Eeva Ahtisaari in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, 17.5.1997

Round Table Discussion on Women and Children Issues

It is wonderful to be back in Tanzania after so many years. Dar es Salaam was our home for nearly four years. My family and I have many happy memories from the time when we in the 1970s represented Finland here. We also had many opportunities to travel and to learn about life in this country.

Over the past years, I have tried to follow the developments in Tanzania through the media and discussions with colleagues. But as you know, it is different from being on the spot and discussing face to face, meeting people in their own country and learning directly. This round table discussion gives me an excellent opportunity to update my knowledge, particularly about women and children issues. I am also looking forward to visiting women's projects both here in Dar es Salaam and in the Mtwara and Lindi regions.

I'd like to begin my remarks with the story of how we in Finland have advanced the cause of women over the years. I then hope to discuss with you several cases of Finland's development cooperation with Tanzania.

As a historian I must begin with the fact that Finnish women were the first women in Europe to gain universal and equal suffrage in 1906, and the first women in the world to become eligible for parliamentary election. Last year we celebrated the 90th anniversary of Finnish women's right to vote. Two Tanzanian members of parliament also participated in the celebrations in Finland.

On the 23rd of May, 1907 nineteen women walked into the first meeting of the Finnish parliament. This group of pioneering women—which included seamstresses, domestic servants, farmers' wives and teachers—paved the way for women's participation in parliamentary legislation. Over the years, we have had good female role models, who have encouraged other women to continue their work. At present the proportion of women in parliament is over one third (67 out of 200), including the speaker. Also one third of the cabinet members are women.

Education has always been important in Finland. Finnish women are well educated, young women in fact better educated than the men. This of course gives them good opportunities to participate in all aspects of social and economic life. Despite the high education level, women's salaries in both the private and the public sector are still only 75 % of men's salaries.

The great majority of Finnish women work outside the home. In this way they are economically independent. The major change in women's employment outside the home took place in the 1960's and 1970's. Since those days, men have increased their participation in household chores, respectively. However, even if both the man and woman work outside the home, the work at home is far from being divided equally. This has meant a double work load for women who, after coming home from work, start another working day at home.

When women started to work outside the home, it was necessary to develop a day care system for children. This system is now quite well developed. By law, municipal day care must be organized for all children under school age. The mother of a child under three years of age can choose to stay at home to look after her child if she prefers. In that case, the family receives a child care allowance.

The many improvements in Finnish women's lives have been reflected in their life expectancy which is over 80 years, and about 7 years more than that of Finnish men. At the same time the situation means that there is a large number of female widows. One of the negative consequences of the high rate of economic development and especially high rate of urbanisation has been that many of these widows have been left alone in the countryside as the children have moved to cities. Of course, there is a care system provided to them by society, but their social contacts are sometimes very limited and children's visits not very frequent because distances are long.

The development goals concerning the survival, protection and development of children presented in the resolution of the World Summit for Children have been fairly comprehensively achieved in Finland. Infant mortality is among the lowest in the world. The good health of children can partly be attributed to the advanced maternity and child health clinics and the school health service. There has been a rapid increase in breast-feeding since the 1970s. Two children out of three are breast-fed for six months.

In Finland independent associations have an important place in safeguarding the welfare of children. With their supply of services these associations complement the public sector. They play a significant role in supervising the interests of families with children.

Finland considers it very important that the remarkable success achieved in the Beijing Conference on Women and the Cairo Conference on Population be secured. In order to fulfill the commitments made in Beijing, the Government of Finland approved in February an equality action plan which in a very concrete way promotes the advancement of the status of women in all fields of society. The action plan pays special attention to the prevention of violence against women. The Equality Act of Finland dates back to 1986. In 1995, an amendment was introduced which requires all state and municipal bodies to have 40 percent representation of both women and men.

At the international level, Finland has pursued very active diplomatic work in the UN and in other international organizations to forward the implementation of the Beijing commitments.

Finland has also been involved in improving the situation of women and children in Tanzania in many ways. We recognize the fact which was emphasized in your introductory statement that the empowerment of women, both economically and in terms of increased possibilities of decision making, is crucial in improving the welfare of both women and children, and society in general.

In the past few weeks special attention has been given to this issue as part of Finnish development cooperation with Tanzania. In the Finnish Cabinet's Decision-in Principle of Finland's Development Cooperation, from September 1996, it is stated that human rights, equality, democracy and good governance are considered to be the best long-term guarantees of economic and social development, and promoting them is therefore one of the three principle goals of Finnish development cooperation. As a result of this decision-in principle, a mission was here just a few weeks ago to try to translate this principle into practice as regards our development cooperation with Tanzania. The concrete measures to follow from this mission will be developed shortly.

One of the major undertakings in development cooperation between Finland and Tanzania, has been assistance to rural development in the Mtwara and Lindi regions. This assistance has continued, in various forms, for more than two decades. I will have an opportunity to visit some of the projects ongoing at present. Professor Marja-Liisa Swantz, who has participated in these projects, has briefed me about them. A special emphasis has been to involve all groups of villagers in the planning activities. Men, women, elders, and youth have sat down together to analyse their life in the village and to consider improvements. Once the decisions on what to do have been made and the contributions of the villagers determined, the programme can give its assistance in terms of expertise and loan capital. I am very encouraged by this kind of approach and believe it to be a necessary condition for sustainable development.

Forestry is a major sector in Finland's development cooperation with Tanzania. Attempts have been made to take into consideration gender issues in this sector, as in all sectors within Finnish development cooperation. One interesting fairly recent development could be mentioned from the East Usambara Catchment Forest Project. The aim of the project is to protect the natural forests in the East Usambara mountains. This can only be done by harmonising the needs of the local people with the conservation objectives. Recently the project has started using village elders, old women and men, herbalists and other village experts in environmental education in the primary school. This is extension of knowledge from local people to local people, passing information from the old to the young. This may also be a way of providing a bridge over the rift which often appears between the modern world schools and education, and the cultural traditions and heritage of the children from the East Usambara villages.

Finland is also providing assistance to the education sector through the projects of various non-governmental organizations. Planning is also under way for Finnish bilateral development cooperation in the education sector.

Dear Madame Mkapa, dear ladies,

I am very grateful for this opportunity to meet you and to exchange views with you.