Secretary-General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honor for me to stand before you in this hall on the eve of the International Women’s Day. The General Assembly hall is a symbol of multilateralism and the only venue where every country of the world will have its voice heard.
Yet – the voices most often heard in this hall are male voices. The number of female heads of state or government is only 21, while there are 193 UN Member States – and while more than half of the global population are women and girls.
Finland was the first country in the world to grant women full political rights, both the right to vote and the right to run for office.
Finland today is a global champion of gender equality. I want to talk about what we have done, why we have done it, and what we all have left to do.
Finland promotes gender equality because we see it as a cornerstone of our success as a society. Our history has not been easy. For a long time Finland was a poor agrarian country with deep social divides. Our path to one of the most developed and stable societies in the world has been not been easy. Change does not happen overnight. We had to harness the resources of the whole of society, because we simply could not afford to disregard half of the population.
Today, Finland is well-known for many of its innovations, both technological and social. Social innovations, in particular, have made it possible for many people to combine their various needs and responsibilities. Finnish maternity and child health clinics, paid parental leave and publicly funded quality childcare continue to play a significant role in advancing gender equality. Such a simple thing as a free school lunch was introduced as early as 1948. It makes everyday life easier for families with working parents and kids at school.
Policies like these were introduced by our female legislators. I argue that the best way to get gender transformative policies is to have more women in high-level political decision-making positions. I want to pay tribute to all strong women politicians and leaders, in this room, in Finland and elsewhere, who have pioneered in advancing the rights of women and girls. Without their hard work and without role models, I would not stand before you today.
On our path to where we are now, we have learned a lot from others and followed their good examples and practices. No country is perfect. I hope that our example can motivate and encourage others in their path to sustainable development.
That is why we have the Sustainable Development Goals – everyone has work to do. When it comes to gender equality, no country in the world has achieved it, and Finland is no exception.
The Secretary General has launched the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals, and he is right to push us to redouble our efforts. Time is running out. Achieving the SDGs, including gender equality, will not happen by itself but requires deliberate political decisions. More importantly – we cannot achieve the other SDGs and Agenda 2030 without achieving SDG 5 on gender equality, to ensure every human being has their rights respected and can reach their full potential.
We as world leaders have all the tools needed to make changes that secure the future we want. Finnish government is committed to doing this. Our plan is ambitious, as small deeds are no longer enough. We need to raise the bar, we need to demand more of ourselves, and we need to listen to the youth who ask us to take action now.
Finland has come a long way from where we first started, but we can do much more. We must ask ourselves what are the policies that would help us in achieving a sustainable future. This has to start with mapping the challenges ahead of us.
In Finland, our challenges include inequalities in the labor market, and violence against women and girls.
Inequalities in the labor market are not merely a question of gender, but a question of tomorrow’s economy. I see that the digital gender gap poses a serious threat to the continued advancement of women and girls in the workforce everywhere. The girls being educated today are far too often not provided the skills needed for tomorrow’s jobs.
New products and services using artificial intelligence serve to reinforce existing gender bias. I want to change this and the only way to do it is to get more girls coding, more women into high-tech, and more women elected into positions where they can influence the regulation of the sector.
Gender-based violence is one of the gravest human rights violations globally. We have to take action to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls everywhere. We have to shift mindsets and attitudes to zero tolerance to all forms of violence, including sexual violence and sexual harassment. We must step up to challenge the actions and behavior of others. Finally, we must end impunity. Attitudes and behaviors need to change, but we also need a justice system that ensures no act of violence goes unpunished.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
We are well into 2020, the super year of gender equality. I look forward to Finland’s strong participation in and support to the Generation Equality and achieving concrete results in the Action Coalitions, as a follow up to what was agreed in Beijing 25 years ago. The theme of Technology and Innovation is of particular relevance. Digitalization and technology can be a game changer for societies and for girls and women, helping them to fulfil their potential and to break cycles of poverty.
The Finnish government wants to ensure that girls and women are empowered to become agents and innovators in the digitalized world. Generation Equality will allow us to strengthen our commitment, and most importantly, to put women and girls’ rights at the center of technology, innovations and digital transformation. I look forward to that initiative serving to prepare women and girls for the next 25 years.
I am honored to be here today in the company of Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka from UN Women. I thank her and her organization for their tireless efforts to promote and support women and girls. The Finnish government stands strong in our support of UN Women and all its work.
Last year, UN Women led an initiative on addressing the gender impact of climate change. Women and girls are often hit first, and will be hit hardest by the impact of climate change. Yet, they are the least equipped with the skills and assets needed to protect themselves from shocks. They have also been remarkably absent at many levels from negotiations, planning and implementation for climate adaptation and mitigation.
Dear Secretary-General, as part of the UN75 celebration and as a follow-up to your Climate Summit, I ask for your leadership in finding ways to ensure the full participation of women and girls in climate action.
When I look at the world today, the picture is, unfortunately, not very bright. Gender equality and women’s rights, especially sexual and reproductive health and rights, are being widely challenged. Even support for the important Women, Peace and Security agenda is eroding, to the extent that survivors of conflict related sexual and gender based violence would be denied necessary health services. There is nothing contentious in the need for these services, and the UN Security Council sent a sad signal to the world by not being able to agree on the issue last April.
We do not promote sexual and reproductive health and rights to be contentious or difficult; we promote them because they are a precondition for other human rights, development and gender equality. As long as women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights keep being challenged this way, we will not achieve gender equality.
Weakening support for the full and effective implementation of international human rights is an alarming trend. International human rights treaties were made for a reason. They are in place to ensure that every individual has a chance to lead a fulfilling life in dignity. Mr. Secretary-General, as you said in Geneva last week: Human rights expand the horizons of hope, they enlarge the boundaries of the possible. The Member States would do well to re-confirm our collective commitment to the implementation of these vital normative frameworks.
I want to add my voice to those rallying support to the rights of women and girls everywhere. These rights are my rights, and they are every girl’s and woman’s rights too. I will not walk back on the progress we made over the past one hundred years, and I will push back on anyone who claims women do not need to be present in government chambers and boardrooms or have a say in decisions that concern their bodies.
We owe this commitment to our mothers and grandmothers, we owe it to the generation that boldly negotiated in Beijing, and we owe it to our daughters. But not only to them. Gender equality profits the whole society – all genders and all generations. Realizing gender equality and inclusion will free us all from the stereotypes that restrict us and set limits on what we can achieve.
If we come together, learn openly from one another, set our mind in action, I am certain that we can achieve our common goals. This is my message for you to take home for the International Women’s Day.