the money and to create the jobs... and the conditions and premises for that activity should also be taken care of.
All this, and in environmental policy, is an 'on and off' - attitude. The more information you get, the more important it is to think which solutions are the most essential. But basic things (principles and values) have not changed, but 'knowledge adds the pain' as they say...
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)
At the local and municipal level, gender quotas were even revolutionary - it meant that women now have an access to the seats - in municipal boards etc. which are filled indirectly. What happened, was that more men were chosen to the municipal boards of social and health care while there are now more female members in the municipal boards dealing with technical and other 'hard' issues?
When thinking about women's position in politics, women's proportion in political bodies has increased steadily and simultaneously with women's growing activity in the trade union movement and in working life. Plus the public welfare services were created along with the expanding Finnish Welfare State at the same time, in the 1960s and 1970s. This has meant that women have been able to move on from their traditional roles as housewives. This is the harvest my generation received from the earlier generations... For example, during the life of my children, the new legislation on public childcare (1966) was enacted, which brought along the guarantee that it is self-evident to have a place in public childcare. Along with the general acceptance, meaning that women are competent and capable, men now think they are.
This change has occurred step by step from the 1980s onwards. Before that, women were underestimated... Of course, it was already in the 1970s when the struggle for change started, but the great turn, I think, happened in the 1980s when also men began to change their views on women.... It was a time when the number of women at universities rapidly increased. It is also that the new generation has taught the older one. I have seen this in many families where educated daughters have had a strong influence in their father's attitudes.
4. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in "conventional" policy-making? What is it that keeps women from committing themselves to politics?
It is difficult to say when one really sees discrimination and when one does not. But generally speaking, it is still so that women have to show in many ways that they really can... and that they really have the things well in their hands... It is often so that women politicians may, for example, read and study political documents so well that they really learn them by heart before they dare to open their mouth... in order to avoid humiliation. It is so easy to make, especially young women, guilty for being 'muddled in the head' or for 'talking to the winds' or other negative things. This is a mistake you should not make. That is why women politicians are usually very direct, very concise in their speech, just because they are afraid of being laughed at...
Another point is (women's) credibility. To the women which come from the fields of social or health care work, it is has been a damned hard job, say, to sit in the administrative board of a big steelworks company, Rauta-Ruukki, and to say that I also understand how a steel tube is made! Or not to say, I don't have to say, I just have to show that I also can 'read indicators' and understand all these things - when all the other members are men. Have a seat among them and try to look credible! These positions - when you are the only woman among several men - are horrible, you really have to 'grow up' - not so much anymore, but in the beginning - yes, it was quite a challenge.
But nowadays, I think, that so called direct discrimination is quite rare, because promoting gender equality by legislation and so on, has an impact so that nobody dares to say anything directly... But I would argue that in those parts of the political arena which you access via elections - in other words by public support - it is much easier also for women. If there is strong public support in elections they can to move on in their political career and get important positions. But to get the 'hardest' posts at the top of the hierarchy is still more difficult for women politicians. I would also argue that it is easier for male politicians and requires lesser efforts to give the impression of competence, which is strongly related to the field they are working in.
5. What is that keeps women from committing themselves to politics? What are the major obstacles? Which are the obstacles you had to fight in your own political career?
It was easy for me to go into politics since my family never finds it strange that I participate in political-decision-making and come and go... I was not regarded as a 'freak'. It is now more self-evident that people participate regardless of whether one is a man or a woman. The role of the spouse is really important, especially for married women. If her husband were against her career, it would be quite impossible to carry on. If she wants to take care of her children, she cannot stay out and work every evening.... And this is certainly one of the difficult to cross thresholds for many women when considering to go into politics - I mean, if a husband is not willing to spend time with child care and house work.
My husband spends a lot of his time with childcare and domestic work, and he likes it. However, I have to carefully plan and organise the everyday life of my family, because the grand parents are not living near us. But thinking about my generation and listening to the experiences of the younger women here in the Eduskunta - attitudes, role models, the way to do things; all this has changed a lot.
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