Round Table Discussion, Sibelius Society, Turku18.8.1998
Madame Anna Mkapa, First Lady of
Dear Round Table Participants,
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the Second Round Table Discussion in this beautiful Sibelius Museum, in Turku. A year ago, we had the opportunity to initiate the first Round Table in Dar es Salaam and I am very pleased, that we can continue sharing experiences and views on development, cooperation, and womens issues. I am confident, that in one way or another, we can make this Meeting into a tradition.
At the outset, I want to congratulate Mrs. Mkapa, for her leadership in the establishment of: "The Equal Opportunity for All Trust Fund" - and say: "hongera" for such a remarkable achievement! We look forward to hearing about the goals and activities of your organization, and to seeking for opportunities of twinning and collaboration with Finnish sister-organizations.
Regarding the theme for our discussion, I have suggested that we focus on the role of civil society organizations as a channel for womens advancement and empowerment. This thought came to my mind after delivering the Helvi Sipilš Lecture on the International Womens Day last March. When reviewing the history of influence of Finnish women on society, when we celebrated the 90th anniversary of womens suffrage in this country, I noted how womens organizations and movements had empowered Finnish women to obtain decision making positions in public life.
Also, according to the Finnish Cabinets Decision in Principle for Development Cooperation, partnerships with civil society organizations are increasingly emphasized. They are considered effective meachanisms in enhancing stakeholder participation at all levels of society, and in advancing gender equality in development programmes.
Moreover, I have always been inspired by the power of sharing verbal inheritage, listening and learning from each others personal experiences. Therefore, this Round Table provides us an open forum to address several issues of common interest womens perspective, concerns of the elderly, youth, children and disadvantaged.
Let me begin my remarks by recognizing the importance of good female role models in our history and introducing Hedvig Gebhard, one of our first women parlamentarians. She came from a well-established merchandizing family, here in Turku; studied in Sweden, because in the late 1880s there were no possibilities for women for high-school education in Finland. She later, returned to Finland; advanced her education in the university; and became one of the founders of the womens movement.
Besides, Hedvig was a strong supporter of the cooperative movement, and her political agenda included many issues of womens lives from midwifery services to maternity insurance. She stressed the importance of womens capacity building in housework skills and home management. Together with her interest in improving the status of women, she initiated the establishment of home economics schools and teacher training institutions with a parliamentary approval.
Hedvig was a "household politician". She wanted to reach out to women in all classes of the society, so that they could learn civil affairs, everyday living skills, and ways to improve the quality of life of all Finnish families.
This is how Hedvig advised her sisters: "Remember to learn languages, participate in the activities of organizations, get involved in the parliamentary work, speak for the disadvantaged, promote social services, learn to write, deliver inspiring speeches, promote home economics extension, training and research, and have an influence on laws and regulations "
Quite an order! Isnt it? In fact, Hedvig herself did all, what she preached. She was recognized as a good collaborator and partner by her male colleagues, who ultimately were the ones, who voted for her proposals in the parliament.
We have an old saying that "Finland is a promised land of associations". This seemed to be well grounded, when reviewing the long list of 57 member organizations of the National Council of Women in Finland - with the membership of more than half-a-million women (530 000)! In practice, this means, that every fourth woman you meet on the street, belongs to one or another womens organization. Besides, it is likely that she is affiliated with other civil society and professional organizations.
Then, we have NYTKIS a Coalition of Finnish Womens Association for Joint Action, which is the lobbying umbrella-organization, including all the womens organizations of the political parties. One of its biggest challenges today is to coordinate international cooperation with the European Womens Lobby, a cover organization of approximately 2,500 womens organizations in the EU-countries.
Yet, to my surprise, the largest group of the Councils member organizations - with over 149 000 members - comprise the Finnish and Swedish Gymnastics and Fitness Associations. This figure can be considered as a clear reflection of the importance of sports and gymnastics in building up womens and girls commitment to physical wellbeing, comradeship, solidarity and competitiveness.
Let me now mention the two largest extension organizations: The Womens Advisory Organizations for Development in Rural Areas, with over 96 000 members, and the Marthas, with over 65 000 members. Based on my experience in Tanzania, I see that as the work programmes of these two organizations might be of a special interest to our Tanzanian visitors. Today, we may wish to highlight some their activities more extensively.
Both of these organizations have a nationwide network of leaders and advisors, who work as facilitators in empowering women both in rural and urban areas - to increase the knowhow, prosperity and well-being in Finnish homes. From the early days, it was made clear that these organizations do not provide welfare. Their mission is capacity building of individual members and groups to help themselves.
The way, how these womens organizations operate, communicate, network, train in entrepreneurship, replace welfare needs, and influence consumer product development, is remarkable. In Finnish womens lives, these "groups, clubs and webs" have provided a unique, enabling environment, where the members can feel free for: enlightenment and learning; self-expression and awareness building; creativity and cooperation; councelling and recreation.
With this background, I encourage you to feel free and share "lessons learnt" either in Finland or in Tanzania or some other African countries. Examples from the education and health sectors and NGOs, and also, from your personal experiences of empowerment - through professions, associations, project work and lobbying are in our interest.
Mrs. Mkapa, Dear Friends:
Before closing, I like to challenge you with a couple of questions: What is it in these womens organizations that make women "tick"? Why is it, that womens ways to create survival strategies, to improve the quality of life, and to rebuild war-torn nations, works?
Writer Sally Helgesen uses the term "the web of inclusion" in her analysis of womens leadership and management. She describes a model of a managerial web, in which everyone is drawn closer to the source of information and creative inspiration. This model is outreaching, and it contrasts with the top-down, rather chain-of-command militaristic style, created by men. Thus - and I tend to agree with her that - through honoring responsibility and sharing the feminine principles of inclusion and connection, women can empower each other, manage change and rebuild "The Global Home".
Dear Mrs. Mkapa, Dear Friends,
It is with these thoughts in mind, that I open this Round Table. I look forward to a creative and inspiring discussion!