Mr. Kai Mykkanen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Finland

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Minister Mykkänen makes a direct link between Finland’s domestic success - moving from poverty to prosperity – and the country’s strong support for the values and vision of SheDecides. One of the largest donors to the SheDecides movement, contributing €20m at the conference in March 2017, Finland sees gender equality as the core driver of successful societies. In his interview, looking back at Finland’s progress towards becoming one of the world’s strongest promoters and defenders of gender equality, the Minister credits the success to his country’s fierce commitment by establishing a determined gender policy through the decades, and also for passing and implementing laws which have advanced the rights of women and girls. ‘Today’ he says, ‘Finland is a high income country where all citizens have access to services. At the dawn of our independence a hundred years ago, we started to make investments to improve the status of women as well as maternal and child care. For example, maternity and child health clinics were introduced.’

Read the rest of his Interview below.

1.       Tell us briefly why you are passionate about being involved with SheDecides.

SheDecides is a powerful initiative to build global political support and rally funds for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. The idea of governments, foundations, CSOs, individuals and other stakeholders joining forces to advocate for the right of women to decide freely and for themselves whether, when, and how many children to have, has tremendous potential to empower all women and girls. Globally gender inequality is one of the greatest problems hindering the achievement of the sustainable development goals. Every two minutes, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth, and globally over 200 million women do not have access to contraceptives. Maternal mortality is one of the leading causes of death among 15-19 year olds. Almost all these women and girls could be saved if they had access to Sexual and Reproductive Health services and rights.   

2.       Briefly describe how the Finnish Government is working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies.

The key factor for Finland’s success in its rise from poverty to prosperity was the emphasis on gender equality. Our history shows that enhancing the rights and the status of women and girls and their opportunities to participate strengthens the society as a whole, and is a key factor for sustainable development. Finland´s actions are diverse in this field ranging from promoting women and girls´ education and skills development, promoting active participation in the labor force, providing women with better access to basic services, improving their involvement in political decision-making, and ensuring that women enjoy their right to make decisions, which affect their own lives. In practice, Finland works together with its partners to promote the capacity of countries to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of women and girls including Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and to remove obstacles to their realization.   

3.       What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls? Why?

It is the multiplier effect that often takes place when Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are not provided and/or respected, and when women cannot decide for themselves whether, when and with whom they have children. An early marriage or adolescent pregnancy often ends a girl’s education which makes it harder for her to find decent work. When Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are not respected, girls and women miss education and employment opportunities. Concerted efforts are needed to economically empower women. Lack of sufficient Sexual and Reproductive Health services and rights means that for millions of women pregnancy is a serious health risk with potentially long lasting impacts on their opportunities in the future. For girls pregnancy is always a health risk. By providing Sexual and Reproductive Health services and protecting their rights, we save millions of lives, and create an enabling environment for sustainable development.

4.       Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

One year ago I visited Kibera, the biggest slum in Nairobi. There I had the possibility to acquaint myself with the project of a local Civil Society Organisation which Finland supported. The project gives legal aid to thousands of women in combating domestic violence. I was deeply moved by hearing the stories and seeing the circumstances where domestic violence is rather a rule than an exception, and where women had no possibility to get any justice for the violent behavior they faced. In the modern world we cannot turn a blind eye to violence against women.

5.       How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question - in the Finnish context.

Some seventy years ago Finland was a post-conflict developing country. Enhancing gender equality, including Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, has required a determined gender policy through the decades and passing and implementing laws which have advanced the rights of women and girls and promoted gender equality. Today, Finland is a high income country where all citizens have access to services. At the dawn of our independence a hundred years ago, we started to make investments to improve the status of women as well as maternal and child care. For example, maternity and child health clinics were introduced. Today, Finland is among the countries with lowest maternity and infant mortality rates. The clinics also provide family support to both parents. In Finnish schools, children learn about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights as part of the health education. It has brought concrete results. For example, the number of unplanned pregnancies has decreased. We think that Comprehensive Sexuality Education is a human right.

6.       Anything else you'd like to add?

Today, women are actors in the global economy contributing to the economy as workers, entrepreneurs, managers, and leaders in an unprecedented way. If women are given the opportunity to decide whether, when, how many and with whom they have children, they have the potential to be economically empowered. Recent studies show that female labor participation decreases with each additional child by about 15% among women aged between 25 and 39. When women and girls have access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, protection from violence, parental leave and child care support, they are in a better position to find decent work and remain economically active. Women´s education is widely recognized as central to their economic empowerment. For example, the lack of access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights can have significant implications for women´s future economic aspirations. If women and girls do not have access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, we will not achieve sustainable development goals by 2030.

It is good to bear in mind that also in Finland more should be done in achieving gender equality in the labour market, regardless of the fact that the Nordic countries have traditionally been forerunners in gender equality. In Finland, attitudes are changing, but women still do the major part of the household work and they stay far longer at family leaves compared to men, which hinders the possibility for young women to find a job. Additionally, women move on slower in their careers because they still have the main responsibility of taking care of their families. On average, women get smaller pensions than men because the income from their whole career is smaller. At the moment the Government of Finland is preparing a family leave reform. I wish that we will find a way to move forward from the barriers arising from the traditional role models towards truly free choices between the roles of mothers and fathers.