Status of Women

Finland Table of Contents

After examining the position of women around the world, the Washington-based Population Crisis Committee reported in 1988 that Finland, slightly behind top-ranked Sweden and just ahead of the United States, was one of the very best places in which a woman could live. The group reached this conclusion after examining the health, educational, economic, and legal conditions that affect women's lives.

When compared with women of other nations, Finnish women, who accounted for just over 50 percent of the population in the mid1980s , did have a privileged place. They were the first in Europe to gain the franchise, and by the 1980s they routinely constituted about one-third of the membership of the Eduskunta (parliament) and held several ministerial posts. In the 1980s, about 75 percent of adult women worked outside the home; they made up about 48 percent of the work force. Finnish women were as well educated as their male counterparts, and, in some cases, the number of women studying at the university level, for example, were slightly ahead of the number of men. In addition to an expanding welfare system, which since World War II had come to provide them with substantial assistance in the area of childbearing and child-rearing, women had made notable legislative gains that brought them closer to full equality with men.

In 1972 the Council for Equality was established to advise lawmakers on methods for realizing full legal equality for women. In 1983 legislation arranged that both parents were to have equal rights for custody of their children. A year later, women were granted equal rights in the establishment of their children's nationality. Henceforth any child born of a Finnish woman would have Finnish citizenship. After a very heated national debate, legislation was passed in 1985 that gave women an equal right to decide what surname or surnames they and their children would use. These advances were capped by a law that went into effect in early 1987 forbidding any discrimination on the basis of sex and providing protection against it. Once these laws were passed, Finnish authorities signed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, in 1986.

In a number of areas, however, the country's small feminist movement maintained that the circumstances in which Finnish women lived needed to be improved. Most striking was the disparity in wages. Although women made up just under half the work force and had a tradition of working outside the home, they earned only about two-thirds of the wages paid to men. Occupations in which women predominated, such as those of retail and office personnel, were poorly paid in contrast to those in which men constituted the majority. Despite the sexes' equal educational attainments, and despite a society where sexual differentiation played a smaller role than it did in many other countries, occupational segregation in Finland was marked. In few of the twenty most common occupations were the two sexes equally represented. Only in occupations relating to agriculture, forestry, and school teaching was a rough parity approached, and as few as 6 percent of Finns worked in jobs where 40 to 60 percent of workers were of the opposite sex. Studies also found that equal educational levels did not--in any category of training--prevent women's wages from lagging behind those paid to men. Women tended to occupy lower positions, while males were more often supervisors or managers. This was the case everywhere, whether in schools or universities, in business, in the civil service, or in politics at both the local level and the national level.

In addition to their occupying secondary position in the workplace, women had longer workdays because they performed a greater share of household tasks than did men. On the average, their workweek outside the home was several hours shorter than men's because a greater portion of them were employed only parttime or worked in the service sector where hours were shorter than they were in manufacturing. Studies have found, however, that women spent about twice as much time on housework as men-- about three hours and forty minutes a day, compared with one hour and fifty minutes for men. Men did twice as many household repairs and about an equal amount of shopping, but they devoted only one-third to one-fourth as much time to cleaning, cooking, and caring for children. Given that the bulk of family chores fell to women, and that they were five times more likely than men to head a single-parent family, the shortcomings of Finland's child day-care system affected women more than it did men.

The Equality Law that went into effect in 1987 committed the country to achieving full equality for women. In the late 1980s, there was a timetable listing specific goals to be achieved during the remainder of the twentieth century. The emphasis was to be equality for everyone, rather than protection for women. Efforts were undertaken not only to place women in occupations dominated by males, but also to bring males into fields traditionally believed to belong to the women's sphere, such as child care and elementary school teaching. Another aim was for women to occupy a more equal share of decision-making positions.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress