Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Concluding Observations: Finland, U.N. Doc. A/50/38, paras. 346-397 (1995).


346. The Committee considered the second periodic report of Finland (CEDAW/C/FIN/2) at its 272nd meeting, on 24 January 1995 (see CEDAW/C/SR.272).

347. In his introductory statement, the representative of Finland recalled his country's official equality policy of more than 20 years with the object of altering the division of power and work between the sexes in family life and public decision-making. It implied economic independence and the right to reconcile work and family life for both women and men. It required concrete active measures in addition to creating equal opportunities and a re-evaluation of the traditional role of men. The period of recession between the years 1991 and 1994 had created additional challenges for the policy makers and because of unemployment it had reduced the standard of living of all households. But, whereas the economic development was clearly gender-divided, the unemployment of women had been lower than that of men, regardless of the economic trends. Poverty among single parents was in 1990 the same as the average level among the entire population.

348. The representative underlined the role of the public sector as a supplier of services, which were crucial to equality of women, such as free school meals, children's day care and the care of the elderly and people with disabilities. The public sector was also the main employer of women. Women's contribution to the Finnish national economy was equal to that of men. A major problem that had not been solved yet was the wage gap in that women's wages were still only 80 per cent of men's wages although women had high educational levels. Another problem that was serious and deeply rooted in culture and in power structures of the society was violence against women. Although it had only recently become visible, its elimination had become one of the main objectives in promoting equality.

349. The strong representation of women in politics was, as stated by the representative, the result of intensive work of political and other women's organizations and of the electoral system. In spite of that, decision-making especially in economic policy was still firmly in the hands of men. As it was easier for women to achieve positions in elected bodies rather than as appointed members, the recent adoption of the amended Equality Act was important because it stipulated a quota of 40 per cent for both sexes in governmental and local government committees. It also obliged authorities to promote equality in a systematic manner.

350. After the introduction, which was given by the Minister Responsible for Gender Equality, the replies to the questions raised by the Committee were given by a whole team representing the Government.

General observations

351. Members commended the report presented, in particular because of its extensive statistical data and charts, which were helpful to understand the development process and changes that had taken place since the presentation of the initial report. They congratulated the Government on having held a public hearing before finalizing the report, in which representatives from different organizations, including non-governmental organizations, were invited, and on having used their comments and suggestions to revise the report. They felt that the reporting process seemed to be objective and unbiased, which was an indication of the Government's commitment to implement de facto equality of women according to the provisions of the Convention. They stated that the period covered by the report was long enough to evaluate the impacts of the Equality Act and other measures taken to implement the Convention, and consequently they felt that the report would have been enriched if the impact of the Equality Law in different areas had been reflected.

352. Regarding observations as to whether the Convention was included in the Statute Book of Finland and what impact it had on the daily judgements affecting the rights of women, the representatives said that the Convention was, indeed, included in the Statute Book of Finland of 1994, which had been published recently. However, although the Convention had the force of law, it had not been directly invoked by the courts of justice and the administrative authorities. This was attributable to the fact that judges had not had a profound training in human rights issues. As, currently, the university education of legal professionals included teaching on human rights instruments, it was to be hoped that the provisions of the Convention would in future be directly taken into account in court decisions. However, further information of the importance of the Convention was still needed. None the less, the provisions of the Convention had been taken into consideration in drafting new legislation, for example the Equality Act, and the process of preparing the second periodic report had some impact on Finnish administration and legislation.

353. In their concluding observations the members of the Committee commended the presence of such a large and high-level delegation and the detailed replies given. They considered particularly laudable the new legislation regarding domestic violence, the emphasis on changing men's roles, the amendments in the child-care system in an effort to reconcile family life and work, the decrease in the rate of abortion, the quota system and the attention given to specially marginalized groups and underlined as particularly remarkable that in Finland equality was considered a human rights issue.

Questions relating to specific articles

Article 2

354. Regarding observations made on ways to improve women's possibilities of participating in national defence services, the representatives said that the Government bill for the voluntary military service for women had just been adopted. It allowed women to perform voluntary military service, to participate in national defence as reservists of the Defence Forces or to enter the military profession on the same conditions as men, provided they were Finnish citizens and aged between 17 and 29.

355. Asked about protective measures of women who had become victims of discrimination against possible reprisal, the representatives said that the new Equality Act prohibited reprisals and entitled the employee, who had been subjected to the prohibited actions of reprisal, to seek damages from the employer. The representatives explained that compensation caused by damages through discrimination in employment according to the Equality Act could amount to between 15,000 and 50,000 markkaa. The amount could be doubled in severe cases of discrimination. In addition, it was also possible for the victim to claim damages for financial loss.

Article 3

356. Regarding initiatives taken by the Government to update the Act on domestic violence and to give women the right of recourse to the Equality Act, the representatives explained that legal remedies in cases of domestic violence were contained in the Penal Code, which was currently under revision. The most important legal change was to consider rape within marriage a criminal act. A further change would provide that all acts of violence were equally punishable, whether committed in or outside the home. Assault and battery would always be prosecuted by the public prosecutor, apart from petty cases. Assault and battery were always prosecuted by the public prosecutor if committed against children under 15 years of age.

357. In additional comments, members expressed concern at the spread of sexual violence and asked how that phenomenon was compatible with economic independence of women. They considered educative measures and publicity as most important to curb the level of violence against women and asked whether particular programmes existed to deal with the problem of violence against particularly marginalized groups, such as refugee, poor and disabled women. In reply to further questions, the representatives stated that assault and battery, whether committed inside or outside the home, could be prosecuted without the consent of the victim. Since assault and battery were considered to be serious crimes, however, the accused could only be tried in the presence of the victim. Counselling services for victims of incest and rape were available free of charge. A special help-line service was set up to assist female victims. Men with a tendency to violence were offered a possibility to discuss their patterns of behaviour in an effort to break them. Special training was administered to police officers, social workers, doctors and school nurses.

358. Given the small size of the Finnish population (4 million) living in only 450 local communities, it was explained that an ombudsman at the municipal level was not considered necessary.

Article 6

359. In reply to questions about attempts to monitor the trafficking in women for purposes of prostitution, sex tourism and bride trade and the role of the Equality Ombudsman in the matter, the representatives stated that after having studied ways of curtailing the sex business, the Ministry of Labour had stopped employment services for sex work in employment exchange offices and cut off financial support for starting enterprises in the sex industry. The Equality Ombudsman had chaired a working group to make a survey on the applicability of the present legislation to restrict sex industry, and had proposed concrete measures to limit the increasing trafficking in women and expanding sex business, and clarify the legal rights of sex workers. They also mentioned that there would be a Nordic Conference on prostitution where the so-called "moving prostitution" from the Russian Federation and the Baltic States would be one of the topics of discussion.

360. Additional questions were raised about whether an increase in prostitution and traffic in women was noticeable in view of the dire economic situation of the Baltic States and whether related interim measures had been taken. The representatives stated that it was often part of other criminal activities and that special services were set up to help prostitutes and reintegrate them into society.

Article 7

361. Regarding questions about policies to combat discrimination with regard to women's representation on the Council for Equality and in planning and decision-making bodies, it was stated that the Council was continuously drawing attention to the composition of important planning and decision-making bodies and processes. It put women's issues on the political agenda, promoted gender studies and had established in 1988 a Subcommittee for Men to activate men in promoting equality.

362. Asked about the impact on legislation and politics of the increase in the number of women elected to parliament in recent years, the representatives said that so far decisions had not been greatly affected, partially owing to the recession and the necessary cuts in the budget. However, through networking, women members of parliament had succeeded in improving child-care arrangements, in making women's issues more visible and in sensitizing the legislative work to the gender issue.

363. Asked about a clarification of the apparent contradiction between the breakthroughs made by women in the political sphere and their low numbers in the State administration, the representatives explained that the breakthroughs in the State administration took several years to materialize. Recent examples were the appointment of women to the posts of Governor of the Bank of Finland, of university rector and of permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice. Women's representation in important bodies was presently much discussed in public.

364. Members made additional comments about the discrepancy between the Government's commitment to equality and the scarcity of women in higher administrative posts and asked whether specific sanctions existed, and whether the Government was determined to combine result management with equality promotion. They welcomed the fact that a study would be undertaken on the political impact of women's increasing political participation and requested that the subsequent report give further information on such effects.

365. In reply to additional questions about the financing of women's election campaigns, the representatives stated that women usually used less money on their campaigns and collected it from a smaller number of sources whereas men more often "institutionalized" supporters. Specially in the past, women's political organizations had played a crucial role in women's campaigns.

Article 9

366. Regarding the residence situation of a foreign woman married to a Finnish citizen, who was abandoned or separated, it was explained that the woman was expected to leave the country after the divorce if the marriage had lasted less than two years or if the cohabitation period had been brief. That decision could be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court.

Article 10

367. In reply to the question whether human rights education was incorporated in the school curricula, the representatives stated that attempts were under way to develop human rights education based on a national evaluation of the comprehensive school system, which set as basic criteria the respect for human dignity and for life. One of the requirements of the most recent national education plan was that materials advancing the equality objectives were available to teachers and pupils.

368. In reply to additional comments made by members about the way in which foreign women were informed about their rights, the representatives mentioned a booklet that had been prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, providing information on residence permit issues and the status of women and children in Finland. Finland had also the institution of an Ombudsman for aliens to whom aliens could turn for information.

Article 11

369. Members asked why the pay differentials between women and men were still rather wide, whether there was a connection to the feminization of unions and how the market economy had influenced the bargaining power of unions and reduced a direct benefit to women. The representatives explained that the Finnish labour market was strongly segregated into women's and men's jobs. The female-dominated fields in the public sector had a lower capacity to pay wages and, even within the same field, women's wages were normally lower than those of men. Whereas for the collective agreements male-dominated industrial trade unions had more weight to back up their demands, the female-dominated unions mainly in the public and private service sectors did not have enough power to adjust wages. Asked about the effects of job re-evaluations, it was said that they were expected to help resolve the problem and several such projects were presently being carried out by several labour market organizations. Members requested more information on the topic in the next report. The representative explained further that equal pay had been a main concern of the Council for Equality.

370. Regarding measures to improve women's working conditions and to overcome gender segregation in the labour market, the representatives stated that occupational segregation had diminished from 1985 to 1990. The amended Equality Act required the employers to take certain measures to promote equality. Employers with more than 30 employees were obliged to draw up annually, in cooperation with the works councils, a plan of action for equal employment opportunities. In reply to a specific question, the representatives said that there were no rules as to goals and timetables in the contents of such equality plans. However, it was necessary that they contained concrete actions. The equality plans would be a part of personnel and education plans or labour protection plans. Specific measures to overcome gender segregation were in-service training for physics teachers in general education, mentoring services for women in technical vocational training, and technical courses for girls in general education. The Equality Act did not provide sanctions if equality plans were not made, but employers could be sued for discrimination when failing to draw up such plans. The obligation to make equality plans was placed upon both private and public sector employers.

371. Considering the proposal to reduce State expenditure, questions were raised regarding day-care facilities and possible actions undertaken by women's organizations to forestall withdrawal of financial support so that women could continue working outside the home. The representatives explained that the goal was to ensure a diverse range of services, such as a choice between public day-care and home-care allowance for children, a system of child care leave for both parents and an experiment with service vouchers, which would enable parents to choose the place of day-care for their child.

372. Regarding several questions about sexual harassment in the workplace, the representatives said that in addition to the new Equality Act, which referred to that offence, several acts had been interpreted to cover sexual harassment. However, as the original Equality Act did not explicitly mention that offence and relevant cases had been prosecuted as illegal termination of employment contract, assault, battery or rape, no concrete data were available on the number of court decisions or cases pending.

373. As regards questions about measures to reduce the deterioration in the quality of working life for women caused by "time pressure and stress", the representatives stated that the emphasis of labour protection lay on industrial work and prevention of accidents. Labour protection in fields dominated by women was only just emerging and it was necessary to develop methods of supervision and training of personnel in that field.

374. Regarding additional questions raised about whether the Labour Laws were in line with the directives issued by the European Union the representatives said that they were in compliance with those directives and some of them were still undergoing change.

375. Concerning an additional observation about the lower wage level in the public sector, the representatives stated that in a period of recession the Government considered it more opportune to save jobs in that sector at lower wages than have less jobs at higher salaries and felt that salaries in some areas of the private sector were generally too high.

376. In reply to another additional observation the representatives said that statistics showed that women occupied 2 per cent of high management positions in the private sector.

377. Another additional observation referred to any plans that might exist to deal with girls' continuing choice of traditional fields of study and with the gender-segregated labour market. The representatives commented that boys and girls were encouraged to choose non-traditional areas, but underlined also that so-called women's jobs were of great importance.

Article 12

378. Regarding questions about investigations into the causes of the gradual decrease in the number of abortions and requests for specific statistical data on the subject, the representatives replied that in 1992 a survey had been carried out. It brought to light that the new family planning strategy adopted in the 1960s, which was based on educational measures and on easy access to family planning means, advice and services, had led to a decrease in abortions, in general, and teenage pregnancies and abortions in particular. Birth control services had been free and the focus had been on a reduction of the health risks associated with sexual activity rather than on its repression. The average rates of legal abortions had decreased from 12.3 per thousand in 1980 to 8.1 in 1993.

379. The birth rate had been continuously rising since 1986. A booklet about the evolution of reproductive health in Finland entitled "How We Did It" as well as Finland's "Report on the Implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies" were distributed, which contained the requested statistical data and detailed information about the methods of contraception used.

380. In reply to additional comments about the rise in birth rate, which was unusual for a European country, the representatives said that it was a result of the improvement of the day-care system and the increase in child allowances. The use of the pill RU 486 was not allowed, however. In reply for an explanation sought of the statement that "the first contraceptive method" was provided without charge the representatives said that the birth control services were always provided free of charge. The birth control methods (for example pills) had to be paid for, apart from the first contraceptive method, which was provided free of charge. Women were free to choose the method of birth control they wanted.

Article 13

381. Members raised an additional question regarding women's pension rights and inquired whether single women had sufficient means to be economically independent at an older age in spite of working shorter hours and living longer years than men.

Article 16

382. In response to questions about equal division of property acquired during the marriage at its dissolution and income provided to women when the marriage ended the representatives replied that the Finnish Marriage Act rested on the principle of separate ownership. Both spouses were the sole owners of their property, including the property acquired in marriage and, at divorce, their property was usually divided into two equal parts unless a marriage settlement agreement provided differently. Under the Marriage Act the spouses were required to contribute to the joint finances of the family and to the maintenance of the spouses. During the divorce procedures the court may order the spouse to pay maintenance to the other spouse to the extent it deemed reasonable. Maintenance order for spouses had been granted very rarely. According to the Nordic model the foundation of a person's maintenance was the person's own income or individual social security.

383. Responding to additional comments the representatives explained that the divorce procedure had become easier and that even if women ended up in a worse financial situation after divorce, the social security system guaranteed the minimum means for living. If parents could not agree on the custody of their children, the courts decided. If they reached agreement among themselves, that agreement had to be confirmed by the municipal board of social affairs.

Concluding comments of the Committee


384. The Committee applauded the State party for an excellent presentation, based on the Committee's guidelines, of a thoughtful, stimulating and inspiring report on progress in the implementation of the Convention and in the promotion of gender equality within Finland.

385. The Committee commended the State party on consideration given and actions taken in response to the Committee's comments on the State party's initial report.

386. The Committee noted with satisfaction the constructive dialogue that also ensued from the questions it posed to the second periodic report under current deliberation.

Positive aspects

387. The Committee commended the recent publication of the Convention in the Statute Book of Finland 1994, as well as the continuing amendment of the Equality Act to further enhance the equality of women and men.

388. The Committee welcomed the positive approach of the State party to the reconciliation of family and work, and to re-examination of the traditional roles of men in this context, as a primary condition to the promotion of equality.

389. The Committee noted with satisfaction the inclusion in the report of special information on minority women, because of their particular vulnerability to discrimination, and similarly the plans to foster education for equality as a matter of human right and dignity.

390. The Committee expressed appreciation for the decrease in teenage pregnancy and in the incidence of abortion, as a result of the State party's comprehensive policy that includes family planning education, free birth control services and the availability of legal abortion as a measure of last resort in cases of contraceptive failure.

Principal subjects of concern

391. The Committee voiced concern over patterns of violence against women, including incest, that had only recently become apparent and were presently a subject of governmental consideration, though noting the recent criminalization of marital rape as a positive step towards removing the public-private distinction that had hitherto hindered governmental intervention. It similarly expressed concern in this respect on the matter of trafficking in women from foreign countries and sex tourism.

392. Another concern pertained to patterns of occupational segregation and to disparities in wages between men and women, despite the official governmental policy of economic independence as central to attaining goals of equality.

393. The Committee also expressed concern about the relative absence of women from high decision-making professional and administrative positions in both the public and private sectors (the glass-ceiling phenomenon), though noting the recent legislation mandating 40 per cent representation of both sexes in governmental appointed bodies at national and local levels.

Suggestions and recommendations

394. The Committee suggests that the third periodic report should include information on efforts made to achieve equal pay for work of equal or comparable worth, especially taking into account the role of government as employer in the female-dominated public sector. It recommends that concrete guidelines in this respect also be issued to those employers subject to a duty to design plans for implementing equality under the recent amendment to the Equality Act.

395. It further suggests that attention be paid to issues of violence against women, sexual, domestic and otherwise, with particular sensitivity to the vulnerability of foreign and minority women.

396. The Committee recommends that measures be taken to educate and train judicial and administrative officials in applying the provisions of the Convention, as a matter of human rights.

397. The Committee strongly recommends that the current discussion of the Finnish Constitution Act refers to the suggestions made by the Council for Equality and the Equality Ombudsman that the promotion of equality between the sexes should be included in the obligations of the State.

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