FINLAND’S NEW GENDER EQUALITY PLAN WILL ADVANCE WOMEN’S RIGHTS, PREVENT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, REDUCE GENDER PAY GAP, WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

9 July 2008
WOM/1693

FINLAND’S NEW GENDER EQUALITY PLAN WILL ADVANCE WOMEN’S RIGHTS, PREVENT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, REDUCE GENDER PAY GAP, WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

9 July 2008
General Assembly
WOM/1693
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

841st & 842nd Meetings* (AM & PM)

FINLAND’S NEW GENDER EQUALITY PLAN WILL ADVANCE WOMEN’S RIGHTS, PREVENT DOMESTIC

VIOLENCE, REDUCE GENDER PAY GAP, WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE TOLD

Experts Commend Progress, But Lament Prevalence of Gender-Based Violence, Weak

Penalties for Sexual Harassment in Workplace, High Suicide Rate among Young Girls

The Finnish Government would adopt a four-year gender equality action plan next week that aimed to advance women’s rights and empowerment by preventing violence against them, reducing the gender pay gap, promoting female entrepreneurship, raising gender equality awareness in schools and reducing gender segregation in education and the labour market, the Director of that country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry told the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee today.

Presenting Finland’s fifth and sixth periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Arto Kosonen said that the 2007-2011 Government plan called for more financing of Government agencies and women’s organizations engaged in gender promotion and that last year Finland’s Parliament had approved an act that granted the country’s largest women’s organization an annual State subsidy.  Next year, officials would report to Parliament on implementation of the Act on Equality between Women and Men and would submit by early 2010 their first ever report on the subject. 

Those moves were part of a series of efforts to improve the lot of Finnish women, whom on average earned 20 per cent less than their male counterparts and carried less weight in the political arena and corporate boardrooms, Mr. Kosonen said.  The Government had already reached its goal of filling 40 per cent of all seats of administrative boards of fully and partly State-owned businesses with women, and was urging the private sector to put more women in top management posts.  The pay-off would be worthwhile, he said, pointing to a 2007 study of the Finnish Business and Policy Forum that showed that Finnish businesses with female managing directors were financially more successful than those managed by men. 

While lauding Finland’s progress in implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Committee experts expressed concern over the continued prevalence of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, discrimination against migrant women, the marginalization of Roma and Sami women, and female genital mutilation.  One expert lamented that the budget for gender equality had been reduced by one third over the past three years and wondered if Finland’s gender mainstreaming strategy was sufficiently focused on women’s specific needs and if its implementation was being monitored and analyzed.  Another expert was dismayed over weak penalties for perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace, while another was alarmed by the high suicide rate among young girls -- the second highest in the world. 

In response, the Finnish delegation pointed to a variety of Government-run and Government-funded programmes, such as a national action plan to implement the Council of Europe’s recommendations to end domestic violence against women; funding of $400,000 in 2008 for gender equality agencies; health, education and employment services for Roma women; a new Child Protection Act mandating the hiring of psychologists and counsellors in schools to address mental health concerns; and proposals by the Ministry of Justice for stricter sentencing of perpetrators of domestic violence, among other programmes.

The Committee will take up the United Kingdom’s fifth and sixth periodic reports at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 10 July.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider Finland’s fifth and sixth periodic reports (documents CEDAW/C/FIN/5 and CEDAW/C/FIN/6).

Led by Arto Kosonen, Director of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, the Finnish delegation also included Elisabeth Nauclér, Member of Parliament; Kirsi Pulkkinen, Counsellor of Legislation of the Ministry of Justice; Maija Ahokas, Senior Adviser of the Ministry of the Interior; Riitta Martikainen, Ministerial Adviser of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; Viveca Arrhenius, Ministerial Adviser of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; Marjaana Pelkonen, Senior Adviser of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; Hillevi Lönn, Ministerial Adviser of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy; and Anja Nummijärvi, Deputy Director of the Office of the Equality Ombudsman.

Introduction of Reports

Presenting the reports, Mr. KOSONEN said they covered a period of eight and one-half years and were the outcome of effective cooperation with relevant ministries and other authorities, as well as civil society’s participation.  Despite public condemnation of violence against women, and national legislation, policies and programmes to end it, the prevalence of such violence had remained unchanged between 1997 and 2005.  Finland’s non-governmental organizations would launch a Government-funded anti-violence media campaign, as part of the Council of Europe’s “Stop domestic violence against women” campaign. 

He said that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health had recently set up an inter-ministerial working group with a mandate to coordinate, develop and internally monitor and evaluate policies on domestic violence and violence against women.  The Government’s 2008-2011 Internal Security Programme sought to reduce violence in intimate partner relationships, especially violence against women, and to strengthen shelters, safe houses and other support services for victims.  The Programme also aimed to increase awareness of so-called “honour crimes” and female genital mutilation by training professionals who dealt with such concerns. 

A national research and development unit in the research institution of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health would be created in 2009 to support local and regional efforts to combat and prevent violence, he said.  In May, the Ministry and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities had recommended that municipalities adopt strategic planning and a comprehensive approach to the problem.  Their implementation of such suggestions would be assessed in 2011.  Further, the Ministry of Justice was examining how to take into account an offender’s previous history of violence against an intimate partner or relation when making decisions in subsequent trials involving the same offender.  The Ministry of Justice was also examining the possibility of revising criminal proceedings for assault so that petty assaults committed in a close relationship would be considered offences subjected to public prosecution.

He noted that Finland now had a special prosecutor system -– including five key prosecutors specializing in offences against women and children -- to promote effective and fair enforcement of criminal liability.  The Internal Security Programme contained measures to prevent human trafficking, including awareness-raising, information dissemination and training.  On 25 June, the Government had adopted a revised National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, which aimed to lower the threshold of victim identification, for which the Ombudsman for Minorities would appoint a national rapporteur.  The Ministry of the Interior had also established an action plan against trafficking.  The Joutseno and Oulu reception centres set up in 2006 gave refuge to asylum seekers and provided them with legal advice, interpretation services, crisis counselling, social and health-care services, housing and other necessary care. 

Turning to legislation to end discrimination, he said that the Equality Committee set up by the Ministry of Justice was preparing a proposal for new anti-discrimination legislation.  It had issued an interim report in February.  Based on feedback on that report, the Equality Committee had decided to focus its reform efforts on the Anti-Discrimination Act and other relevant laws, with the main focus on discrimination on non-gender grounds.  Under those circumstances, it seemed unlikely that the Equality Committee would continue a detailed examination aimed at consolidating existing legislation.  The reform process would examine how to improve cooperation among the various bodies addressing equality, such as the Gender Equality Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Minorities.  The Equality Committee was to issue its final report by the end of October 2009.  The 2006 Aland Islands Government Programme had a special chapter on gender equality, and the Aland Islands authorities had taken action to combat violence against women. 

He stressed that women with disabilities needed solid counselling on sexual and reproductive health, as well as sufficient professional day-to-day and child care assistance.  Finland’s social welfare and health-care system had tried to provide that.  In March 2007, Finland signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, and it would ratify the treaty after the necessary legislative amendments had been made. 

The Committee, during its 2001 examination of his Government’s previous two reports, had expressed concern over continued discrimination against immigrant and minority women living in Finland, particularly Roma and Sami women, who suffered from gender and ethnic discrimination, he noted.  In recent years, the Government had focused on developing social and health services in the Sami language, leading to the creation of day care for Sami-speaking children and older persons.  The Government had earmarked financial support for social and health programmes in Sami municipalities, which had been designed in collaboration with the Sami Council.  In 2008, the Ombudsman for Children, in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, had published a study on the experiences of Sami children and young people, which had showed that they had the same concerns as other children.  Most Sami children strongly identified with their Sami ethnicity. 

According to an unpublished 2008 study on the Roma people in the labour market, conducted by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, Roma women were becoming flexible about the use of traditional clothing in the workplace, and suitable models had been created to address culturally challenging situations, he said.  In 2006, Finland’s first Roma Women’s Association, KROMANA, had been set up to improve the health, education and employment of Roma women and their families.  KROMANA had received public funding.  Municipalities had organized language courses and integration courses for immigrant women.  While immigrants accounted for 8 per cent of the population in the greater Helsinki area, they comprised up to 30 per cent of people in shelters, due largely to their lack of social safety networks. 

Turning to women’s participation in political decision-making, he said that the percentage of female politicians and other social decision makers had grown in recent years.  Women accounted for 42 per cent of Members of Parliament and 60 per cent of ministers.  Finland’s President was a woman.  The percentage of women in local councils had risen to 36 per cent.  The Government aimed to increase the number of women in economic decision-making and the number of women with gender expertise, and to mainstream a gender perspective into all levels of decision-making.  The goal of having women fill 40 per cent of all seats of administrative boards of fully and partly State-owned businesses had already been achieved.  Further, the Government had been encouraging the private sector to place more women in top management.  A fall 2007 study conducted by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum showed that Finnish businesses with female managing directors were financially more successful than those managed by men. 

Pay gaps between men and women persisted, however, he said.  In 2006, the Government and labour market organizations had launched an equal pay programme aimed at lowering the current 20 per cent gender pay gap by at least 5 per cent by 2015.  A collective agreement policy aimed to give higher average pay increases to women than men.  During the 2007-2008 collective agreement round, women, particularly in female-dominated sectors, had received slightly higher average nominal increases than men.  In addition, pay gaps were being decreased through pay system reform, reduced segregation, greater family leave for fathers and the promotion of women’s career development. 

This year, the Government began a two-year project to promote gender-sensitivity training among teachers, in order to erase gender stereotypes in schools, increase gender-sensitive teaching and create new methods to end gender segregation, he said.  The 2007-2013 Programme for Furthering and Mainstreaming of Gender Equality, funded in part by the European Social Fund, supported strategies for gender equality in employment and the economy.  One third of Finnish entrepreneurs were women.  The Government aimed to raise that share to 40 per cent.  In May, the Ministry of Labour had appointed a working group to identify obstacles to and incentives for women’s entrepreneurship.  The cost of parental leave had been identified as one obstacle.  More than 60 per cent of women-owned and operated enterprises were in the service sector.  The challenge ahead was to expand women’s entrepreneurship to sectors where they were underrepresented. 

He said that, on 17 July, the Government would adopt the 2008-2011 Government Action Plan for Gender Equality.  That Plan had seven priorities, among them, reducing pay differentials, promoting women’s careers, raising gender equality awareness in schools and reducing gender segregation in education and the labour market.  The Plan sought to prevent violence against women.  The Government would prepare its first ever report on equality between women and men, and submit it to Parliament in early 2010.  In 2009, the Government would give Parliament a report on implementation of the Act on Equality between Women and Men.  The 2007-2011 Government Programme stated that more resources would be allocated to Government agencies and women’s organizations engaged in gender promotion.  In 2007, the Parliament had approved an act that granted the country’s largest women’s organization an annual State subsidy.

Finland was committed to the goals of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and had integrated them into relevant external policies and development assistance, he said.  The Government was in the process of finalizing a national action plan to implement 1325, which covered women’s role and participation in conflict prevention, peace consolidation and peacebuilding; gender issues in crisis management and peacekeeping, including recruitment and training; and the protection of women.  The national action plan would be launched in September.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

During the Committee’s detailed examination of Finland’s implementation of the Convention, experts, while laudatory of the country’s programmes and progress in implementing the Convention’s provisions, also raised issues of concern, such as violence and discrimination against migrant women, issues of integration and female genital mutilation, among others.

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked why the reports made only general references to discrimination, rather than specific ones on issues of discrimination against women.  With the Optional Protocol’s importance, it would have also been more desirable to have more widely publicized the Protocol by putting it on the Ministry of Justice’s website, thus guaranteeing, not just its broader publicity, but also its wider dissemination.

While commending the Government’s efforts, VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, expressed concern that the budgeting for gender equality had been reduced by a third over the past three years.  Additionally, she wanted to know if the gender mainstreaming strategy enunciated in the report gave enough room for gender equality policies that focused on the specific needs of women in Finland and asked how the gender impact assessment was being undertaken.

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, commented on the difficulties encountered by immigrant women, as raised in the reports, such as problems of integration, high unemployment rates, as well as violent environments.  She noted that Finnish civil society continued to raise the similar concerns.  Also, were the announced measures adequate to address those anxieties?

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said she saw two sets of standards in the Government’s approach to gender mainstreaming and wondered if that was not at variance with the rest of Europe’s standard of mainstreaming gender issues and projects.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC, Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, also sought elaboration on the quality of control exercised by the Office of the Equality Ombudsman over gender mainstreaming activities.

Country Response

Responding to some of the questions, delegation leader Mr. KOSONEN said that the concerns raised by members would be brought to the attention of his Government, explaining that the Equality Ombudsman had also raised many of the same issues.  He was confident that the points raised by the Ombudsman, a highly respected civil servant, would receive the necessary attention by the Government.

Another member of the delegation dispelled fears that Finland might not fully implement some of the Convention’s provisions, owing to coordination issues between the various players.  She said that the Equality Committee had already taken into account the feedback it had received on its report from the various interested parties.  The Equality Committee was independent in its work and had decided that its future focus would be on discrimination, rather than exclusively on gender. 

She said although the reform planned was to focus on discrimination in general, she agreed that there was a need to specifically highlight areas that directly concerned discrimination against women.  Towards that end, the Government of Finland was very open to any opinions and suggestions of the Women’s Committee.

Another delegate explained that the Finnish Parliament was already involved in formulating gender mainstreaming policy.  Collaboration between the relevant entities was necessary in facilitating Parliament in drafting human rights legislation, in line with the Women’s Convention.  Another member of the delegation, a Member of Parliament and an immigrant, stressed the importance of close collaboration between the legislature and the various entities working in the area of combating discrimination, pointing out that the Finnish Parliament was fully engaged in that area, particularly as it related to the protection of the rights of immigrants.

Mr. KOSONEN further explained that the ensuing resolutions and recommendations had influenced the way Parliament enacted laws.  Another member of the delegation noted that there were various structures in place to monitor and regulate the various types of discrimination, including gender-related and ethnic-based forms of discrimination.  Some regulation and monitoring was undertaken by the Office of the Equality Ombudsman.  Another member stated that Finland had always had a strong history of protecting the needs of special groups, such as ethnic groups, for which policies specifically tailored to their needs already existed.

Concerning the monitoring of the impact assessment of gender mainstreaming, a delegate acknowledged that, while that was a slow and challenging process, more effective methods of carrying it out were being examined.  On funding the various gender equality agencies, she said that resources had been increasing over the past few years and had totalled $400,000 this year.

On immigrant problems, a delegate explained that the Government was implementing programmes aimed at facilitating foreigners’ access to work in Finland.  Programmes in vocational training and other areas were targeting such groups.  However, a lot more work remained to be done.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, stressing the importance of the role of the media in the process of effectively implementing the Convention, asked about the Government’s efforts in eliminating stereotypical images, such as those generated through advertising, which were not only degrading to women, but were also widespread.

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, expressed her concern about the strong possibility that women victims of violence in Finland, usually domestic violence, were not heard from, owing to their isolation and language barrier.  Concerning female genital mutilation, she asked which groups were targeted in programmes to overcome that phenomenon and how effective they had been.

GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, asserted that it was easy for the Government to use political expedience to negotiate with the Roma and Sami communities and leave the indigenous people out all together.  She asked whether the Government was insisting that those women be equally represented and integrated in all programmes, so that they might benefit from them.  Society should not, in the name of culture, be allowed to continue the sexism and the lifestyles perpetrated by men, regardless of where that occurred. “And this happens right across Europe, in Canada and here in the United States” and wherever indigenous people existed and where they had been subjected to the same type of discrimination and degradation.

HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, suggested the establishment of a special committee under the leadership of the Prime Minister, asserting that, unless that was done, men, the main perpetrators of the violence against women, would never get the message of the seriousness of the issue.  Such a committee, she further suggested, should also include a representative of civil society, as they knew the problems right from the heart and from the grassroots. 

Country Response

Responding, a member of the delegation said the impact of mediation in cases of domestic violence, for instance, had not been measured in Finland and it was difficult, therefore, to quantify its effectiveness.  However, even if mediation was successful, that did not preclude taking the matter a step further -- to the courts of law.

On immigrants, another member of the delegation stated that the Government had recognized the importance of integrating immigrants into Finnish society and, in that regard, the Ministry of the Interior last year had investigated the conditions of Thai women working in Finland.  Following those investigations, a concrete plan of integration had been developed.  A Finnish-Thai Association had also been established, which provided information to Thai immigrants to Finland.

On violence against women and female genital mutilation, a delegate stated that, although that practice was punishable in Finland, there was “no law on the books” of the country. 

Concerning consumer protection, another delegate noted that the Parliament, in June, had accepted the new provision of the Consumer Protection Act, as proposed.  The new rules, to enter into force in September, were stricter.  Marketing was considered to be inappropriate if it presented one of the sexes in a degrading manner.  Advertising targeted at minors had stricter criteria.  Sex and violence used in outdoor ads targeting minors was banned.

Mr. KOSONEN said he did have the exact figures on the number of women in the Sami Council and the Sami Parliament. 

Experts’ Comments and Questions

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, said programmes to assist Sami, minority, disabled and marginalized women appeared to be sector-specific programmes only.  What impact did they have on the real integration and acceptance of those women into mainstream Finnish society? 

FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, said violence against women had not decreased in eight years and that no effective prosecution system was in place.  Rape had doubled in the past 15 years.  Why had Finland allowed women to suffer so much?  Why was there no separate law against domestic violence or strong penalties for perpetrators?  When would the Government take coordinated steps to prevent violence against women and provide victims with support services?  Was the Government considering a new law to criminalize sexual harassment?

SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked why the country report had not listed non-heterosexual women as a vulnerable group.  What measures was the Government taking to implement special measures to promote equality for women of different sexual orientations?  Were there any statistics on women facing hate crimes due to their sexual orientation, and on the number of suicides of lesbians, gay and transgender women? 

Ms. ŠIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked about national efforts to implement the Council of Europe’s objectives on ending violence against women.  Was the Government analyzing data to prevent the murder of women?  Was there a special task force analyzing cases of women murdered by husbands, ex-husbands or former partners, and what was being done to prevent those murders?

Country Response

A delegate said that the 2008-2011 Government Action Plan for Gender Equality would address such key issues as violence against women and discrimination against women minorities.  Finland had a national plan to implement the Council of Europe’s recommendations to end violence against women.  In terms of data on the murder of women, ministers would look into how to analyze such data and develop subsequent action plans.

Another delegate said that the Penal Code took into account the special circumstances concerning domestic violence, including the offender’s track record in a close relationship.  The regular punishment of an offender could be increased if a victim was in a weak position and/or could not defend himself or herself sufficiently.  Punishment was increased for repeat offencesMost assault offences were subjected to public prosecution regardless of whether the victim called for prosecution, but there were some exceptions, including petty assault.  The Ministry of Justice was examining the possibility of making petty assaults committed in a close relationship subjected to public prosecution in order to better protect victims of domestic violence and forced prostitution.  The working group to be set up in the fall would examine that issue.

Another delegate said that 75 per cent of Finnish children aged 3 to 5, including Sami and Roma children, attended day care.  Municipalities paid for special measures and assistance needed for Roma children, and hired Roma aides to assist them.  Disabled women were more educated than disabled men, but the women faced greater discrimination in the labour market than the men.  Special mechanisms existed, such as the National Council on Disability and a body on Roma affairs, to erase negative stereotypes of both disabled and Roma people.   Finland had a strong network of non-governmental organizations, which addressed women’s issues, and two of those dealt with Roma women’s issues.  A subgroup of the Sami Council dealt with Sami women’s concerns.

The Women’s Convention had had a very significant impact on the enactment of national gender equality legislation since the initial passage of the Act on Gender Equality, another delegate said.  The 2005 amendments to the Act further had extended the scope of gender equality protections and rights.  Amendments to the Finnish Constitution during the 1990s and 2000 made direct reference to the Convention.

Another delegate said that the fact that the Parliament had endeavoured to implement the Council of Europe’s campaign to stop domestic violence against women and was arranging high-level seminars, involving the President, had showed that the issue was of great concern to FinlandThe Committee on Constitutional Law had a special responsibility for the Aland Islands and the Sami people.  Parliament Members visited them periodically and were very concerned aboutit. 

Experts’ Comments and Questions

SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, expressed concern over violence against children in Finland.  She asked if the next report could include age disaggregated data on such violence.  When would Finland ratify the Palermo Convention?  Why was the monitoring of trafficking victims moved from the Ministry of Labour to the Ombudsman for Minorities?  What was the role of the national rapporteur in that regard?  What was the Government doing to assist Thai women who worked as massage therapists in Finland and were subsequently forced into prostitution?  She asked the delegation to elaborate on Finland’s involvement in international cooperation on anti-trafficking efforts. 

YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, asked about the prevalence of prostitution and Government efforts to combat it.  Did the Government have a dialogue with commercial sex workers?  Was prostitution linked to organized crime?  How had the Government analyzed the impact of criminalizing the prostitution?

Country Response

Mr. KOSONEN said that the Government was preparing to ratify next year the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

Regarding violence against children, a member of the delegation explained that corporal punishment, although used, was not allowed in Finland.

Mr. KOSONEN expressed the hope that the Ombudsman would be provided with sufficient resources and manpower to enable her to carry out her functions effectively.

Another delegation member told the meeting that, although it had originally been suggested to Parliament that buying sexual services be made punishable, a penal provision that would cover all such situations would be problematic.  There were also problems related to proof in sexual abuse cases, which related to consent between victim and perpetrator.  The provision had also aimed to making the female adolescents less attractive to trafficking. 

Mr. KOSONEN added that there were various levels within Government that had detailed programmes, and there was strong coordination between the different entities of Government.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, commended Finland for having 12 women out the Government’s 20 ministers -- a 60 per cent representation.  She voiced concern, however, over the national status of the Roma and the Sami minorities and wondered if the two groups enjoyed full protection from all forms of discrimination.  She asked if those two groups had access to such things as passports that allowed them to travel freely in and out of the country, and whether they were allowed to hold any Government positions and participate in the country’s electoral process as equals.

Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, congratulated the Government for empowering women in economic decision-making and asked if there was any timeline by which the number of women who sat on the governing boards of private sector and Government-owned companies would be increased.

Country Response

A delegation member stated that the number of women in top-level State administration has been growing steadily, now representing 24 per cent -- up from 15 per cent in 1992.  Though slow, that trend was nevertheless welcome.  The slow pace was attributable to the fact that not many people were moving quickly from the higher posts they occupied in the ministries, and therefore not many new recruits were coming in.  The picture was much better in Finland’s courts, however.

Delegation leader Mr. KOSONEN commented on the issue of minorities, pointing out that the Sami were regarded as indigenous people and the Roma and other groups were considered as minorities.  He noted that there were three different languages in Finland and the country did not legislate against minorities.  In principle, minorities who lived in Finland had the same rights and were free to travel into and out of the country, without obstruction or passport.  Throughout the Nordic countries, people moved freely between borders with their herds of reindeer, without any hindrance, he added. 

Regarding public companies, as the majority shareholder in most companies, the Government was doing its best to address concerns of any discriminatory practices, he said.  Even in the private sector, which was even more removed from Government control, the Government was making every effort to redress the situation.

To concerns raised by experts on the protection of immigrants, a member of the delegation explained that her presence at the meeting was proof of the progress made in eliminating discrimination against immigrants, as she was not only a member of the Finnish Parliament, but was also an immigrant.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, urged the Finnish Government to ensure that the teaching of gender equality was well entrenched in the nation’s school curriculum, stressing that, unless children were made to understand what equality was all about at an early age, the push to eliminate discrimination and inequality would not amount to much.

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, expressed her disappointment that the progress made in the country’s academic field did not measure up to the standards set in the rest of the Nordic countries, and asked what the Government was doing to rectify that situation.

XIAOQIAO ZOU, expert from China, appreciated the country’s achievements in the education field, but said she was also was concerned about the school curriculum, which did not support gender sensitivity.  Had the Government considered reviewing the curriculum to embrace such a change? she asked.

Country Response

A delegate said there was a noticeable trend to increase the number professors at the level of higher institutions of learning, although the progress was not as rapid as it should be.  One problem was that there were not as many women applicants for professorships as men.  A lot of work in that regard was still required, not only in the nomination processes for professorships, but also at the level of academic careers, so that more women were encouraged to take up positions at universities.

She added that there was now a mentoring programme and a training programme for women in universities, which would hopefully “help us make the steps we need to take forward”.

Another delegate addressed sexual stereotyping in schools, explaining that the Act on Equality, passed in 2005, required educational and vocational institutions, universities and poly-technical institutes to draw up plans that included gender-sensitive programmes.  Additionally, the country’s central board of education had developed new national guidelines for schools directed at implementing the gender-sensitive aspects of the Equality Act.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, noted the high level of sexual harassment in the workplace and the fact that only three laws addressed it.  Did the Government envision a review of those laws?  She lamented that employers only fired employees found guilty of sexual harassment as a last resort, and instead, often shuffled perpetrators to another department where they could go on to harass someone else.  She asked for details on the number of sexual harassment convictions.  What was being done to close the gender pay gap?  Were women in high positions and in trade unions equally represented in collective agreement rounds? 

HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, expressed concern over gender segregation in the labour market.  What could justify not renewing a woman’s fixed-term contract?  Was analysis available as to whether women in fact had the courage to go to the Ombudsman, employer or trade union with allegations of discrimination?

Country Response

In terms of the gender pay gap, a delegate said that Government wages and salaries were paid according to collective agreements.  The Government’s equal pay programme focused on equal family leave measures for men and women.

Another delegate noted that, in 2005, the Equality Ombudsman had suggested to the Ministry of Labour that the Employment Contracts Act be amended to prohibit employers from not renewing women’s fixed-term contracts if they were pregnant or sought family leave.  There had thus far not been any change in terms of the non-renewal of pregnant women’s contracts.  More knowledge and dissemination of information was needed on that subject.

The Government had appointed a committee in 2007 to reform the entire social security system in Finland, another delegate said.

Another said there had been some court cases concerning sexual harassment.  Perpetrators could be fired for sexually harassing another employee.  Many workplaces had strategies and means to deal with sexual harassment, and equality planning had an important role in that regard.  Harassment was forbidden under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, expressed concern that the suicide rate among young girls in Finland was the second highest in the world.  What steps were being taken to reduce suicides?  Were adequate resources allocated for school health-care programmes?  What prenatal and postnatal health-care services were available for Sami and Roma women, and what health-care packages were provided for older and disabled women?

Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked how the Government was addressing the health-care needs of women, including mental health disorders.  Had there been any studies on the special needs of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women?

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, regretted that Finland had not adopted an official party line concerning poverty.  How did the Government plan to address poverty, including social exclusion and gender perspectives?  Was there a comprehensive plan to reduce poverty, particularly among marginalized groups?

ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about the differences among Sami and other Finnish women in their educational and health-care status, employment opportunities and access to public funds.  What language and other assistance programmes were available for immigrant women?

Country Response

A delegate said that the Government was well aware of the prevalence of depression and suicide among young girls.  Guidelines in schools and the medical profession existed to recognize and prevent the problem.  A new Child Protection Act that came into force this year, and stipulated that schools must have psychologists and social workers, would enhance the well-being of young people.  The 2008-2011 National Development Plan for Social and Healthcare Services would strengthen prevention and early intervention.  The National Public Health Institute also published information materials on depression and suicide.  Since 2006, sex education had become a mandatory subject in schools.  A programme launched in 2007 for the promotion of sexual and reproductive health had proven successful thus far.

Responding to a question posed earlier by an expert on health issues, a delegate stated that there were health programmes in place for minorities, such as the Sami.  Recognizing that sometimes language was a major barrier for the Sami, language courses had in some cases been organized to enable better doctor-patient communication.

On poverty, the Government now understood that it was not merely a question of poverty, but also a matter of a better-organized pension system, another delegate said.  Additionally, child poverty was also just as much of a concern as was the overall unemployment situation.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, expressed concerns about child adoption and property rights of couples after a marriage ended, particularly involving same-sex couples.  She also wanted to know how pension rights were determined, notably in cases where there were big disparities in the earning capacities of the concerned couple.

Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if there were any divorce statistics available, and what rights were enjoyed by those who found themselves in divorce situations.

Country Response

On adoption, a member of the delegation told the meeting that the current legislation only allowed married heterosexual couples to adopt, but legislation was being formulated that would allow for intra-familial registered partners of the same sex to adopt children.  She confirmed that women in need of legal aid were entitled to it, on a non-discriminatory basis.

Another delegation member said there was a clear trend that the earlier the marriage was contracted the longer it lasted; for instance, marriage contracted in 1950 lasted longer than those entered into in 1970.

Experts’ Comments and Questions

Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked if there were any special training programmes for members of the Constitutional Committee, which was charged with drafting legislation, to ensure that they were more conversant with the requirements of international treaties and how those were prepared.

Closing Remarks

Wrapping up the day’s meeting, the leader of the delegation, Mr. KOSONEN, stated that it was clear on some issues that a lot remained to be done and that, on other issues, more could have been done.  Today had been a learning process for both the members and the delegation.  He pledged to the Committee members that what had been taken from the meeting would be passed on to the relevant authorities in Finland and that the learning process would continue.

In her closing remarks, the Committee Chairperson and expert from Croatia, Ms. ŠIMONOVIC, praised the delegation, noting that a lot had certainly been achieved.  On the other hand, as pointed out by the delegation leader, a lot still remained to be accomplished.  It was for that reason that it was absolutely vital to uphold the principles of the Women’s Convention, she stressed.

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*     The 840th Meeting was closed.

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.