Advancing gender equality is ever more important

Finland’s foreign policy aims to promote equality between women and men and support the full materialisation of girls’ and women’s rights. How is gender equality realised today? We asked Finland’s Ambassador for Gender Equality, Katri Viinikka, for her thoughts in this sixth part of the “Sustainable Foreign Policy” series.

The person referred to in the news item is sitting at the table.
Katri Viinikka, Ambassador for Equality Issues, is responsible for equality-related matters in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

“The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is actively working for gender equality. Development cooperation is an important tool for improving the position of women and girls globally. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs promotes gender equality by other means as well, and its Political Department and Legal Service work closely together with central government partners with responsibilities in the field of gender equality. In Finland, we have considerable expertise in these matters,” says Ambassador for Gender Equality Katri Viinikka.

Ambassador for Gender
Equality Katri Viinikka.

Advancing gender equality is both timely and relevant, as gender equality work is constantly being challenged. The rise of populism and neo-conservatism in recent years has led to harsher tones even in Europe.

“Even in the EU, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are being called in to question surprisingly often. These voices are in the minority, of course, but the principle of unanimity in EU decision-making slows down the pioneering role we are aspiring to achieve. Nevertheless, the full realisation of SRHR is an indispensable condition for gender equality,” says Viinikka.

“We are living in a time when key players in global politics are putting a brake on the promotion of gender equality in international fora. Their actions have direct and harmful effects on the realisation of human rights. Some UN organisations, such as UNICEF, have had trouble to secure funding in recent years, and some organisations are under great pressure to cut back their work for gender equality,” says Viinikka.

Prior to her present post, Viinikka served as Finland’s Ambassador to the Netherlands in The Hague. She has also worked as Director of Unit in the Political Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and served in the Permanent Representation of Finland to the EU in Brussels and in Finland’s embassies in Berlin and Bonn. Viinikka started at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in the mid-1990s.

During her years in the Netherlands, Viinikka grew interested in gender equality issues when she saw how important they are for Finland’s foreign and security policy and country image work. Seeing from a distance, she became convinced of Finland’s credibility as champion of gender equality. Our own gender equality situation is very good by international standards.

“We must bear in mind that the concept of sexual and reproductive health and rights is very broad and that it covers important issues like maternal health. In Finland, we have significant historical expertise in gender equality, which we could utilise even more in our country image work. People around the world are very interested in our social innovations, such as the maternity pack,” Viinikka sums up. 

However, drawing attention to our achievements requires long-term work and continuous developing of our activities. It is important to have the right attitude.

“We tend to be a little too modest in international fora. In comparison, Sweden, France and Canada are ambitiously pursuing a feminist foreign policy in recent years. Although we have long traditions in gender equality, it is important that we find ways to describe our achievements to a wider audience,” says Viinikka. 

“Finland’s foreign policy, too, is centred on the idea that gender equality should systematically permeate all foreign and security policy activities,” says Viinikka.

“We approach gender equality promotion through self-reflection. This means that we are open about our own gender equality issues, such as the scale of violence against women in Finland. We cannot promote Finland as the model country of gender equality if we are not honest about our own shortcomings,” says Viinikka.

“Gender equality issues are not going anywhere. In fact, the year 2020 could be described as the super year of gender equality. It will mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which are still considered to be the most progressive documents on the rights of women,” says Viinikka.

“The UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, peace and security, too, will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Finland has taken a lead in implementing the resolution, and we are already on our third international action plan. Next year will also mark the tenth anniversary of the UN Entity for Gender Equality, UN Women. Finland has been the largest donor of a UN organisation only once, and that organisation was UN Women. We have always had a high level of credibility in gender equality matters,” says Viinikka.

What is the current progress on gender equality promotion?

“The work is progressing step by step, but it is also a challenge. In negotiations, we are often on the defensive. However, it is great that the current Government Programme has strong wordings on gender equality. We have also used Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union to advance the Istanbul Convention, which will have a major impact on reducing violence against women,” says Viinikka.

“The future looks bright, despite everything. The European Commission President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, highlights gender equality in her political guidelines. Moreover, our own Commissioner-designate, Jutta Urpilainen, is expected to have a portfolio with a strong emphasis on gender equality. This is positive news for Finland’s foreign policy, too. It is good to continue from here,” concludes Viinikka.

See Katri Viinikka's video interview:

The “Sustainable Foreign Policy” video series discuss the priorities of Finland's foreign and security policy and the key themes of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. The parts that have been published can be viewed below:

Hybrid Influencing, Satu Mattila-Budich

In the first episode of this series of interviews, Satu Mattila-Budich explains her work as Ambassador for Hybrid Affairs and tells what Finland has done in its capacity of President of the Council of the European Union to bring hybrid threats to the agenda of EU meetings.

Common Foreign and Security Policy?

In the second part of the series, Ambassador Hanna Lehtinen, Finland's representative to the EU Political and Security Committee in Brussels, tells about the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Mediator, Pekka Haavisto

How is mediation reflected in the handling of Finland's external relations? We asked Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto for his thoughts in the third part of the series.

Common trade policy, Pasi-Heikki Vaaranmaa

What does the near future hold for trade policy? We asked Pasi-Heikki Vaaranmaa, Director of the Trade Policy Unit at the Department for External Economic Relations at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, for his thoughts in this fourth part of the series.

Partnership with Africa, Maria Kurikkala

In recent years, African countries have increased their visibility in the eyes of the international community. In the fifth part of the “Sustainable Foreign Policy” series, Maria Kurikkala who leads the Africa Policy Team sheds light on the reasons underlying the current interest.