Welcome to Finland and welcome to our capital, Helsinki. Helsinki has been the capital of Finland since Finland became part of Russia, on year 1812. Helsinki had only 4000 inhabitants, but it has grown to be one of the biggest cities in Nordic Countries. Paasitorni has a very special place in the history of Finland, especially in the Civil war that Finland had to go through after it became independent in 1917. This place has been also very important to the workers´ movement in Helsinki and in Finland for one hundred years.
Ladies and gentlemen
Finland has been historically regarded as one of the model countries in the field of equality and human rights. Finland got it´s own national parliament in 1906 while being still part of Russia. Both men and women were given the right to vote and to be a candidate. Still some international guidance has been needed. For example the current Finnish act on equality between women and men was established because The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women laid such demand on Finland.
However, we can not bee too self-satisfied with the situation with equality in Finland. Personally I think that the biggest challenge with the equality between men and women are on one hand in working life structures, unequal distribution of child care and in gender stereotypes. Today, being here, I will focus on the last since stereotypes lead us to these other problems.
As an organization that is specialized on human rights, I think it is very important that the Council of Europe has put effort to raise awareness about equality and gender stereotypes especially in early childhood care and education. Gender stereotypes are something that I think we all have inside us. We all should constantly question the stereotypes and prejudices we have, however progressive we think we are. I think it is almost impossible for a person to be totally free of any prejudices and stereotypes.
As the Committee of Ministers of the European Council has stated in it´s recommendations on gender mainstreaming in education, gender stereotypes undermine the human rights of both men and women. For example in Finland, boys have greater risk to drop out from education, while young women face more challenges with getting a permanent job. Stereotypical social roles for men and women limit opportunities for all people to fulfill our potential as human beings. This has also negative consequences to competitiveness of our society and to our economy. Thus working for more equality is not something that is taken away from the work for more jobs and better economy. More equality will bring more welfare, more jobs and economic growth.
Equality has one peculiarity. If it doesn´t concern all, then there´s no equality. By this I mean that we can never think that progressing in equality in our countries is enough. We need to put equality of men and women as one of the principal goals in the international development policy, in our foreign policy, in our work in all international organization.
The Finnish Parliament is currently working with Government bill to change the Gender Equality Act, to make it stronger. First, some amendments are aimed to improve the protection of gender minorities against discrimination, and to promote gender equality. The purpose is to expand the current prohibitions of gender discrimination so as to also apply to discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. Secondly, the Government proposes that the obligation to prepare gender equality plans be extended to comprehensive schools, too. The planning obligation already applies to vocational educational institutions, general upper secondary schools, polytechnics and universities.
The current National Core Curricula in Finland has equality as one of the main goals, but lacks concrete tools to promote equality and to challenge the gender stereotypes. The National Board of Education is currently renewing the National Core Curricula in basic education. The National Board of Education has decided to strengthen the aspect of gender and gender equality in the core curriculum. All subject groups in basic education were instructed to address the promotion of gender equality in subject-specific descriptions in the core curriculum.
The essential objective is that trough these concrete tools, gender awareness and promoting gender equality are incorporated as part of teaching and the national core curriculum. The overall objective is a shift to gender-sensitive education.
The perspectives put forward regarding the National Core Curriculum are:
1) Reducing inequality faced by both girls and women and boys and men,
2) Reducing gendered attitudes towards any and all subjects and their learning outcomes and
3) Understanding the diversity of gender and conveying this understanding through teaching.
Changing the National Core Curriculum is a big step forward but we also need to focus on the local level and to teaching material. The Finnish National Board of Education has informed the Ministry of Education and Culture that it carries out regular negotiations with the producers of learning materials and also addressed the reduction of gender stereotypes in text books in these negotiations.
The Finnish Basic Education has been one of the best in the World, but we have seen declining of learning results and increasing inequality between schools and pupils. We see problems arising mostly from the point of view of socio-economic inequality, but there is also a strong gender element. I have set up an expert group that consists of experts of education to draft proposals for the future´s basic education. One of the sub groups deals with the equality of men and women.
The Ministry of Education and Culture has put equality as one of the main goals. We have twice distributed over 20 million euros to promoting equality in basic education to the providers of education. One of the aspects in this state aid has been gender equality.
The next steps should be to reform the education of teachers and the Early Education Education and Care so that equality and awareness of gender stereotypes would be better taken care of.