Legislative and policy framework

According to the Finnish Constitution, no one shall be treated differently to others on the grounds of gender or any other personal attributes. Gender equality is to be promoted in societal activity, working life, pay and employment (Constitution 731/1999). This forms the background to mainstreaming gender equality policy.

The gender equality principle in Finland is enshrined in legislation through the 1995 Act (206/1995) which amended the Equality between Women and Men Act (609/1986)[1]. This act includes a legal obligation regarding the implementation of gender mainstreaming, as it stipulates a positive equality duty for authorities to promote gender equality. The scope of the Act was extended in 2015 and obliges authorities, education providers and employers to promote gender equality in all relevant activities, including gender equality plans, assessments, and quotas. In all their activities, authorities must promote equality between women and men purposefully and systematically and they must create and consolidate administrative and operating practices that ensure the advancement of equality between women and men in the preparatory work undertaken on different matters and in decision-making. The Act also defines gender-based discrimination in working life, educational institutes, NGOs and in the provision of goods and services.

Finland has a long history of endorsing and mainstreaming gender equality. The implementation of gender mainstreaming in Finland dates to 1980-1985, when the Finnish government’s first Action Plan for Gender Equality stated that promoting gender equality was a task for every administrative unit. Gender mainstreaming in the government took significant steps forward in the first gender equality programme of 2012-2015[2], which was based on the government’s Report on Gender Equality[3]. Currently, the 2020 Government Report on Gender Equality[4] is the national overall strategy on gender equality. The report set out the future of gender equality policy up to the year 2020, assessed the development of gender equality politics and legislation, and included equality policy objectives for the future. A group of experts supported preparation of the report. It was then approved by the government and presented to the parliament. The aim was to provide guidelines for a longer period than what is covered by each government's gender equality programme. A new Government Report on Gender Equality is expected to be submitted to parliament in late 2022.

The EU has contributed to the development of gender mainstreaming in Finland through project funding that has allowed the central gender equality agency and ministries to produce materials, design and provide training modules, and establish effective structures (among other things).

Finland has a national action plan on gender equality, Government's Gender Equality Programme 2020-2023 (hallituksen tasa-arvo-ohjelma)[5] which set specific targets to be achieved and have been partly costed or budgeted for the period covered by the action plan. Based on the 2020 Report on Gender Equality, this plan has around 50 targets and measures in the areas of working life, financial equality, family life, education, violence against women and intimate partner violence, improving the status of gender minorities, mainstreaming a gender perspective, and promoting gender equality within the European Union and in international contexts. In terms of monitoring, the government discusses the implementation of the programme approximately once a year. The plan is implemented and monitored by a group consisting of State Secretaries of the government parties and headed by the Minister responsible for gender equality. There is also a monitoring group consisting of civil servants from each ministry and led by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.


Governmental equality bodies

There are two main gender equality bodies in Finland: The Gender Equality Unit (established in 2001) and the Centre of Gender Equality Information. There is no separate ministry for gender issues. Instead, since the 1980s, the Minister of Equality has been appointed in conjunction with another ministerial post. In 2019, for example, a combined Minister for Nordic Cooperation and Equality (pohjoismaisen yhteistyön ja tasa-arvon ministeri) was appointed under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice and is thus a senior minister[6].

There is also an inter-departmental coordination structure whose mission is to coordinate gender-mainstreaming activities. There are gender mainstreaming working groups in every ministry, which plan and implement gender mainstreaming in their policy sector. The inter-ministerial network of these working groups holds meetings every second month to discuss and develop gender mainstreaming. The Gender Equality Unit coordinates the network; however, this structure does not have the authority to oversee policy implementation.

Regarding the time used by coordinators and chairs of the gender mainstreaming working group from each ministry, it is estimated that the working time of around one staff member is used annually to specifically support gender mainstreaming across all government departments and ministries.

The first body, the Gender Equality Unit (tasa-arvoyksikkö)[7]  is located within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and has an essential role as a platform for evidence-based policies from a gender equality perspective. It has considerable expertise on both gender equality issues and decision-making processes, with its 14 staff members participating in various cross-sectional working groups and processes to draft law proposals. It coordinates government activity in relation to gender equality policy and is the expert dialogue partner for projects and development efforts undertaken by the government.

The Gender Equality Unit is consulted by departments or ministries on 25-50 % of new or existing policies, laws, or programmes (in policy fields other than gender equality). The Unit can give opinions as part of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; therefore, whenever the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is consulted, gender equality aspects can be included in the opinion. The Unit is also sometimes included in the policy/law drafting process as a partner, and there is an internal consultation process whereby each of the ministries draws up a gender mainstreaming action plan, which describes the gender relevant issues in the policy area and sets out gender equality targets. Some gender mainstreaming working groups invite the experts to discuss the issues in preparation. The Unit therefore acts as an internal mechanism for gender equality consultations. The involvement of the Unit leads to adjustments in some cases (25-50 %); if a policy is prepared in close cooperation with the unit, this leads to a stronger result than if the Unit is consulted later in the process. Of note, the goal for gender mainstreaming is for gender perspectives to be evaluated by the organisation in charge of the issue at hand, which, if implemented effectively, would lead to a smaller role for the Gender Equality Unit.

The second body is the Centre of Gender Equality Information (Tasa-arvotiedon keskus), which is its own government agency and, unlike the Gender Equality Unit, covers gender equality combined with other equality-related functions. Around half of the employees’ time (four out of nine staff members) in the wider team (Non-Discrimination and Gender Equality team) is used for projects focused on gender equality. 

Both bodies conduct gender-sensitive analysis of policies and legislation, coordinate/implement government decisions on gender equality, coordinate/implement gender mainstreaming processes and methodologies (including gender budgeting) and monitor progress in achieving gender equality. Both bodies also conduct research on gender equality issues, integrate gender equality considerations in EU and international affairs, and publish and disseminate gender equality related information and training. The Gender Equality Unit additionally drafts gender equality policy for the government.

The Gender Equality Unit Functions[8]

  • Preparing and developing the Government’s gender equality policy and legislation
  • Promoting the mainstreaming of gender equality in state administration
  • Handling tasks related to the EU’s gender equality law, policy, and international affairs

The Centre of Gender Equality Information Functions

  • An information service that collects and disseminates up-to-date and research-based information on gender equality
  • Acts as an expert in equality information
  • Responds to requests for information related to equality and gender
  • Cooperates with both domestic and international equality actors

Independent equality body 

Finland has two independent gender equality bodies.

The Ombudsperson for Gender Equality (tasa-arvovaltuutettu)[9] is an independent authority with its own separate budget, role, and mandate, which focuses exclusively on gender equality. The tasks of the Ombudsperson are listed under Section 2 of the Act 1328/2014[10], and include monitoring the prohibition of discrimination, giving advice and guidelines for promoting equality, giving information on the Act on Equality and its implementation, monitoring equality issues in society, and starting conciliation efforts in cases of discrimination. Under Section 3, the Ombudsperson may assist a victim in cases that are of considerable importance for the implementation of the Act. Under the Act on Equality (609/1986), Section 20, the Ombudsperson or a social partner may take a case of gender discrimination to the Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal. The Ombudsperson has no mandate to decide complaints; this mandate lies with the Tribunal. The Ombudsperson has 10 employees.

Considering the total number of policies, laws and programmes implemented (1 269 acts in Parliament in 2020, and 867 as of October 2021)[11], the Ombudsperson cannot be consulted in the majority of cases. Despite the high number of overall policies, the Ombudsperson is involved in law preparation and gives statements and opinions on many policies, law proposals (around 40 statements were given in 2021), reforms and programmes each year[12]. A representative of the Ombudsperson is frequently a member of committees and working groups that plan amendments to equality legislation and is regularly heard by Parliamentary standing committees concerning such amendments. The most effective input often takes place when the body is involved in the initial stages of policies and legislative amendments, whereas consultation late in the legislative procedure, especially regarding Government Bills in Parliament standing Committees, seldom leads to adjustments.

The Ombudsperson for Equality reports to parliament every four years on its activities and provides an overall evaluation of the gender equality situation in the society, in addition to recommendations for action.

The Council for Gender Equality (tasa-arvoasiain neuvottelukunta; TANE)[13] is another independent body for the promotion of gender equality, although it operates within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The role of TANE is an advisory board, which advises on drafting proposals and provides statements or opinions for developing legislation and other measures that have an impact on gender equality. TANE is often consulted by the government and heard by the Parliament Standing Committees. TANE promotes cooperation among authorities, organisations, and researchers. This body has remained virtually unchanged since it was established in 1972. The Council has two employees.

The role of TANE includes drafting proposals and providing statements or opinions for developing legislation and other measures that have an impact on gender equality. The government, in addition to addressing Parliamentary Standing Committees consults TANE. TANE is consulted on equality policies and gives opinions and statements. In 2021, TANE gave an opinion on 11 policies and legislative proposals. TANE has had a Sub-Committee on Men and Gender Equality in place since 1988 and is an important opinion builder and consultant with regard to the men's movement and associated policies.

The Ombudsperson for Gender Equality and the Council for Gender Equality Functions

  • Conduct research on gender equality issues
  • Integrate gender equality considerations regarding EU and international affairs
  • Publish and disseminate gender equality related information and training modules
  • Conduct gender-sensitive analysis of policies and legislation
  • Monitor progress in achieving gender equality
  • Provides legal support for victims of discrimination on the ground of sex or gender (Ombudsperson only)

The National Anti-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal of Finland (yhdenvertaisuus- ja tasa-arvolautakunta) was established in 2015 as an impartial and independent judicial body appointed by the government. The Tribunal is based on Act 1327/2014[14] and operates on a permanent basis. Its members are required to have a juridical qualification. The Tribunal supervises compliance with the Anti-Discrimination Act and the Act on Equality between Women and Men. Its mission is to provide legal protection to those who believe they have been subject to discrimination or have been victimised. The Anti-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal has the mandate to decide on complaints, and the Tribunal may prohibit ongoing or repeated discrimination or victimisation, impose a conditional fine to enforce compliance with its injunctions, and order the payment of such a fine. The Tribunal may oblige the party to take measures within a reasonable period to fulfil its obligations under the Anti-Discrimination Act. However, the Tribunal may not order any compensation. It addresses all discrimination cases on the grounds of age, origin, ethnicity, religion, political activity, opinion, conviction, trade union activity, family relations, health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal grounds.

It is important to stress that the Tribunal is a quasi-judicial body, which observes the standards of objectivity and impartiality. According to Sections 18 and 20 of the Non-Discrimination Act (1325/2014) and Section 20 of the Act on Equality between Women and Men (609/1986), the Tribunal is a supervisory authority with no promotional tasks as such and therefore is not considered an independent body. Moreover, the Tribunal is not listed as a body by the European Directory of Equality Bodies and does not participate in Equinet activities. The tasks of the Tribunal are not, strictly speaking, 'promotion, analysis, monitoring and support of equal treatment'. Even when deciding on complaints concerning discrimination on the grounds of sex, the competence of the Tribunal is restricted in cases of discrimination on the gender grounds, as the Equality Ombudsperson, or a Social Partner may only bring a complaint to the tribunal in such cases. In other words, victims of gender discrimination have no individual right of access, unlike the victims of discrimination on other grounds (except that even these victims do not have access in working life related issues, where the Occupational Safety officials monitor non-discrimination law on grounds other than gender).

Parliamentary body

The Employment and Equality Committee of the Parliament (Työelämä- ja tasa-arvovaliokunta) is the relevant parliamentary body and calls experts from the Gender Equality Unit for hearings in connection to the process of drafting laws and the budget process at least once a year, but this is not, strictly speaking, a regular reporting mechanism. The government submits a report on gender equality to the parliament every 10 years (the second report, which should have been presented in 2020, is expected to be ready in spring 2022). 

Consultation with civil society

Civil Society Involvement

  • Participation in various kinds of temporary bodies, committees, commissions, working groups etc
  • Development of policy proposals for the Government or monitoring and/or assessing the status of various gender equality efforts
  • Participation on a regular basis in consultations in the process of preparing gender equality reforms, e.g., for legal amendments, national action plans on gender equality, and reporting on the status of gender equality efforts
  • Participation in meetings, hearings etc. on a regular basis on the Government’s efforts and policies on gender equality
  • Participation in conferences, seminars etc
  • Social partners also regularly take part in drafting all legislation concerning working life

Methods and tools

Note: the methods and tools listed under this were the focus of EIGE's 2021 assessment. If certain methods and tools are not mentioned in this section, this does not necessarily mean that they are not used at all by Finland.

A wide array of tools are used to promote gender mainstreaming, such as analysis, gender audits, gender stakeholder consultations, sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics production, gender procurement, gender planning, gender monitoring, gender indicators, gender evaluation, impact assessments and budgeting, as well as awareness-raising actions and gender equality training activities. Guidelines and related materials on the use of these instruments are publicly available[15].

Gender impact assessment and gender budgeting

In Finland, there is also no legal obligation to undertake an ex-ante gender impact assessment when drafting laws and/or policies, plans, and programmes. However, a commitment is shown in the governmental gender equality action plans and the general guidelines for ex ante evaluation of the government proposals and budget rules. The commitment to conducting gender impact assessments for all legislative reforms and new policies has been seen in government programmes since 1999[16][17]. A gender impact assessment is carried out in 15-20 % of government bills each year.

There is also no legal obligation to undertake gender budgeting for a ministerial budget or the budget of other governmental institutions. However, there are binding instructions (issued by the Ministry of Finance) on how to include gender perspectives in budget drafts and how to report on the expected impact on gender equality in the budget drafts[18][19]. As such, gender budgeting is widely used in most ministries. There is a summary of the expected impacts on gender equality in all the ministries’ budget proposals. These summaries are monitored annually, and the results are reported to the Minister for Gender Equality and to the Parliament as part of the budget process.

Training and awareness-raising  

Over the past three years, several key initiatives have been implemented with a view to raising awareness on gender equalities among government staff, including:

  • In some of the ministries, there is a section on gender equality policy as part of the introduction training to employees who are commencing work at the ministry.
  • A special training module on gender impact assessment for the main programmes and projects during the government period.
  • A gender mainstreaming briefing for ministers (at the beginning of the government period and given by the gender mainstreaming specialists in the Gender Equality Unit).
  • Distribution of printed material (e.g., leaflets, brochures, books, and audio-visual resources)
  • An e-learning tool published in March 2020, which is available to all civil servants[20].

Regarding training, employees of the governmental body for gender equality and some of the employees of other ministries and departments are involved in gender equality training on a regular basis (at least once a year). All or most of the remaining government employees, as well as employees at the highest political level (ministers, vice-ministers, and senior cabinet members) are

Gender statistics

In Finland, there is no legal obligation (besides the EU regulation) for the national statistics office or other public institutions to collect data disaggregated by sex. However, sex-disaggregated data are necessary to assess the implementation of the ministries’ development aims, and there are ad-hoc agreements and an established custom among relevant institutions to gather and analyse data on gender. Gender equality statistics have been published for decades. The first statistics on the position of women were published in 1980, simultaneously with the first governmental gender equality programme, which stressed the need for statistics. At present, the Government Action Plan for Gender Equality 2020-2023 obliges the ministries to develop the collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data. The inter-ministerial coordination structure coordinates gender-mainstreaming activities promoting sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics production.

The websites of Statistics Finland and the Centre for Gender Equality Information have sections on gender statistics, which include a thematic breakdown of the statistics they cover. The websites also provide direct access to relevant datasets, which can be viewed online and downloaded, in addition to providing direct access to relevant publications.

Sex-disaggregated data are mainly produced by Statistics Finland[21], which regularly and extensively produces publications on gender equality., This includes

  • ‘Gender Equality in Finland’ which was produced in 2018 and again in 2021 which included an analysis on wide reaching themes[22] (a similar publication was produced in earlier years titled ‘Women and men in Finland’ (‘Naiset and miehet Suomessa’’)); and
  • the Gender Equality Barometer 2017 which was the sixth in a series on opinions, attitudes and experiences related to gender equality in various areas of life[23].

The organisation’s website provides information on population and families, education, working life, economy and livelihood, health, safety, power and decision-making, time use and free time. It also lists national and EU publications and links to relevant national and international websites.

Ad-hoc studies and data collection are also provided as part of some ministries’ activities. The more specific categorisations depend on the type of data relevant to ministries’ particular agendas and thus vary substantially. Nevertheless, sex-disaggregated data production is likely to become more centralised in the future.

  • The National Institute for Health and Welfare (linked to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health) has two websites[24] containing relevant information.
  • The Centre for Gender Equality Information also has a newsletter, a website, and social media (@tasaarvotieto).
  • The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has published Tasa-arvobarometri (Gender Equality Barometer), a survey on attitudes to gender equality since 1998 (in 1998, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2017). Statistics disaggregated by sex are published several times per year on certain issues, such as employment and unemployment, and key statistical information is regularly provided in figures disaggregated by sex. A THL website[25] lists statistics provided by Statistics Finland and THL, and the publication calendar for 2022 for statistics provided by THL gives information on publications of relevance monthly.

Monitoring progress

Indicators for monitoring progress on institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming in the EU, under Area H of the Beijing Platform for Action

This section analyses the scores achieved by Finland for data collection in 2021 for the four officially agreed-on indicators on institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming to monitor progress on Area H of the Beijing Platform for Action. It also analyses scores under an expanded measurement framework, which includes the role of independent gender equality bodies and assesses the effectiveness of efforts to disseminate statistics disaggregated by sex. Institutional mechanisms refer to national machineries that implement, monitor, evaluate, and mobilise support for policies that promote gender equality and gender mainstreaming. All indicators and sub-indicators are available on the Gender Statistics Database here, including metadata about how the scores are calculated.

For Indicator H1 on the status of commitment to the promotion of gender equality and taking into account only the governmental commitment in line with the officially adopted indicator, Finland scored 10.0 out of a possible 12, above the EU average of 7.2. It scored particularly high on sub-indicator H1e on accountability of the governmental gender equality body where it scored 4.0 points out of a maximum possible score of 5, because it has a national action plan that is partially costed or budgeted and sets specific targets which are regularly monitored.

Under an expanded measurement framework, which includes sub-indicator H1f on the mandate and functions of the independent gender equality body, Finland scored an additional 2.5 points out of a possible 3. It lost 0.5 points because deciding on complaints of discrimination on the grounds of sex is not a function of the independent equality body. The overall score for the expanded H1 indicator was 12.5 out of a possible 15, above the EU average of 9.1. Finland was the highest scoring Member state, along with Luxembourg and Spain.

Indicator H2 analyses the personnel resources of the national gender equality bodies. For sub-indicator H2a, regarding the governmental body, Finland scored 1.0, out of a maximum of 2.0, which is the same as the EU average of 1.0, because there were 10-25 or more employees working on gender equality in the governmental body. For sub-indicator H2b, regarding the independent body, Finland’s score also scored 1.0, out of a maximum of 2, because there were 10-25 or more employees working on gender equality in the independent equality body. The EU average for this sub-indicator was slightly lower at 0.8. For both sub-indicators, the maximum 2 points was awarded where the number of employees was over 100 as an indication of the body being sufficiently resourced.

Indicator H3 relates to gender mainstreaming. Here, Finland scored 6.5 out of a possible 12, which was above the EU average of 5.1. Finland, however, lost 3.0 points, out of a maximum possible score of 6, on sub-indicator H3c on the commitment to and use of methods and tools for gender mainstreaming, because there is a legal obligation that applies only in some cases to undertake an ex-ante gender impact assessment and there is no legal obligation to undertake gender budgeting.

Under an expanded measurement framework, which includes sub-indicator H3d on the consultation of the independent equality body, Finland scored 6.5 points out of a possible 14, which was higher than the EU average of 5.4. Under sub-indicator H3d, Finland lost both available points because departments or ministries only consult the independent gender equality body on the gender impact of new or existing policies, law on programmes in a few cases.

For Indicator H4 on the production and dissemination of statistics disaggregated by sex, Finland scored 4.5 points, out of a possible 6, above the EU average of 3.4. It scored 0.5 points for sub-indicator H4a on government commitment to the production of statistics disaggregated by sex, because there is only an ad hoc agreement to collect data disaggregated by sex. However, it scored all 4 points, for sub-indicator H4c on the effectiveness of efforts to disseminate statistics disaggregated by sex because the national statistical office has a section of its website dedicated to gender statistics which facilitates dissemination.