Lessons from Finland on gender equality and leadership in politics
Lena Orlova // Contributor
34, 32, 34, 32, 55.
No, these are not the numbers of your next lottery ticket, these are the ages of Finland’s government leaders. Sanna Marin, at 34, was elected to lead a 5-party coalition on Dec. 10, 2019. She made world news as one of the youngest female politicians in history.
Marin adds a fresh face to the line-up of 50-something-year-old men preceding her.
Canada has its own string of primarily male, white, or upper class government leaders. The first and only ever serving Canadian female prime minister was Kim Campbell, who held one short, lacklustre term in 1993. Seventeen years later in 2010, Canada secured a modest 50th place in international ranking of female representation in parliament. We were preceded by Rwanda, Bolivia, and Costa Rica among others.
In a recent article on “rewilding politics”, Guardian’s columnist George Monbiot argues the nature of Western politics is a top-down control system. The richest and most powerful people pay for expensive social media management in order to spread inaccurate, highly biased information. We only have to remember the torrent of attack ads against Justin Trudeau sponsored by the Conservative Party during 2019 elections. This kind of playground bullying is a well-documented method of winning an electorate misinformed by superficial media. One only has to look across the border for the results: hello Trump!
While we air each other’s dirty laundry, Finland makes headway in information education. In 2014, Finland instated a “programme to counter fake news.” Moinbot writes, “The result is that Finns have been ranked, in a recent study of 35 nations, the people most resistant to post-truth politics.”
All defamatory campaign strategies do is erode trust and no one comes out the winner.
“The much bigger change is this: to stop seeking to control people from the center[…]” argues Moinbot. “I believe the best antidote to demagoguery is the opposite process: radical trust. To the greatest extent possible, parties and governments should trust communities to identify their own needs and make their own decisions.”
The government can better identify the needs of the electorate if the government consists of those who genuinely identify and advocate for the values of their community. Instead, our population of women, minorities, Indigenous peoples, immigrants, LGTBQ+ and working-class individuals has a parliament lacking many of these identifications.
“Most MPs are married, 30 per cent are bilingual, 13 per cent were born outside of Canada, women make up 26 per cent of the House, 14 per cent are visible minorities, 3 per cent are Indigenous, most studied politics, most were lawyers, and more have post-secondary education” summarized researcher Kai Chan to Hill Times.
In Vancouver, most Translink, Metro Vancouver and Lower Mainland city hall jobs still employ an overwhelming percentage of men. In a recent news series on salaries, the Vancouver Sun reported that men comprise 80 percent of these high earners.
“There are nearly 9,000 employees who make more than $75,000 annually, but there is a shocking gender divide: 7,150 of these employees are men, while only 1,800 are women,” write Lori Culbert and Nathan Griffiths.
Underneath efforts to increase female representation lurks the danger of more surface-level marketing politics.
“Parties are willing to choose women as leaders when they don’t really think they’ve got a chance of winning power,” said Mount Royal University’s Lori Williams in an interview with CTV News. “Women bring a different perspective to the table. Often, they focus more on family issues like domestic violence, care for elders, and children.”
For Finland, Sanna Marin ushers a new wave of modern leadership. Some believe that her age works to her advantage, facilitating communication between other party leaders. To run a 5-party coalition government she needs to build trust—something the world needs now more than ever. Infighting between political parties sucks up energy better used to address looming problems such as climate change, overpopulation, housing crises, class divides, pollution and increasing health concerns.
This is a new way of approaching politics, which makes sense since Marin is a new kind of person to see on the world stage.
“Marin is something of a poster child for the egalitarian Nordic model of social democracy. Raised by her mother and her female partner, she comes from what she calls a ‘rainbow family’ and moved around a lot as a child.” writes Philiip O’Connor in the Irish Times. “She worked in a bakery and as a cashier while taking advantage of Finland’s generous education system to get her degree in Administrative Science.”
We can relate. Most of us reading the Capilano Courier aren’t lawyers, graduates or millionaires. But we are contributing members of society who pay taxes, work in bakeries and coffee shops, use public services and engage with our community.
We don’t have to be like Finland and we don’t have to be perfect, but we can learn from what’s outside the box. Like a child looking up to a mentor, Finland is an example of the kind of goals and values we strive to reach.
Finland teaches us that leaders don’t have to be old, upper class, rich or a specific gender. People from all walks of life can become leaders of their community.