Finland’s new government is young and led by women. Here’s what the country does to promote diversity

Sanna Marin, Finland’s new prime Minister–news that spread fast due to her gender and age.

It is remarkable to note the new Prime Minister’s age. She is the youngest prime minster in the world at 34 years old. She is now part of the newly elected prime ministers from New Zealand, Salvador, and Ukraine who are under 40 years old.

Next, there was the gender focus. The coalition government formed by the new female prime minister was made up of five women party leaders, with most under 40 years old. The headlines quickly grabbed a photo of the new prime Minister with three of her female cabinet members, all in their thirties. The photo was criticized by some for not being encouraging or balanced, and was sarcastically referred to as “gender-balance” in spite of all the gender talk.

All countries of feminists applauded and felicitated the new prime minister for inspiring what may promise more change and innovative solutions. Others were less complimentary. Others were more critical. It was also possible to observe sexist tendencies. Perhaps not surprising, some mainstream media covered the new Finnish Prime Minister’s looks. For example, the German Tagesschau received a lot of backlash on social media after referring to Prime Minister Sanna Marina as “beautiful and young” (“hubsch und jung”).

How did Finland get to this point? Here are some key points.

The pipeline is important. Finland continues to rank highly on the World Economic Forum’s Annual Gender Gap report Index. Finland was ranked 4th out of 149 countries. It is notable for its overall high and equally gender-equal achievements in education and health, which have contributed to women’s economic and political participation. The cabinet of Finland features a large number of women. Twelve portfolios are occupied by women and seven by men. Marin was the Minister of Transport in the past. Nearly half (47%) of the country’s lawmakers are women. The European Institute for Gender Equality in Europe (EIGE), Finland has European parliaments from Sweden, Spain, and Belgium. This is a gender-balanced country that the EIGE considers to have at least 40% female representation. This is in contrast to the countries of Malta, Greece, Hungary and Malta, where women make up less than 20% of all parliamentarians ( EIGE 2019 Gender Equality Index). Finland is proud of its impressive female political pipeline that has the potential to propel it to higher levels in politics and business.

Gender diversity is important. A strong pipeline is not always a guarantee of top-level leadership. Globally, women graduate with higher grades and in greater numbers from universities of different academic disciplines. This talent pool is often leaking because of a lack of demand from the public and private sectors, or women choosing not to apply for top positions (a decrease in “supply”. Culture plays an important role in enabling structural change (including ways to overcome “unconscious bias”) as well. Consider Iceland, where Vigdis Finbogadottir was both the first and longest-serving woman president (1980-1996). Girls under eight years old had never seen a woman president. Boys began to wonder if they could one day be the president of their country. What is the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Gender Equality Report ranking of Iceland? First place First place!

Other enablers such as childcare and quotas can also help to build the pipeline. The type of electoral system and quota provisions are both good predictors of women’s representation in parliament. Research over the past 30 years has shown this. Voluntary party and party quotas are also effective in increasing the representation of women in parliament. However, they can be less effective than parliamentary or parliamentary quotas ( European Political Science Review).

Ten European Union member countries (but not Finland) have established legislative candidate quotas in an effort to increase the gender balance of their parliaments. The Finnish Equality Act, though it does not apply to elections, contains a quota that states-administration committees, advisory board, and other bodies must have at least 40% women and men. Finland was also the first European country to grant universal and equal suffrage.

Some believe that countries should look at ways to encourage youth representation in parliament. The Inter-Parliamentary Union ( IPU) found that two-thirds (70 parliaments) had less than 2% young parliamentarians in 2014 (defined as those who were aged 30 and younger). This research also showed that the majority of upper houses had less than 6 percent young adults. Three quarters of them elected no young people in 2014. Are there any arguments for parliamentary youth quotas, as the authors of an article in 2018 in the European Science Review suggest.

Childcare support is an important tool for women’s leadership, as a large portion of the caregiving responsibilities still falls on women. The World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Lawprogram reveals a strong correlation between childcare support and women being represented in parliaments. Government support for employers, childcare centers, and parents can help increase the chances of women representing 25% or more in national legislatures. The other way around is that 25% or more women are represented in parliaments, which increases the chances of legislation mandating support for parents, childcare centres, and employers for preschool childcare services for older people.

What is Finland’s performance in regards to childcare support? Finland’s unmet childcare needs are only 13%, while Portugal has 86% and Greece has 60%. In Finland, parental leave eligibility is not restricted by the type, duration, or employment status. This contrasts with most countries in the European Union.


What is the common factor among women who reach the top of government?

In a 2010 interview, Laura Liswood was the secretary general of Council of Women World Leaders. This group consists of 74 women leaders, prime ministers and heads of government.

One thing is certain: The world will be following Prime Minister Sanna Marina and her new cabinet closely. Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, the world’s oldest prime Minister (94 years old), offered this advice to Sanna Marin: “Ask older people for advice and keep your ideas alive.”

The recent Finnish experience shows that perhaps it’s time for traditional politicians to pay more attention to the advice of youth.

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