Finnish Presidency On Gender Equality

25 September 2019

Advancing gender equality and the rights of women and girls is an important foreign policy goal for my country Finland. Our Government Programme, dated 6 June 2019, states that Finland will pursue a human rights-based foreign and security policy. It is the first time we have such a wording in the most influential document guiding our policies. Of course, we have been systematically working for gender equality for a long time. But having this commitment in the Government Programme while holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, definitely is a great opportunity and inspiration for us.

It is very much the experience from our own development that motivates us in our efforts to strengthen the rights of women and girls worldwide. Finland used to be a poor and conflict-torn agrarian country in 1917, when we gained our independence. Now we are a world leader in happiness and innovation, and one of the most stable countries in the world. For us, the reason is that we have harnessed the potential of the whole society, not only half of it.  

What does it mean for girls?

Finland is a staunch supporter of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and we practice what we preach. Comprehensive sexuality education is obligatory at Finnish schools. My home town, the capital Helsinki, offers contraception to those under 25 free of charge. But we realize we are far from perfect. Encouraging girls to study science and tech remains a challenge, and our labour market is still segregated by gender. Also online hate speech affects girls disproportionately.

Our Finnish development policy focuses on girls through two main themes, sexual and reproductive health and rights and education. We are strong advocates and supporters of these and work together with our main UN partners, like UN Women, UNFPA and UNICEF as well as Civil Society Organisations, like Plan International, toreach people and groups that might otherwise be harder to reach.

Since our foreign policy, including development policy, is human-rights based, normative work is of crucial importance. This autumn, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution on Girl Child will be among our top priorities in the UNGA Third Committee. Many challenges girls are facing are linked with patriarchal societal norms. To achieve a change in these we have to engage men and boys in the gender equality work.

That’s why: invest in girls!

Gender equality must be integrated in the next EU external financing instrument as well as in EU development cooperation programming. It is necessary to have targeted programmes for gender equality in general and for girls in particular. Girls facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination need special attention. Finland focuses on girls with disabilities in its development policy, both bilaterally and for instance through UN Women. Girls with migrant background and Roma girls still too often face extra challenges also in our own society.

Education, Skills and work, girls’ leadership

  • Katri Viinikka

    Ambassador for Gender Equality, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

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