How Finland Got the World’s Youngest, Female Governing Coalition
My country has long been a pioneer in gender equality, but now the glass ceiling seems to have been broken for young women.
Yesterday, 34-year-old Sanna Marin from the Finnish Social Democratic Party (SDP) became the world’s youngest prime minister after Antti Rinne, the leader of the party, was forced to resign. Not only that, but Marin is the leader of a coalition government formed by five parties all led by women, four of them under the age of 35.
How was this possible?
Well, for starters, Finland was the first country in the world to give women full political rights, in 1906–although technically, it was not yet an independent country but an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire. As a result, Finland got its first female MPs in 1907, ten years before the Russian Revolution that gave us our independence.
Finland has previously had female prime ministers and a female president, Tarja Halonen, from 2000 to 2012, also from the SDP. Finnish women have been taking over universities, as well, for as long as I can remember. Women now represent 57,4% of all students, though some fields are still male-dominated. The country has also championed women’s rights in its foreign policy, pushing a progressive agenda for the inclusion of women in developing countries. In theory, Finnish women now have the same possibilities in life as men, but equality is of course not at 100%. Women still make 84 cents on the euro a man earns, and in 2017, women accounted for a whopping 7,2% of CEO positions.
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Is it about gender?
The new prime minister herself has said that she doesn’t find her age or gender to be a relevant issue. Rather, Marin said in an interview, she focuses on being true to the motives that pushed her to get involved in politics and that won the SDP the trust of the electorate. She wants to work on building a fair and egalitarian future for the country, following the SDP’s long-standing tradition.
As 34-year-old Finnish woman coming from a working class family much like Sanna Marin, I too consider myself very lucky to have had my wellbeing guaranteed to me by the Finnish model, that included one of the best education systems in the world, free healthcare and a safe, healthy upbringing. I agree with her that saving that social democracy is key.
And I agree with her, to some extent, on her statement about gender not being as big of an issue as it seems to the outside world. To me, what is remarkable about this new government is not so much the gender of the party leaders, but rather their age and progressive views.
The Finnish election of March of 2019 was successfully dubbed by the left “the climate election”, meaning that the left-wing parties (the Green Party, the SDP and and the Left Alliance) focused heavily on putting climate change at the center of political conversation.
The formation of the left-wing coalition government was also permitted by rising discontent with the previous government, led by a right-wing coalition that was often viewed as insensitive to marginalized people and highly inefficient, after proving incapable of pushing through its most important policy initiatives.
Years of rising extremism and the political conversation being dominated by reactions to the far-right party Perussuomalaiset, also helped push voters on the other side of the political spectrum even farther to the left, giving the Left Alliance and the Greens a historic win, and letting the SDP recover from a long slump.
Us Finns are also very interested in what happens in the outside world and we follow US politics with keen interest. In my opinion, young, urban, progressive voters might also be more mobilized after watching the 2016 and 2018 elections in the US, first feeling outrage over Trump and later inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and the “Squad”.
But this in no way means that Finland’s new generation of women in power is somehow improvised: rather, it means that these hard-working young leaders are now finally being taken seriously as a force to be reckoned with.
In the United States just like in Finland, young voters are putting young leaders in power, because we know the challenges we face now need urgent measures and outside-of-the-box thinking. We understand income inequality, because it’s our reality. We take climate change seriously, because it threatens our future. And we’re willing to do the work to make real change happen.
That change starts with putting more people like us in charge.