Opening Statement by Minister Soini at the Olave Baden-Powell Society Event

Opening Statement by Mr. Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Olave Baden-Powell Society Event 2015, 7 August 2015, Tampere Hall.

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Your Royal Highnesses,
Princess Benedikte,
Princess Azizah Iskander,
Princess Afzah,
Princess Jihan,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is a great honour to address this distinguished audience at the Olave Baden-Powell Society Event in Tampere. I would like to commend the Olave Baden-Powell Society and the organizers of this event for highlighting the importance of women's leadership in society. We need more women leaders both at national and at international level for better societies, for better decision-making and for better politics.

Women are also a "basic force" for economic success. History has shown that realization of women's rights and the empowerment of women benefit the society as a whole. This has happened in Finland and this can happen in any country. That is: if there is political will to enable women to participate fully in societies.

A key step is to invest in education for women and girls. This yields higher economic returns for national economies and improves earnings at the individual level. In many countries there are major barriers to achieving universal primary and secondary education due to unequal treatment based on poverty, ethnicity or disabilities. It is therefore important to work for inclusive education and equal educational opportunities of high quality for all. I believe that we all agree that it is particularly unacceptable that women and girls with disabilities are subjected to multiple discrimination and human rights violations. Finland continues to combat this multiple discrimination which often affects those who are in the most vulnerable situation.

The Finnish experience shows also that economic empowerment of women requires equal access and rights also to economic resources. But equal rights as such are not sufficient to enable women to enter and compete at the labour market; long term policies and investments  - for example in maternal health and child care  - are necessary. 

In spite of progress made to end violence against women and girls, it is still far too high in many parts of the world. Also here in Finland. Annually more than 20 women in Finland lose their lives as victims of domestic violence.

Globally the root causes of violence against women as well as prevailing attitudes and behavior need to be challenged through education, awareness-raising and ending impunity to prevent violence against women. Gender based violence takes many forms and can go as far as aborting unborn fetuses, only because they are female. Without significant changes in cultural, social and moral attitudes women and girls will continue to be subjected to violence. Men in all societies need to take more active role including in changing behaviors to end harmful cultural practices.

Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Guests,

The promotion of women's rights, the empowerment of women and gender equality are one of the priorities of Finland's foreign and security policy and I am personally very committed to pursue this policy.

I am happy to note that the need to apply a gender perspective to efforts to prevent conflict and build peace is increasingly recognized internationally. In this context Finland strongly supports the comprehensive implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 1325. 

One of my concerns, however, is that in practice women's participation continues to be a neglected dimension of international security. All too many countries still reject the notion that gender equality has a decisive role to play in making the world more secure for everyone - men and women alike. And yet, for sustainable peace processes it is vital to include the knowledge and experiences of women to peace negotiations, peace agreements and peacebuilding. 

It is unconceivable that in the past two decades for example only 2.4 percent of chief mediators have been women. We could and should do better. We need to engage more women as mediators and mediation experts, as peacekeepers and in the police force.

Military and civilian crisis management is an important area to promote women's participation. Finland has a strong track record in training and deploying women as civilian crisis management experts – women constitute almost 40 % of the Finnish civilian crisis management experts. Concrete progress regarding leadership by women in crises management is also slow also within the EU: for example out of 16 crises management operations in the European Union only one is led by a woman.

Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Guests,

Gender equality is a key theme also in the Finnish development cooperation. Let me mention some concrete examples.

In Nepal, Finland has supported the integration of gender perspectives in the private sector activities and promoted better livelihoods for the small farmers, most of whom are women.

In Kenya, we have supported the drafting of the new Constitution that secures among other things women's representation in public service and recognizes matrimonial property in land ownership. We are now supporting the Kenyan authorities in the implementation of these provisions to better enable women to enjoy their rights.

One of the main objectives of Finnish Aid for Trade program is promoting women's entrepreneurship in our partner countries. For example in Nepal, Finland supports the entrepreneurship training and skills development of ethnic minority women who have been affected by conflict. In Kenya and Tanzania, we support women's entrepreneurship as part of agribusiness and agriculture development programmes.

Support for women’s economic empowerment through civil society organisations is crucial. For example, our support to Women's World Banking advances poor women's access to financial services in developing countries.

Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Guests,

No country has yet achieved full gender equality. Only by working together - governments, international organizations, civil society, women and men, boys and girls - we can make it happen. This event gives us a good opportunity to find more and better ways to reach this common goal.

I wish you a very successful event and I thank you for your attention.