Today, Finland is recognised as a leader internationally in gender equality, but it was not always this way. As we celebrate Women’s Day (8.3.2020), we take a brief look at the role of women in Finnish society, historically to the present day.
In the past centuries, women’s position in society was strongly associated with their maternal roles. Until the 1850s, women did not have many job and career opportunities in Helsinki. Unmarried women were controlled by their fathers and relatives until they reached the age of 25.
The situation inside the city was terrible for women. In the middle of the 19th-century women’s roles were confined to tasks like spinning, weaving, brewing, cooking, cleaning, cattle breeding and taking care of children.
In the late 1800’s there were nearly 4,500 prostitutes in the city, at a time when the total population of women was less than 20,000.
Voting Rights for Women
Things began to change when the first women’s rights activists started to demand the right to education for women successfully.
In 1870 Marie Tschetsculin became the first woman in the city to receive a high school diploma. Eight years later, a student of the University of Helsinki, Rosina Heikel, graduated as the first female doctor in Scandinavia.
Universal suffrage was achieved in 1906, with Finnish women being the first in the world to get full political rights. By the following year, there were 19 female members of parliament.
Women in Leadership roles in Finland
The first woman minister in the Finnish government in 1926 was Miina Sillanpää. She championed the rights of working and single women and was pivotal in establishing the first shelters for women and children.
Since then, the situation of women in Finland has changed significantly for better. Following the passage of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Finland passed legislation providing for equality between men and women. Finally in the 1990s equal rights became a constitutional guarantee.
Notably, Finland’s first female President, Tarja Halonen, took office in 2000. Born in Kallio, Helsinki, Halonen served as president for over a decade, from 2000 until 2012.
At present, Finland has the second highest percentage of female ministers of government in the world. The current Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who is also the youngest head of state in the world, leads a coalition government in which all of the party leaders are female.