The position of women and girls in Finland has always supposedly been better than that of its Nordic counterparts. Having won the ‘world’s happiest country’ for five years in a row, Finland wears its Nordic exceptionalist tag with great pride, despite it also being the second most dangerous European nation for women. Reportedly, one in three women in Finland exprience intimate partner violence at some point in their lives, according to the Finnish branch of UN Women.
What are the experiences of women and girls living in Finland in 2022? The rise of anti-gender movements that have networked with right-wing populist and conservative political parties have made social media spaces such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok unsafe for women and girls. Increasingly, networked misogyny movements work systematically to push out online hate expressions and the systematic harassment of women, girls, sexual minorities (plus those that work in organizations that champion women’s rights) thus creating toxic environments that limit how women and girls can safely operate in online spaces.
The spread of the far-right movement and facism in neighboring countries such as Italy, Sweden, Poland as traditional forms of governance fall from favor have pushed the message of the return to “traditional values”. For example Restoring the Natural Order: The religious extremists’ vision to mobilize European societies against human rights on sexuality and reproduction reveals that campaigners from the US and Europe have been strategizing “achievable goals” to roll back human rights in Europe since 2013 reports to the European Parliamentary forum for sexual and reproductive rights, EPF.
The overturning of Roe vs Wade in the United States has also had effects across the region, affecting the access of women to critical healthcare, making regions with precarious access to safe abortion even more challenging – risking the lives of women further. An article by British Medical Journal states: “The US decision may lead to restrictions that reduce access to abortion care, such as requiring parental consent, that run counter to the World Health Organization’s evidence based guidelines for safe abortion care.”
With all this happening in an interconnected globe, women and girls in Finland are inescapably affected. The rise of misogyny movements, identified as those that call themselves “incels” and the unregulated activities of misogynists that advocate violence, sexual assault and even murder of women on social media platforms create online spaces that are dangerous for women and girls. Amnesty International even outlines how Twitter is a “dangerous place for women”, and further reports from Business Insider India state that a direct consequence of women facing abuse online is the chilling effect it has on the victims. According to the report, 32% of women said they stopped posting their opinion on certain topics. In our work at Tyttöjen Tilaa Vantaa with girls, women and non-binary youth, receiving an unsolicited graphic image, commonly referred to as a “dick pic” is the norm rather than an isolated event. Sending unsolicited dick pics are not yet criminalized in Finland, but steps are now being taken to create legislation to protect women and girls from this form of abuse. Sua Varten Somessa, an online Tik Tok and Instagram project from Loisto settlementti, Nicehearts and Setlementti Puijola was created to shed more awareness on as well as decrease incidences of sexual harassment, harassment and violence against youth. Their online presence shows how pervasive and damaging online abuse can be, and many girls and young women attest to how online spaces are more often than not stressful, unsafe and can affect their mental health.
Many steps need to be taken to ensure the wellbeing of women and girls. Firstly, the right to self determination and intersectional feminism must be widely taught in schools and to parents so that they too can educate and protect their kids. Secondly, the ridiculous idea that women and girls are in any way obliged to silence themselves in online spaces must end, and platforms like Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram and Facebook must work to protect women, girls and LGBTQIA folks. Making tools to ban and block trolls is not enough, quicker reactions to disable and discontinue accounts should happen, if online spaces are to become safer for all. Thirdly, organizations must work together to understand phenomenons such as anti-gender and misogyny movements as they are now interlinked globally, funded and organized by bodies that are linked to populist and right wing political movements, and more often than not, religious conservatives. It is increasingly worrying that in the year 2022, women are having to fight to be seen and heard and autonomy over their own bodies and reproductive health are rights that are increasingly being curtailed in nations that prided themselves for being examples of democratic power and the land of the free.
Finally, if Finland wants to truly call itself the worlds’ happiest country, then all members of this nation must be protected. Teachers in schools should intervene in sexist and homophobic bullying, and have the tools and power to teach why this is unacceptable. Girls and women must have equal participation to social media spaces, and be able to express themselves without fear of harassment and bullying. And we should all feel safe in our homes and on the streets, regardless of gender, sexual identity and age. For a society to truly be great, all members belonging to it must be equal, and the weaker protected. It is 2022. This should not be a great ask.
Girls’ Space’s youth instructor at Nicehearts, anti-racism activist, decolonization poet
The views and opinions expressed in the blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the National Council of Women of Finland.