Twenty‑third Special Session of the General Assembly,
"Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for
the twenty‑first century"
Statement by Mr. OSMO SOININVAARA
Minister of Health and Social Services
New York, June 8, 2000
PERMANENT MISSION OF FINLAND TO THE UNITED NATIONS
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 222 • New York, NY 10017
Tel: (212) 355‑2100 • Fax (212) 759‑6156
E‑mail: sanomat.yke@@formin.fi ‑ Website: www.un.int/finland
Distinguished Presidents, Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
Finland aligns herself with the statement made by the distinguished Portuguese Minister for Equality on behalf of the European Union. I would like to make a few additional remarks that are of particular interest to Finland.
The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was an important milestone in the advancement of women and gender equality. Now, a strong recommitment is needed in order to fully implement the results reached five years ago.
After Beijing the Government of Finland adopted and implemented a Plan of Action. Now, the Government will decide how to proceed.
Full equality, development and peace cannot be achieved without the full realisation of all human rights of women and girls. Economic, social and cultural rights should be given an equal standing with civil and political rights. Finland welcomes the adoption of the optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. We support its speedy ratification and entry into force. In Finland the ratification will be concluded in a few months time.
Almost a hundred years ago, Finland was the first country in the world to give women full political rights. Today we have a female President and a female Speaker of the Parliament. Women are well represented in political life at all levels. The quota provisions have had a dramatic effect on women's participation at local level. The quota system requires a minimum of 40 percentages of both men and women in governmental and municipal bodies.
Equality between women and men in Finland is based upon full and equal realisation of all human rights. I would especially stress the right to work, the right to universal and individual social security and the right to health, including sexual and reproductive rights as well as mental health. The right to education is a crucial factor in the promotion of equality between men and women.
In Finland women have been active developers of the welfare state. Social security as well as social and health care services, especially day care for children and parental leaves, make it possible for mothers and fathers to work outside home and earn their living. Inequalities between women and men, however, remain a fact in working life. Women's salaries are, on the average, about 82 per cent of men's salaries.
Finnish women are highly educated, working outside home, actively involved in political life and economically independent. However, they face the burden of reconciling family and growing demands of working life. Competition in the new economy and work can result in a situation where parents ‑ both mothers and fathers ‑ do not take advantage of their legal parental right. As a father I have to say that also fathers are deprived from their children and families because of work. It has also become more difficult for young women to obtain permanent employment. The Government has taken measures to address these problems.
Violence against women is a serious human rights violation. The Beijing Conference and the work carried out by UNIFEM have raised awareness of the problem. In accordance with its Plan of Action, the Government of Finland has taken the responsibility to combat violence against women. Sexual offences are extensively defined as offences subject to public prosecution.
The legislation on Restraining Orders effectively protects women against violence. Restraining orders prohibit violent persons from approaching their victims and offer police protection. This legislation has proven to be very important. Over one thousand restraining orders were issued in one year.
An extensive victimisation survey on violence against women was conducted in Finland recently. A study on the costs of violence caused to individuals, employers and society will be published soon.
Girl child requires particular attention. The feminisation of poverty starts already in the treatment of girl children. Poverty and gender based inequities together with lack of education and inadequate access to health care have serious consequences.
Today's new challenge world‑wide is how to help women and girls make better use of information and communication technology. The revolution in this field can and should empower women. It offers access to information on health, education, training, financing and so on. It will also help women's networking all over the world.
The HIV/AIDS is one of the biggest health risks and threats to development. As the new chairperson of the UNAIDS Programme Co‑ordinating Board, I would like to address this crucial issue. The epidemic of HIV/AIDS has put a clear linkage between poverty, health, access to care and human rights.
The HIV continues to devastate continents. It is increasingly affecting women, children and young people. In the age group from 15 to 20, for every infected boy there are five to six infected girls.
What makes young women and girls particularly vulnerable to HIV ? It has become widely recognised that gender‑based discrimination is an important factor in determining vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. A combination of cultural and biological factors is responsible for the enormous gap in infection rates between women and men.
How are we to protect young women and girls against HIV/AIDS ? The realisation of women's sexual and reproductive rights, including right to information and services are of great importance. I take this opportunity to encourage the development of national educational programmes on health issues for young girls and boys.
Equality between women and men must be realised in practice. National legislation or outcomes of international processes are not enough. The involvement of the civil society is crucial in achieving full gender equality. We, as representatives of Governments, must support the NGO's in their role and continue the dialogue with them.
However, governments have the primary responsibility for the implementation of the Platform for Action adopted in Beijing as well as the actions and initiatives to be adopted here. I hope that our recommitment will lead to more accelerated actions. Gender equality and advancement of women will continue to be major issues in the 21 st century.
Thank you, Mr. President.