Woman Plus...
  N 1, 2002

Taria Halonen - in power for a year and a half

Larisa Boichenco, Tatiana Sementsova
Petrozavodsky state university,
Karelsky center of gender research

It seems that not long ago few people doubted that a woman should concentrate her attention on home and children, while a man should earn his family living. Today nobody is surprised when women work and spend most part of their life out of door. They confidently show their worth in social and political activity, though unfortunately, only in few countries there are conditions for a real competition with men in these spheres. Generations, brought up on new ideas of equality between sexes, grow up with other views and principals than the previous ones.

Scandinavian countries achieve a great success in equalizing the opportunities for women and men. In particular, in Sweden there is a policy which goal is to provide equal rights, duties and opportunities to women and men. And in Finland on February 6, 2000, for the first time in its history, Taria Halonen, a woman, won the presidential elections. Finland women decided to "rush to the attack" at these elections: four of seven candidates for president were, using patriarchal terms, representatives of the fair sex. In the second round a gender opposition became especially evident: Taria Halonen, a 56-year-old Foreign Minister, competed with Esko Aho, a 45-year-old prime minister. He had to give in.

Finns for the first time preferred a woman. Esko Aho tried to convert the struggle to a political level, but failed - Finns vote not only for programs but for concrete personalities. The point is that internal policy and economics of the country are prerogatives of a prime-minister. It means that it isn't so important who will become a president - a social democrat or a conservative. Moreover, having taken up a supreme state post, a president has to leave the party. President's competence includes foreign policy and defense. But in these issues the programs of the main candidates didn't differ considerably. Thus, as far as foreign policy is concerned, both candidates followed the line of further integration of Finland within the European Union, on expansion of contacts with the USA and on development of cooperation with all neighbor countries including Russia. Both spoke in support of the neutrality of Finland and against the entry into NATO. The discords between the rivals seemed insignificant, and Taria Hlonen won with a little numeral superiority of 51.6% against 48.4 %.

So, the actual president of Finland is a woman. This is only the sixth case in the planet's history. One president of Iceland already took off her authorities after sixteen years at service. Another four women are carrying this honorary heavy burden - in Ireland, Latvia, Panama, Sri Lanka.

On the whole, many other nations, including Russian one, may envy a social position of Finnish women. They were first in Europe who in 1906 acquired universal suffrage upon the decision of the Finnish Seym (at that time Finland belonged to the Russian Empire as the Grand Princedom of Finland). Today in Finland at any job women work on equal terms with men and get equal wages for equal work. At present in Finland Parliament there are 74 women out of two hundred deputies - after Halonen's resignation they became one less than before. (There are more women only in the parliaments of Sweden and Denmark). The parliament's speaker is also a woman, Riita Uosukainen. In 1995 Taria Halonen was put at the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Finland - earlier this post never has been occupied by a woman. In the previous government, until April of 1999, Elisabet Ren, another woman, was a Minister of Defence. In the present cabinet 8 ministers out of seventeen are women. In the presidential team, in the Management Office, the majority of councilors and assistants were traditionally men. Taria Halonen declared that she did not intend to change something radically, and kept Yakko Kalema, who has served already three presidents since 1983, as the director of the Management Office.

With enough confidence we can say that Finns chose just a woman president, but the ideological platform of Halonen played a great role. In her youth Taria was attracted by left-wing ideas of equality, of equal opportunities for everybody, care of wretched, fair distribution of riches through taxation in favour of poor. The basis of her political views was determined by the surroundings where the future head of the Finnish State was brought up: she was born in a family of a builder and a housemaid. Taria's joining to the Finnish social democrats was far from being occasional, and now she is considered a representative of the left wing of the party.

Taria Halonen, the first woman-president of Finland, came into the politics in the stormy sixties, and at first became an activist of a student movement, being an advocate of the national union of students. Taria's ideal, as she revealed recently, was nobody else but Che Gevara. She also felt concern about the struggle of other peoples against dictatorship and foreign dictates (in the years of Sandinist movement in Nicaragua she was the member of the society "Finland - Nicaragua"). The same girlish radicalism led to breaking-off with a Lutheran church. Even at present Halonen is not going to return to its bosom. In the country, where 85% of the population profess Lutheranism it is an evident risk for a public politician to demonstrate atheism. But the risk, as we see, justified itself.

This is not a single challenge which Halonen threw down to the society. For a long time, quite deliberately, she didn't registered her civil marriage with her civil husband Pentty Arayarvy.

Perhaps, she never knew peace. At first, studies at Helsinki university which she graduated in 1968 with a degree of a candidate of jurisprudence and a knowledge of three more languages except Finnish: the Swedish language which was obligatory in a bilingual Finland, English and German (by the way, lately she has declared that she was going to study Russian). Then she worked as a lawyer at the Center trade union organization of Finland, a parliamentary secretary of the prime minister, a member of the city council of Helsinki, Minister of Social welfare, a minister of justice. And at the same time since 1979 she has been a deputy of parliament. And of her own free will she undertook on herself some social obligations. For example, in the society of struggle against racism, in the management of children theatre "Little Finland", in the society for equality of sexual minorities (protection of rights of homosexuals and lesbians).

Rather vividly Halonen showed her worth as a foreign minister. Especially in the second half year when Finland presided at EU. It was s period of constant trips (including Ingushetia in order to become familiar with the position of the migrants form Chechnya), and it can be said that a burden of responsibility for all Europe was placed on her.

Life on the highest state post may be even quieter than the life which she led hitherto. From the 1st of March, 2000 a new Constitution the Republic of Finland came into effect, which reserves only one sphere for a head of the state - foreign policy. She will put it into practice together with the government, but at the same time above it. Other functions smoothly "spilled over" either to the parliament or to the government. Even such an important act as appointment of a cabinet head will concern the president only in case the parliament wouldn't be able to cope with it itself and address him (her) for help.

Now Taria Halonen has to become a visiting card of Finland on the international scene. As one of her electors said: "Our president is like an ambassador".

Finish and Russian presidents have already had time to exchange visits. On completion of the negotiations with Taria Halonen, the president of Finland, Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, said that territorial question for Russia and Finland had been "solved and closed once and for ever". According to him, these problems had been settled by intergovernmental agreements. Russian president cautioned against "dangerous discussions" on this subject for they can break off good relations between the two countries. He also mentioned that for the last ten years good relations were established between Russia and Finland both on governmental and personal levels.

On her part Halonen, appreciating relationship between the two countries, agreed with Putin that it was necessary to respect the already fulfilled work which was a good basis for developing the relations. "We both are not only lawyers but practical people, and this factor will serve the developing of the relations between Russia and Finland", - said Taria Halonen. She pointed out that during conversation with Vladimir Putin they also discussed the questions of interaction of Russia and Finland in Europe. The presidents also discussed the questions of economical co-operation, bilateral economical projects, the program of interaction at the customs. Taria Halonen mentioned that there was a real opportunity of increasing of Finish investments in the Russian economy, but it required safe conditions for the work of Finish companies. The Finish president Taria Halonen doesn't support the appeals of a small extremist organization existing if Finland, which demands redistribution of the territory and enactment of law about relations with Karelia.

On the whole Halonen participates in a rather energetic political activity, and she feels concern about political situation not only in the neighboring to Finland countries. She still follows the program which she produced to her voters at the elections. Finland keeps a neutrality in any military operations in the world and still has rather significant influence in solving questions, considered by EU. Taria Halonen doesn't undertake serious rearrangements in the machinery of State government. Perhaps, she considers that the present State Council in full measure copes with its duties.

In the opinion of the participants of the Republic of Karelia women movement, the activity of Taria Halonen as the president of the Republic of Finland deserves high appraisal. And we hope that not only in Finland but in other countries in future more and more women will put up candidates at the presidential elections and many of them will win.