How to mainstream Gender Equality – Experiences from the Finnish Context

Link to article: The Gendered Account Of The Personnel As A Tool For Mainstreaming Equality In Finnish Ministries (Horelli, L. 2001)


Liisa Horelli, PhD, Academy Research Fellow. Helsinki University of Technology, Centre for Urban and Regional Studies. P.B. 9300, 02015 TKK, Finland


The fact that Finnish women were the first in Europe to be granted the right to vote and the first in the world to obtain the right to become candidates at an election, in 1906, has contributed to the “Finnish paradox of equality”. Outwards, we are proud of the fact that the well-educated Finnish women are conspicuously involved in political decision making and that women are active players in the labour market. Inwards, equality is not an attractive issue. “There´s no need for mainstreaming as we are already so equal”, are common arguments. And it is true that we enjoy extensive formal rights of equality.

Finland, like other Nordic countries have participated in the construction of the so-called Nordic model of equality. In the Finnish version, the model is founded on equal access to vocational training, wage- work/entrepreneurship, individual income and individual social security, separate taxation of spouses, and services enabling women´s participation in working life (parental leave, home care allowance, children´s day care, free school meals service). These issues are today regarded as standard elements of social and economic policies. Thus, a major part of equality goals have already been mainstreamed. The adopted model does not, however, provide for the monitoring and evaluation of the impact of these or other policies on gender equality in the daily praxis.

Consequently, the resistance towards equality issues is partly due to the gender-neutral or gender-blind culture of the public administration and politics, which hides the structural inequalities, such as the vertically and horizontally segregated labour markets, the 20% wage gap between women and men, and the imbalances in the sharing of domestic chores. As long as the deeper gender inequalities are invisible, the society cannot react to them.

These were part of the reasons which pushed the Finnish Government to put up a vast Plan of action for the Promotion of Gender Equality in 1997-1999, which also served as a Finnish follow-up to the resolutions of the UN´s Fourth World Conference on Women. This plan of action was implemented through nearly 100 projects (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 1999). One of the major endeavours was the “Creation of Mainstreaming Methodology”, which was a cluster of projects by six ministries (cf. Figure 1 above). The purpose of the cluster was to create a set of innovative methods that would enhance the promotion of equality in the daily work of the ministries.

The aim of this presentation is to display some of the concepts and methods of gender mainstreaming and to give some examples of how they have been applied within the Finnish civil service.

Basic concepts

Equality, which is the corner stone of democratic nations, successful organizations and a basic human right, are time and space dependent phenomena. At least three historical waves of approaches to equality between the sexes can be distinguished (Horelli, Booth & Gilroy, 1998; Rees, 1998). They are the equal treatment perspective which focuses on the human rights of women and also on those of men. The women´s perspective stresses the empowerment of women and the added value that women can bring forth. The gender perspective takes up the relationship between women and men and its structural embededness, which can be seen for example in the vertical and horizontal segregation of labour markets. The strategy of the gender perspective is mainstreaming equality, which was officially launched by the UN at the Bejing Conference on Women, in 1995.

Figure 2. Three perspective to equality

According to the Council of Europe “Gender mainstreaming is the (re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies, at all levels and at all stages, by actors normally involved in policy-making.” Mainstreaming is thus a strategy for mobilizing ordinary actors – administrators, clerks, leaders – to put on “gender lenses” and to enhance equality in their everyday praxis. The latter implies the application of both carrots and sticks. The carrot emerges from the fact that neither late-modern societies, nor organizations can function well or be productive and competitive without the full participation of both women and men.

Implementation of the project-cluster

Each of the six ministries participating in the Mainstreaming project-cluster selected their own equality projects. The Ministry of Labour chose initially the reorganisation of the Ministry. The Ministry of Education focused on the mainstreaming of its youth policy. The Ministry of Agriculture decided to mainstream an Act which would decide the ownership of farms. The Ministry of the Environment promoted women´s participation in local and regional development, according to the new Act on Land use and Building. The Ministry of Foreign affairs decided to engender the organization of Finland´s EU presidency (40-60% of the chairpersons were to be women). The Ministry of Social affairs or its Unit of Equal Opportunities, funded the whole endeavour.

However, most ministries did not institutionalise their projects but, instead, initiated an emerging mainstreaming process consisting of a series of different kinds of interventions and their assessments.

The mainstreaming mechanism applied in the projects comprised the nurturing of the mainstreaming process or projects by solid methodological know-how (Figure 3). The latter consists of gender concepts and a set of analytic, process and training tools. This process might have an impact on the structures and resources (formal means of management, organizational culture) , on symbols (image and language of equality), on the interpersonal networks and partnerships as well as on the intrapersonal constructions of gender identity and even of one´s body. Mainstreaming always takes place within a specific cultural and societal context which is characterised by its “gender contract” (cf. the British experiences in Bennett, 1999; McGilloway, 2001).

Figure 3. The mechanism of gender mainstreaming in the Finnish context.

Positive consequences of the projects

The positive results of the projects include the putting up of a basic equality infrastructure in each ministry. The latter refers to an equality network or a team with certain resources, which is responsible for the guidance of the gender monitoring and evaluation of the organization. In most cases, the monitoring system has been constructed on the basis of a mainstreamed account of the personnel with gender goals, which allows the management and the staff to see the status of equality within the organisation.

In fact, there are two types of gender mainstreaming: one that deals with the internal engendering of the organization and the other which focuses on the mainstreaming of a specific domain or field.

The equality infrastructure has made it possible to expand mainstreaming to functionally oriented issues, such as the alleviation of the segregated labour markets within the National Employment Plan and the assessment of the Act of Employment Pact. These measures have applied gender impact analyses (GIA) to make inequalities visible and to break the prevailing gender neutral culture (Horelli, 2000). In addition, the gendered account of the personnel has gradually become a routine at the Ministry of Labour, which now also recognizes the need for more capacity building in equality issues. The pilot GIA of the Act of Employment Pact has also started to pave the way for gendered assessments of our legislation.

The other major result is the creation of several mobilisation methods not only within organisations but also within local and regional development, where girls and boys have started to present their visions and ideas and to make claims for their implementation (Horelli, 2001). The construction of real and virtual participatory structures seems to be invigorating for both young and adults. An interactive web-site of the mainstreaming methodology with a vast gender glossary has been put up, which unfortunately is so far accessible only in Finnish.

What should have been done differently?

Ministers of the six governmental departments demonstrated political will to participate in the creation of mainstreaming methods, but no special resources were allocated to the endeavour. This resulted in an administrative process in which various officials rather reluctantly searched for suitable projects from their organisations. Thus, the operational will within the organisations was missing, which resulted in poor anchoring of the projects.

The inadequate anchoring of the project was a flaw, which should have been taken care of by negotiating better conditions for implementation early on. Also the cultural resistance against gender mainstreaming within the ministries should have been analysed more profoundly at the beginning of the project. This would have given a wider perspective and perhaps more arguments for getting better resources for the projects. The political and administrative leaders should have been trained at the beginning, but at that time, and even today, we do not have enough knowledge of how to do it. The lack of know-how of gender issues together with the lack of resources seems to be a fatal combination within an administration, which is overwrought by work.

Conclusions and recommendations

The breaking of the gender neutral culture requires interventions on many fronts and levels. Necessary conditions for progressing with the promotion of gender equality within organisations and policy fields comprise political and operational will, which is reflected in

– the discourse and behaviour of the leaders and managers
– the choice of strategies (documents, regulations, budgeting, etc)
– commonly defined gender objectives which are monitored and assessed
– the equality network or team with resources
– gendered training and capacity building of the organisation
– several gendered routines which are visible and even symbolic.

The fulfilment of these conditions assists the management and the ordinary personnel in determining where to mainstream and where to apply positive action.

Gender training is an essential part of both breaking and making new borders within the gender system of our societies. The knowledge base of training in mainstreaming consists of three types of knowledges.

In addition to the traditional knowledge of equality (feminist concepts, the knowledge of national and international legislation, gender statistics) know-how should be created which can be applied in the development of the particular field in question, whether youth, health and labour policy or local and regional development and its evaluation (Horelli, 1997). Then the starting point is not just women and men, but the examining through a gender lense the specific policy context and its problems, the chosen visions and strategies of implementation, and the expected or executed results. The third type of knowledge comprises mastering of change methods. Special attention should be paid to the application of different kinds of methods depending on the phase of the transformative process.

“Gender training” is thus transformed into organisational or leadership development, engendering of knowledge management, alleviation of the segregation of labour markets or involving girls and boys or women in local and regional development. Consequently, gender training will mean the mainstreaming of all capacity building and development within the organisation or policy field. The positive effects might be seen in the increasing well-being and even in the competitiveness or effectiveness of the institution or policy in question.


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