Finland’s female-led government turns one year old: how much progress has the country made?

Finland made international headlines a year ago, when 34-year-old Sanna Marin became the world’s youngest acting prime minister.

But that was not all that put the northern European country in the spotlight of world news: Marin is part of a coalition government of five parties all led by women.

With Marin, this new government entered: Li Andersson (Left Alliance), 32; Maria Ohisalo (Green League), 34; Anna-Maja Henriksson (Swedish People’s Party of Finland), 55; and Katri Kulmuni (Center Party), 32.

A year later, how has this government led by women fared?

“Equality is part of the identity of the country”

Although women are still very underrepresented in governments around the world, in Finland, Marin is the fourth prime minister.

“We have a tradition of leading women in politics, so it was not very exceptional,” Johanna Kantola, a professor of gender studies at the University of Tampere, told Euronews, who said Finns began to realize that it was special. after the “international hype”.

“We are a small country, so we are very interested in what other people think of us. Equality is part of the identity of the country, so people followed very closely what this government was doing.”

Coming from a working-class family, Marin was elected to the Tampere City Council at the age of 27 and for the first time to the Finnish Parliament in 2015.

Leader of the Social Democratic Party, he came to office after a postal strike that forced former prime minister and party leader Antti Rinne to resign.

Like the government that was elected in April 2019 under Rinne, Marin has an agenda that includes progressive policies on gender equality and climate change.

But COVID-19 has been an initial challenge for the five party leaders, now ministers in the coalition government.

“This first year is the year of the pandemic. So most of the policies that they have been forced to do are related to fighting this COVID pandemic,” Kimmo Elo, principal investigator for European Studies at the University of Turku, which means that many of the Government’s policy plans have yet to be implemented.

Female leadership in the face of the pandemic

The Government of Finland has been praised for its prompt response to the COVID-19 crisis. Unlike neighboring Sweden, which kept most businesses open, Finland closed schools and confined the country on March 16 with just under 300 recorded cases of the new virus.

For many experts, it is on a list of countries that seemed to react well from the beginning, in part due to clear and early measures to deal with the pandemic.

“What made the response good in the beginning and what was attributed to the prime minister was this kind of very clear communication skill,” Kantola said, adding that Marin also relied on “outside experts” to help her handle the issue. crisis.

Finland initially reduced COVID-19 infections to fewer than 20 new daily cases in July and August, but is now in the midst of a second wave.

Marin’s leadership has been linked to that of other female leaders in anecdotes and studies suggesting that countries led by women prevented more infections and deaths.

A study by researchers from the University of Reading and Liverpool revealed that there was a “significant and systemic” difference in the number of deaths and cases related to COVID-19 in countries with women in command.

This was partly due to the fact that “women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively to possible deaths”.

The study also analyzes the communication style of female leaders and the risk to human life is weighed against the risk to the economy.

The acid test for the popularity of the Government of Marin

Despite those early successes, the Marin Government now faces strong criticism for its response to COVID-19.

Finland is in the midst of a second wave of COVID-19 with hundreds of infections a day. So far, there have been fewer deaths than during the first wave.

The country’s Chancellor of Justice said last week that the response, organization and cooperation of Finnish ministries were insufficient to fight the pandemic.

“According to the explanations received by the Chancellor of Justice, inter-ministerial cooperation did not initially work effectively and the division of responsibilities within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health was not clear enough,” Justice Chancellor Tuomas Poysti explained in a statement. .

This complaint comes when support for the Government has fallen in the polls. National broadcaster YLE points to a surge in support for the populist Finnish Party that threatens to overtake the Social Democrats.

This is partly due to the return to “normality”, according to experts, since the popularity that the government enjoyed in March was rather atypical.

“Since mid-summer, satisfaction with government parties has fallen and once again the decline [de la popularidad] that we had in spring regarding populist parties has changed, and they are rebounding in opinion polls across Europe, “said Elo from the University of Turku.

“The right-wing opposition lined up in the spring to support the government in its fight against the crisis,” said Anne Holli, a professor of politics at the University of Helsinki.

But disagreements “between the balance of economic concerns and social policy / public health concerns have been exacerbated since the summer, as the opposition has also sharpened its criticism of the government,” he added.

Key advances towards gender equality

The Marin government has already taken some steps toward more progressive gender policies, experts say.

On the one hand, it has recovered the right of citizens to childcare for children under seven years of age, which the previous “right-wing government ceased to exercise in 2016 after 20 years of existence and which has been hailed as the hallmark of the Finnish ‘women-friendly’ welfare state, “said Holli from the University of Helsinki.

In addition, the Government has submitted proposals for a new policy on paternity leave that would grant fathers the same rights as mothers.

It is a supported plan as the current system “places an undue burden on mothers at home and there needs to be a higher quota for fathers to stay at home with younger children,” Kantola said.

Compared to many other countries, it is a very progressive program. Many countries give little or no permission to parents.

Four of the five female leaders of Finnish parties are under 36 and are also using social media to better communicate with people. Marin has posted photos of her family life, including breastfeeding and other photos of her family life.

“Many political women in Finland are using Instagram in very specific ways to share their pregnancy or having young children and pursuing a political career, so it is also a matter of controlling this story for themselves,” Kantola said.

But it doesn’t always work the way people want it to.

In an initial mistake last year, Finland’s finance minister Katri Kulmuni asked in an Instagram poll whether women and children linked to the so-called Islamic State should be able to return to the country.

He later apologized for the action, which, according to human rights organizations, was “misjudged”.

The rights of transsexuals or immigrants, stagnant areas

Many experts say it is difficult to judge the current government because they have not made progress on many of their priorities.

“We are not yet there where the real political struggles are getting underway and where we can see what has been achieved,” Kantola said.

For example, the country’s policies on transsexuals are not very progressive, according to experts, although the government has said it is committed to changing that.

“There is talk that it is important but there is no progress,” says Kantola. At the moment, Finland continues to require transsexuals to be sterilized after changing their gender, a practice that a UN report denounced as “torture”.

Meanwhile, in September, the Council of Europe Commission against Racism and Intolerance also called on Finland to “tackle the growing racist and intolerant hate speech” and “better coordinate the integration activities of immigrants.”

The next elections in the country are not scheduled until April 2023, so if Parliament is not dissolved, the Government will continue to have time to follow its agenda, but it will probably do so in the midst of a difficult economic situation due to the pandemic of the COVID-19.

For many, however, it remains to be seen how this government will cooperate to do so.