By Antti Rinne, Prime Minister of Finland, and Katja Iversen, President and CEO of Women Deliver & Member of International Gender Equality Prize Jury | Helsingin Sanomat | 2 December 2019
In 1906, Finland became the first country in the world to grant women full political rights. The following year, it became the first country to elect women to parliament (nineteen women, in fact). Today, 11 of the 19 ministers in the government are women. Finland is the safest, the most stable, and one of the most gender equal countries in the world. Yet, it hasn’t managed to get to full gender equality.
In fact, no country has.
Despite the fact that a gender equal world is healthier, wealthier, more prosperous, and more peaceful, no country has reached pay equity, only few have equal representation in government, and most still have discriminatory gender laws on the books.
Almost 40 percent of countries have at least one legal constraint on a woman’s right to own property. In 18 countries, women don’t enjoy equal rights to men to get a job, or to get a national ID card in 11 countries. And 37 countries exempt rapists from prosecution if they are married to, or subsequently marry, the victim.
On top of this is the recent spike in laws from around the world that restrict women’s bodily autonomy, and deny sexual and reproductive health and rights. These rights are a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights as they enable women and girls to use their full potential in society.
For centuries, women’s movements have pushed governments to ditch these discriminatory laws and enact laws that protect and empower all citizens. But closing the gender gap isn’t just a women’s issue. It requires everyone to get involved. And, while there has been great progress in the form of international agreements, UN resolutions, and legislative change, the pace has been too slow. In some countries, it’s even regressing. Now is the time to act boldly—and decisively—to do better.
Luckily, there are plenty of progressive legislatures and laws to look to for inspiration. Canada established the first ever G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council in 2018. The following year, in 2019, France continued and enhanced the council, which produced the groundbreaking Biarritz Package containing 79 inspiring gender equality laws and legal frameworks in four sectors (violence, economic empowerment, education and health, discrimination). It includes Finland’s 1987 Act on Gender Equality between Women and Men to prevent gender-based discrimination.
The Finnish government made its first Action Plan for Gender Equality in 1980 and since the late 1990s has made them regularly. Currently, Finland is working to reform its criminal code to ensure sex without consent is always punishable as rape, and on improving transgender rights.
But, as is the case with the Beijing Platform of Action—which will turn 25 next year—even when good global laws agreements are signed, they too often remain unfulfilled by all signatories. For example, even though the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence—the most advanced and comprehensive international legal instrument of its kind—was signed by all 47 Member States of the Council of Europe, it remains to be fully implemented. This should be a top priority of all governments.
To draw attention to gender equality and what can be done to solve it, the government of Finland established the International Gender Equality Prize—a biannual celebration of the global change-makers doing their part to secure equal rights for all. This year’s prize goes to Equality Now, a global nonprofit organization working to protect and promote the human rights of women around the world. Finland hopes that the prize will inspire others to impressive actions and speed up progress for a more equal world.
These are important, necessary steps. But the real prize—one we will all share together—is the gender equal world we’ll finally live in when countries commit to doing more. We have all waited long enough, and it’s past time for everyone—individuals, institutions, and governments—to double-down and use their power to accelerate progress for gender equality, once and for all.