There is no legal obligation to conduct gender impact assessments in Finland. Yet, the Act on Equality between Women and Men (1986/609) includes a broad gender mainstreaming obligation for public officials, which has been interpreted as the legal basis for gender impact assessment implementation by the central gender equality structure. Moreover, instructions for drafting laws (2004) and impact assessment guidelines for legislative drafting (2007) have been issued by the Ministry of Justice, thus providing some sort of regulated frame to its implementation.
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In Finland, gender impact assessment is seen as part of the thorough, everyday work of government officials, rather than as a separate process or instrument requiring specific expertise. It has been framed as practice-oriented by the main gender equality machinery, following a strategic choice made in the Gender Equality Unit in order to minimise the resistance of civil servants. For the same reason, the Finnish approach to gender impact assessment does not encourage producing separate, in-depth gender impact assessment reports, but engages with gender impact assessment as a continuous process embedded in the law and policy preparation, rather than a separate exercise for analysis and reporting.
Mainly focusing on the drafting of legislation, gender impact assessments are generally performed by public servants in charge of drafting a law or policy. Consultancy with experts and stakeholders during the gender impact assessment is rarely taken up.
Since 2010, each ministry has an operational gender equality working group, which is responsible for coordinating gender-mainstreaming efforts within the ministry. In some ministries, this group helps decide when a gender impact assessment should be conducted and provides internal expertise and support.
Finally, the government Gender Equality Unit (TASY) monitors the implementation of the practice across the whole administration and the data are included in the annual monitoring reports on gender mainstreaming. These reports rate the performance of ministries regarding all gender-mainstreaming measures mentioned in gender equality action plans, among them gender impact assessment. They function as tools for naming-and-shaming and recognition-based motivation. The monitoring is mainly quantitative, whereas the quality of the gender impact assessment still receives only limited monitoring.
In line with the goal to integrate gender impact assessment in the ordinary legislative process, gender impact assessment has been included in the guidance concerning legislative drafting. In 2007, gender impact assessment was included in the impact assessment guidelines for legislative drafting under the section ‘other social impacts’.
Furthermore, the government Gender Equality Unit issued a manual dedicated to gender impact assessment in law drafting, as well as a check-list and a list of gender impact assessment questions to be used by civil servants.
The procedure is described as follows:
- Assess the need for gender impact assessment in the beginning of preparatory work
- Use the following test questions: ‘Are people’s everyday lives affected?’; ‘Are there significant differences between women and men in the area concerned?’
- If the answer is ‘yes’, conduct a gender impact assessment.
- Make a plan for conducting the gender impact assessment.
- Take up the gender impact assessment when decisions about the legislative project are made and ensure gender impact assessment is part of the mandate of the preparatory body.
- Identify available and missing information.
- Assess the gender impact.
- Analyse statistics and other available information.
- Commission further reports when needed.
- Hear experts and stakeholders.
- Take the results of gender impact assessment into account when drafting the final proposal.
- Report on the methods and results of the gender impact assessment in the preparatory documents and include the results in the rationale of the law proposal.
- Monitor the gender impacts of the law after it has been implemented.
Gender impacts should be assessed in terms of 11 spheres of life, where differences between women and men often occur, including employment, parenthood/care, education, well-being, health, public services, leisure and decision-making.
Finally, it is important to highlight that specific training in gender impact assessment has also been organised for all ministries. This training included an introduction to gender impact assessment and related basic concepts, processes and instruments of gender impact assessment, information and sources to conduct gender impact assessment and working group on currently law-drafting cases.
Strenghts and weaknesses
In Finland, gender impact assessment has become part of everyday administrative work, since it is embedded in the general impact system. That is very important because is already considered routine and as an obligation, and is presented as part of the core legislative work rather than a procedure appended to it.
This can also produce indirect results, since gender impact assessment may be a very powerful tool to open eyes and change the organisational culture toward gender equality. Gender impact assessment can be very useful to reveal new and relevant information about a law and can subsequently encourage further gender impact assessments.
However, there is no binding procedure to implement gender impact assessment in Finland. That is why, in practice, it can sometimes become a quick exercise performed at the same time as other impact assessments. Indeed, the gender impact assessment instructions included in the general impact assessment are shorter and less demanding than those included in the specific gender impact assessment guidelines. However, the guidelines are simple enough for civil servants to understand and implement.
Consequently, the practice can rely too heavily on individual law-drafters, not ensuring the involvement of internal or external gender expertise. That is why it is so important to agree common criteria regarding the quality of gender impact assessments. To do this, for example, a qualitative monitoring tool could be developed or the Gender Equality Unit’s capacity for monitoring the gender impact assessments should be increased.