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Column : International Gender Equality Prize recipient is a glass ceiling breaking role mod

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Friday 12/15/17 time 6:01 PM - Tanja Auvinen, Director, Gender Equality Unit Ministry of Social Affairs and Health

The International Gender Equality Prize established by the Government of Finland was awarded on Thursday, 14 December to Angela Merkel.

Angela Merkel’s personal history makes her one of the most influential women of all time. She is undeniably a glass ceiling breaker and a role model to many women and girls. According to a story circulating in Germany, children ask whether a man can also become Chancellor. A similar anecdote was told in Finland during Tarja Halonen’s terms as President.

Merkel’s first political post was as Federal Minister for Women and Youth in the early 1990s. At that time, the development of Germany’s gender equality policy was slow. Merkel rose to become Chancellor in the next decade. In recent years, she has raised gender equality issues to the fore more actively than previously.

The role of women in economic and political decision making is also an important theme in Finnish gender equality policy.

It is well known that Finnish women gained the right to vote and stand for election in 1906, the first in the world. Since then, women have been represented in political decision making, and in the 21st century, women have risen to make up nearly 40 to 50 per cent of members in municipal councils, Parliament and even the Government.

In terms of economic power, the figures for Finland are not as good. Women account for 27 per cent of the board members and only 7 per cent of the managing directors of publicly listed companies. In its Action Plan for Gender Equality, however, the Government is committed to monitoring the equal representation of women and men on the boards of publicly listed companies. The Government will evaluate legislative needs in autumn 2018.

Germany has already taken steps in this matter. A law that entered into force in Germany in January 2016 stipulates that women make up at least 30 per cent of the boards of publicly listed companies. Measures to increase the share of women are also expected of medium-sized enterprises.

Angela Merkel has also highlighted the position of women in developing countries.

In 2015, Germany proposed an initiative for the economic empowerment of women to the G7 countries, which aimed at raising the professional qualifications and entrepreneurship of women in developing countries by the year 2030.  The position of women and girls has also been a priority of Finnish development policy for decades. The position of women in conflict and post-conflict situations, the role of women in combating climate change and, of course, the right of girls to education are cornerstones of our development cooperation.

This year, Germany also published a report on the Agenda 2030 goals and Germany’s actions to achieve them. The report states that Germany will publish a second national gender equality report this year. The report will outline Germany’s gender equality policy for the coming years. Key questions include, among others, women’s careers, starting a family and care responsibilities. Very similar issues are thus the core of gender equality policy in both Finland and Germany.

It is interesting to see Angela Merkel’s role in envisaging Germany’s gender equality policy. I hope that the International Equality Prize inspires her to raise these issues to the heart of national policy.

Tanja Auvinen,
Director, Gender Equality Unit
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health

Keywords: angela merkel, finland, gender equality prize