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Finland - unquestionably a pioneer of democracy - Embassy of Finland, Athens : Current Affairs

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News, 1/27/2017

Finland - unquestionably a pioneer of democracy

Finland was the first European country to grant women both the right to vote and the right to stand for election.

Outside of Europe New Zealand granted women the right to vote in 1893 and Australia allowed women to both vote and stand for election in 1902. However, Finnish women were the first to exercise both of these rights.

Photo: Unkonown photographer 1907, City Museum of Helsinki
Ensimmäisten yksikamaristen valtiopäivien naiskansanedustajia, Kuva: Tuntematon valokuvaaja, 1907,Helsingin kaupunginmuseo
Nineteen women were elected as Members of Parliament in the first Finnish parliamentary elections in 1907. In the photo sitting from left Hilja Pärssinen, Alli Nissinen, Lucina Hagman, Alexandra Gripenberg, Evelina Ala-Kulju, Liisa Kivioja. Behind from the left Dagmar Neovius, Hedvig Gebhard, Iida Vemmelpuu, Hilda Käkikoski, Miina Sillanpää, Hilma Räsänen, Maria Laine

General strike paved the way for radical parliamentary reform

The most apparent and far-reaching implication of the General Strike of 1905 was undoubtedly the adoption of the principle of universal and equal suffrage in Finland. Compared internationally, the most important outcomes were the confirmation, in 1906, of a unicameral parliamentary system and the achievement of women's right to vote and stand for election.

Although the number of people entitled to vote expanded radically among the middle and lower classes, the primary beneficiaries of the voting reform were women, who were freed from restrictions relating not only to their gender but also to class and wealth, and particularly married women, whose husbands were no longer to act as their wives' guardians.

Women and voting

Nineteen women were elected as Members of Parliament in the first Finnish parliamentary elections in 1907. There is no statistical data on women using their right to vote is available from the first parliamentary election. The gender distribution is also lacking.

In the first Parliamentary election of independent Finland, in 1919, the total voter turnout stood at 67.1%; being 65.1% for women and 69.5% for men.

The election in 1945 was a starting point for a long period of active voter turnout. Factors increasing the activity included the general atmosphere after the war, the tensions in domestic affairs, the grown number of voting districts and the spreading of the mass communication.

Women of influence

In 1907, the number of women elected was 19, with women's share of Members of Parliament at 9.5%. Among them was Lucina Hagman, founder and chairwoman of the Union Women's Rights Federation in Finland. Hagman believed that coeducation would lead to greater respect between men and women. She was the first Finnish woman to be awarded the title of professor, in 1928. Finland's first female minister took office in 1926, when Miina Sillanpää was appointed assistant minister for social affairs.

The number of women was at an all-time high in the 2011–2015 electoral term, when 85 women (42.5%) were elected as Members of Parliament.

Arguments against women having the vote, such as women’s role is in home, have been overruled a long time ago.

Text is based on the article of Ms Irma Sulkunen The General Strike and women's suffrage (The web site Centenary of women's full political rights) and Women's suffrage 110 years information package by Päivi Erkkilä and Joni Krekola.

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Updated 1/27/2017


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