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Women Empowerment and Leadership -keskustelun alkusanat 27.1. 2022

Presidentti Halonen osallistui 27.1. 2022 Center of International Policy of African (CIP) järjestämään paneelikeskusteluun naisten voimaannuttamisesta ja johtajuudesta, jossa piti myös alkupuheenvuoron.

I am so happy to discuss with you today. Tanzania is very close to us Finns and close my heart as well. I am happy to collaborate with you again. Of course, Finland and Tanzania has a long-standing close partnership, too.

In recent years, Finland and Tanzania have also cooperated closely on the issue of women’s leadership and empowerment. If I dare say, this is one of the most important ingredients in building a prosperous, peaceful (and a happy) society.

Equality is of course a human right and it has strong value in itself. All people, regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity, age or any other factor has their right to equal treatment in a society. In fact, the true strength of a society is measured on how it treats its most vulnerable people.

Numerous studies and examples show that gender equality, which is still not fully achieved anywhere in the world, is also good for the society as a whole. Countries that have make most progress towards gender equality simply do better.

This feels like a “no brainer”: leaving half of the population behind is a huge barrier to development and has a negative impact on economy and societies as a whole. Everyone suffers from gender inequality.

One of the recent steps to achieve gender equality globally has been the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. They intertwine social, ecological and economic development under one agenda. None of these three areas can be ignored and cannot be promoted only as separate parts. They do not compete with each other. On the contrary, they support each other.

The realization of gender equality is a key in all of this. Gender equality is one of the sustainable development goals, goal number 5. In addition, gender equality is cross-cutting theme throughout the whole agenda. Gender perspective must be mainstreamed in all work towards sustainable development.

Let’s take gender equality and peaceful societies, goals 5 and 16 as an example. Gender equality is an important predictor of peace. Gender equal countries are more likely to be prosperous and peaceful. On the other hand, women’s participation in peace processes results in more durable peace. I am a chairing research commission called Lancet-SIGHT Commission that is looking into the connection between gender equality, health and peaceful societies and we will release our report this year. I will be happy to share these results with you, too.


Dear friends,

Tanzania has indeed taken big steps recently towards gender equality with the first female President and several female ministers in key positions.

President and other visible female politicians can be important role models for women and girls but also men and boys. It is important to show that women can become leaders.

However, there is an important point in this: one is never enough. There is always a risk that when one woman advances to the top job, there is a sense that “equality is achieved”. That is of course not true.

One woman can do a lot – but she can’t change the whole society. After that one woman, there has to be many more. When a female president are not just known for their gender, we have achieved more sustainable progress. Until that happens, we have to keep women’s leadership on the agenda. (I was the first female Foreign Minister in Finland in 1995, over 26 years ago – and I still continue to be the only one).

To ensure that women can achieve leadership positions at all levels, we need an attitude change and we have to break gender stereotypes and those harmful social norms that perpetuate gender inequality. The responsibility lies with both women and men to support the work.

The power of example should not be undermined. Women in leadership can encourage women to take up challenges, by their own example.

We also need examples of men who stand for gender equality and who break gender stereotypes. When we work for gender equality, we also have to stop and ask: have men been able to expand their space and their traditions? Harmful gender stereotypes often limit men’s options significantly, too.

Today, we have many good examples of excellent women leaders at the top around the world. What is sometimes not noticed, at the local level women are often actively involved.

COVID-19 has been a global disaster but it has also made women’s work more visible. Globally, over 70 % health care workers are women. Often their work is highly valued but underpaid. Also, women take care of most of the unpaid care work at home. This has been particularly significant during COVID. Yet, this work is often invisible. It is important that these shortcomings are taken into account in when we finally come out of this pandemic.


Dear friends,

There are many issues that are crucial when we discuss women’s leadership and empowerment and I look forward to your views and discussion. Thank you!