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Prime Minister's presentation speech to Parliament on the government statement on promoting equality, gender equality and non-discrimination on 6 September 2023

Government Communications Department
Publication date 6.9.2023 14.05
Photo: Finnish Parliament / Hanne Salonen

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo gave a presentation speech to Parliament on the government statement on promoting equality, gender equality and non-discrimination on 6 September 2023. Speech to be checked against delivery.

Mr Speaker,

The Government has submitted a statement to Parliament on promoting equality, gender equality and non-discrimination. The Government’s intention for this statement is for Parliament to be able to engage in a thorough debate on the Government’s policy and plans to promote these matters. 

Finland has a long history of promoting equality, gender equality and non-discrimination. We are a global pioneer in this field. 

Nevertheless, racism remains a problem in Finnish society. For example, there are discriminatory attitudes and structures in the labour market and in education that must be changed. This change will require honest debate and actions arising from such debate. The Government is prepared to take on both of these tasks. There is no place for racism in Finnish society.

It its Programme, the Government has committed to promoting democracy, the rule of law and human rights. The Government has pledged to promote equality and non-discrimination and to combat racism.

Each of the Government’s ministers denounces racism and in their work commits to actively combating racism both in Finland and internationally.

The Government’s message to Parliament, to Finns, to people who have moved or are thinking about moving to Finland, and to the world is this: Finland will continue to be an open, international country. We take these problems seriously. We will take assertive action to resolve them.

The statement was prepared by a working group of state secretaries and permanent secretaries. The working group consulted about 100 representatives of civil society organisations, researchers and other key parties. The statement was prepared swiftly and thoroughly.

The statement is based on entries in the Government Programme and on the work done by previous governments on behalf of equality, gender equality and non-discrimination. The statement will be made concrete through an action plan, which will make use of the measures of the previous government’s An Equal Finland action plan.

Certain needs came up repeatedly in the working group's consultation round. The Government has taken these needs into account. They include dismantling social structures that lead to inequality, fostering good relations between population groups, the key importance of access to the labour market, and building up the knowledge base on racism. 

With respect to legislation, a few amendments were proposed in the consultations. Overall, our legislation is at a good level.

Finnish legislation provides a solid legal foundation for promoting equality. Under the Constitution of Finland, everyone is equal before the law.  Together with the international human rights treaties that Finland has committed itself to, the Constitution guarantees equal treatment before the law for everyone.

We have room for improvement in the realisation of equality. There are shortcomings in how legislation functions and is enforced. For this reason, the government statement focuses on measures that promote the realisation of equality and non-discrimination in practice.

Finland is not alone in these efforts. We are part of the European Union’s political and economic community of values. Finland has consistently stood, and during this Government term will continue to stand, with those Member States that are building a Union that promotes equality and combats racism.

It is clear that the problems present in the structures and attitudes of society cannot be solved instantly or with a single government statement. The elimination of racism requires long-term work—as it always has. It requires active measures and extensive support from society.

This Government is committed to combating discrimination and racism throughout our term of office. The responsibility for this work will be moved to the Prime Minister's Office, and I will lead the work as Prime Minister. We will bring together anti-discrimination expertise in the Prime Minister's Office. 

We will make sure that measures on behalf of equality, gender equality and non-discrimination are not left as empty words on paper. We will allocate funds to the implementation of measures in the government budget session—within the spending limits.

We will evaluate the progress of the measures described in the statement and the need for further measures in our mid-term policy review session.

We will do more for equality and non-discrimination than has been done in Finland before. We will do our best.

When making decisions, it is important that we listen to people who face racism and discrimination in their everyday lives or who work to solve these problems. I will lead annual round-table discussions on promoting equality and non-discrimination. We will also improve dialogue with non-governmental organisations.

Preventing and combating racism will require action on every level of society. Action will be needed in politics, education, hobbies and workplaces. We can and must build a better society in the situations and encounters we face every day.

Equality, gender equality and non-discrimination apply to everyone. In this statement, the Government has put a particular focus on children and young people, because the future will be built through them.

Finland has social structures that we can use to increase equality. We have succeeded in improving equality of opportunities, but we can do more. High quality early childhood education and care is one of the most important means we have of doing so. We particularly want to increase the participation of children with an immigrant background in early childhood education and care. Early adoption of Finnish or Swedish and participation in early childhood education and care can give every child a good start on their school path.

Education and competence have always been a way for individuals and Finland as a whole to succeed in the world. This is why we will launch an equality and non-discrimination programme covering the entire education system. We know where we can do more and do better. We will do more and do better.

We can increase inclusion where it will give individuals a feeling of belonging or give them opportunities to express themselves. We will take action to encourage young people with immigrant backgrounds, disabilities or who belong to other minorities to participate more in physical activities, sports and cultural activities.

The Government will discuss the international recommendations Finland receives annually. The prevention of hate speech in particular has been highlighted in the most recent recommendations.

We will effectively combat practices that incite discrimination, persecution, hate or violence against individuals or groups based on ethnic origin, nationality, religion or other similar characteristics.

We will also cooperate with labour market organisations to strengthen equality of opportunities on the labour market and promote non-discrimination, diversity and equal opportunities at work.

Work is more than just making a living. It anchors people to society and gives meaning to their lives. We want to improve employment in all population groups. Work is an essential part of successful integration.

We are discussing important issues here today. I hope and believe that Parliament is willing to discuss these measures and do its part in moving them forward.

Racism is not a new phenomenon in Finnish society, nor is it a problem unique to Finnish society.

If we want to continue to be a global leader and eliminate discrimination and racism in society, we must do it together. I hope that every political party and Finnish society as a whole will join us in this work. We can only succeed by working together.

Historically, Finland's strength has been that, as a small country, we have been able to find common ground. Common ground does not mean always agreeing. Common ground means being able to disagree, but still talk with each other. We will ensure the realisation of freedom of expression, which is an important value of a democratic society.

As a society, we must maintain an atmosphere in which it is possible to talk, even about difficult issues—an atmosphere in which we listen to each other instead of just trying to get our own message through.

Ministers, members of Parliament and other political actors have a particular responsibility in this regard. This applies to both creating the atmosphere for debate in society and being respectful of one another. Rather than escalation and divisiveness, we must try to find common goals.

Finland is a stable and reliable country. We are a strong democracy and an independent state governed by the rule of law. Everyone in Finland must be valued as an equal member of society. Finland will continue to be a country where people want to come to work. Finland is a country where everyone must be able to live in safety and be accepted.

This is the Finland that my Government is committed to building.