Wonder Woman’s ‘Land of Amazon’ seems to have its roots beneath the Nordic state of Finland, as the country now has an incredible league of some of the youngest and most influential politicians, of whom 4 out of 5 are under 35-years of age and guess what! They are all women – powerful and confident ladies with influence along with hopes, authority as well as aspirations.
Finland appointed a young and competitive 34-year-old, Sanna Marin, as third female Prime Minister of that country, who now badges the record of being the youngest Prime Minister in the world, to date. The new Prime Minister’s coalition government was formed with all five major party leaders being women — the majority being under 40-years of age, also. Finland’s Minister of Education Li Anderson aged 32, Minister of Finance Katri Kulmuni aged 32, and Interior Minister Maria Ohisal aged 34 – all in their early 30s and incredibly driven. Finland’s cabinet features a significant number of women; twelve portfolios are represented by women and only seven by men. Marin herself was the Minister of Transport and Communications from June 6, till December 10, 2019. Moreover, almost half (47%) of the country’s parliamentarians, are women.
Feminists across the world applauded and congratulated as the new Prime Minister inspired promising results, change and innovative solutions in the future. Others were more critical. How such “inexperienced” women could be entrusted with all that power? Sexist tendencies could also be observed (maybe not unexpected): some (mainstream) media coverage commented on the looks of the new Finnish Prime Minister. The German Tagesschau, for example, received push-back on social media for having referred to the Finnish Prime Minister as beautiful and young.
Finland has continued to rank high on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Gender Gap Report. In 2018, Finland ranked 4th out of 149 countries. The country’s overall high and gender-equal achievements in health and education are notable, which are a contributing factor to women’s high economic and political participation. Finland is joined by European parliaments in Belgium, Spain and Sweden, which the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) considers being gender balanced. Compare this to Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, and Malta where women account for less than 20% of parliamentarians according to EIGE’s 2019, Gender Equality Index. Finland has reason to celebrate an overall impressive pipeline of female politicians with the potential to continue to advance in political leadership.
Finnish Equality Act (while not applying to bodies chosen via elections) includes a quota provision that requires state-administration committees, advisory boards, and others to have at least 40% of both women and men. Finland was also the first country in Europe to allow universal and equal suffrage.
The culture of gender diversity in Finland is the key. Having a strong pipeline does not necessarily translate into top leadership. We know that globally women often graduate in higher numbers (and with better grades) from universities across various academic disciplines. Yet, such talent is frequently lost due to lack of public and private sector demand, or women deciding themselves not to put themselves forward for top positions. In addition to structural enablers including ways to address ‘unconscious bias’, culture plays a significant role.
As the larger share of care responsibilities continues to rest with women, childcare support can play an important role in accelerating women’s leadership. The World Bank Group (WBG) highlights a significant correlation between childcare support and women’s representation in parliaments. Government support to employers, childcare centers and parents for early childcare can increase the likelihood of women’s representation of 25% or more in national parliaments or vice versa. According to Laura Liswood, the secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, “By and large one common denominator is that women have a passion and a desire to change things.”
Finland has a great regard for gender diversity and freedom. Sanna Marin, in an interview credits Finland as “a country where everyone can become anything they want.” Freedom is for all. The prime minister also expressed her interest in focusing more on equality, education and skills. It is a country that caters for a good balance of life. It is mention worthy that according to the 2019 Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world, with Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and The Netherlands holding the next top positions. The inhabitants have reported great satisfaction with the way their life is going. Moreover, the Prime Minister recently announced a 6 hours, 4 days per week work routine for the Finnish. The quality of and approach towards education in Finland is unparalleled. It is simply top of the line, unconventionally creative and innovative and free up to even graduation level and in some cities even for international students on scholarships. The Finnish passport is the most valuable passport in the world for it entertains visa free travel to 173 countries. Lastly, equality for all irrespective of age and gender is their aspiration.
One thing is clear that the world will be watching Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her new cabinet. The world’s oldest prime minister (94-years old), Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, offered this wisdom to the young Prime Minister: “Ask old people for advice and hold onto your idealism.” As the recent Finnish experience has shown, maybe it is also time for more traditional politicians to listen more carefully to advice from youth? HH
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