Sanna Marin, a Finnish politician, has made national headlines by winning the position of prime minister on Sunday. Marin will be sworn in on Tuesday, and at just 34 years old she will be the world’s youngest sitting prime minister, Finland’s youngest ever prime minister to date, and its third female prime minister (Lemola and Specia). This vote took place after the previous prime minister, Antti Rinne, faced backlash last week over mishandling a postal workers strike in which he made comments about a potential plan to cut wages for these workers (Britton and Ehlinger). Thus, he resigned on Tuesday as the head of a coalition government after the turbulent strikes which made his coalition partner, the Centre Party, lose confidence in him (Britton and Ehlinger).
To give some background on the elections, Finland is a republic with representative democracy. This means that Finland has an elected parliament that exercises the legislative powers, and the prime minister exercises the executive powers and heads the government (“What Type Of Government Does Finland Have?”). The president of Finland is also elected, and is head of state. Thus, the president leads the nation’s foreign policy and Finland’s defense forces. The prime minister, along with eleven ministers who are appointed by the premier, make up the Council of State in Finland. Before being elected prime minister, Marin was minister of transportation and communications, among the 12 ministries in Finland, that include, but are not limited to, interior, defense, foreign affairs, justice, education, agriculture, and environment (“What Type Of Government Does Finland Have?”). Marin will maintain a coalition government that includes her Social Democratic Party as well as the Center Party, the Greens, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People’s Party of Finland.
Sanna Marin has been a member of Parliament and the Social Democratic Party since 2015. The country’s coalition government consists of five parties, four of which are held by women (Lemola and Specia). Additionally, of the five women in leading ministerial positions, four are under 35 (Lemola and Specia). This illustrates a new generation of women leaders who are coming into high positions in the Finnish government. However, this is not new, as women’s representation in Finland’s government has been strong for decades: “In the 1983 election, women held 30 percent of the seats. By the 2007 election, they made up more than 40 percent of lawmakers, and they make up 47 percent in the parliamentary term that began this year” (Lemola and Specia). This deviates from gender equality in politics around the world. In 1995, 11.3 percent of all national parliamentarians were women, compared to February 2019 in which the number grew slowly to 24.3 percent (“Facts and Figures”). Additionally, as of January 2019, only 20.7 percent of government ministers were women (“Facts and Figures”).
However, there is growing evidence that women’s leadership in the political decision-making process improves them (“Facts and Figures”). Thus, many countries around the world are moving towards gender equality, as discussed in class. There are many different areas in which gender equality can be approached, such as institutional, structural, cultural, and signaling. Many countries use institutional gender quotas to pursue female representation. As discussed in class, France, a single member district majoritarian system, threatens party funding if a gender parity is too large. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has reserved 20 percent of the seats in the Majlis ash-Shura for women. Finally, some countries like Botswana have voluntary party nomination quotas for gender. The different approaches that these countries take represent how there are many ways that gender equality can be pursued.
While many countries do use gender quotas, Finland does not, which makes the progressive nature of its political environment that much more significant. While parties in Finland may aim for balanced gender representation, it is not by law, making Finland a pioneer and an example to other countries on inclusivity. One aspect that I find intriguing in which future research can be done is the uniqueness of Finland’s atmosphere of inclusivity. Is there something about Finland, a characteristic or its governmental structure, that allows it to have women in such high positions in government compared to other countries? This question can help further research on the benefits of equal gendered politics, as well as address other possible characteristics of governments that may be hindering their success or growth.
While Sanna Marin’s election is a significant stride forward
for Finland and women in politics, Ms. Marin will be put to the test in the coming
weeks. She won the leadership vote by a small margin, and is diving right into labor
negotiations that could lead to more strikes (Lemola and Specia).
Marin’s coalition government is expected to continue focusing on job creation
and climate change goals that seek to make Finland carbon neutral by 2035. Her
young perspective and leadership are sure to catch national attention in the
Britton, Bianca, and Maija-Liisa Ehlinger. “Finland Minister to Become World’s Youngest Prime Minister at 34.” CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/09/europe/finland-youngest-prime-minister-sanna-marin-intl-scli/index.html. Accessed 9 Dec. 2019.
“Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation.” UN Women, https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures. Accessed 9 Dec. 2019.
Lemola, Johanna, and Megan Specia. “Sanna Marin of Finland to Become World’s Youngest Prime Minister.” The New York Times, 9 Dec. 2019. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/09/world/europe/finland-prime-minister-sanna-marin.html.
“What Type Of Government Does Finland Have?” WorldAtlas, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-type-of-government-does-finland-have.html. Accessed 9 Dec. 2019.