Equality is a highly esteemed value in Finland and it has a long history in the Finnish context. Basically, equality means that all people are treated the same, everyone has the same rights and the same responsibilities.
The principles of equality in Finland also encompass equality regardless of age, origin, language, religious belief or health.
Schooling has always been highly esteemed, as have quality and equal opportunity. A school system reform in the 1970s meant that all Finnish children were accorded equal rights and obligations to study for nine years without charge. All schools and universities are financed by tax revenues.
Parliamentary reform in 1906 was a major upheaval in political life. For the first time, the right to vote was extended to include all of the country’s adult citizens, irrespective of gender, class, wealth or position. Finnish women were the first in Europe and the third in the world with the right to vote and the first country in the world where women also could be elected.
Gender equality has long been a core value in Finland. It is enshrined in the constitution and, more specifically, in the Act on Equality between Women and Men (Equality Act). Gender equality calls for concrete efforts. The government has compiled its key equality measures into an action plan.
Gender mainstreaming in Finland aims to ensure that gender perspectives are included in all areas of decision-making. The authorities must ascertain in advance what the gender impact is of activities and decisions, prevent direct and indirect discrimination and actively promote gender equality.
Equal pay is a basic condition for a fair and productive working life. Currently, a Finnish woman earns about 80 per cent of a man’s salary for regular work. This difference has remained about the same since the 1990s. The government and the central labour market organisations have taken on a commitment to promote equal pay. The aim is to narrow the gender-based pay gap to 15 per cent by 2015.
The high degree of gender equality in Finland can be seen in the relatively high number of women holding advanced positions in politics and other areas of society. In 2000, the Finns elected their first female president, Tarja Halonen, who was re-elected in 2006. Finland has also had two female prime ministers in the 2000s.
The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland has accepted the ordination of women since 1986. There are women pastors in numerous parishes. The first female Bishop was elected in September 2010. Women's ordination is also criticised and it faces resistance.