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Tampere will continue to be a city of equality

Published 6.3.2018 12.54

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is the first-ever recipient of the International Gender Equality Prize introduced by the Finnish Government and will be honoured in an award ceremony in Tampere Hall in Tampere on 6 March 2018. The cause, which was chosen by Federal Chancellor Merkel to receive a prize of EUR 150,000, will be announced during the event. It is a privilege for Finland and Tampere to present the very first International Gender Equality Prize. Finland has a significant special characteristic that makes it a world leader in gender equality: It was the first country to grant women full political rights in 1906. Tampere played a significant role in the realisation of women’s suffrage. As early as in 1905, a total of 40,000 people gathered in the central square of the City of Tampere to demand general suffrage and it was granted the following year.

From a legal perspective, women’s situation in Finland began to improve in 1864, when unmarried women were freed from the guardianship of their father or matchmaker and became sovereign at the age of 25. Before that, they could apply for the capacity to act independently from the municipality at the age of 21. In 1878, women were granted an equal capacity to inherit property and, in 1926, women became eligible for government offices under the same conditions as men. The Marriage Act of 1929 made spouses equal before the law.

Women have played a significant role in the development of Tampere throughout the history of the city. Women’s influence in social developments was evident as far back as in the 19th century when cotton and iron company Tampereen Pellava- ja Rautateollisuus Osakeyhtiö (Tampella) and Finlayson textile factory were established on the shores of Tammerkoski rapids and Tampere evolved into an industrial city. At the end of the century, Tampere had become the third largest city in Finland and largely derived its income from the textile industry.

Over half of the city’s employees worked in the three largest factories, i.e. the cotton factories of Finlayson, Lapinniemi and Pellavatehdas. In the early 1900s, Finlayson was the largest industrial company in the Nordic countries. The factory employed over 3,000 people, 75% of them women. A typical employee began work at the age of 15 to 20, sometimes even before confirmation. Many women worked at the factory for the rest of their working lives.

Many women worked at the factories in Tampere in the early 1900s
Many women worked at the factories in Tampere in the early 1900s. Photo source: Tampere-Seura.

Municipal day care and free school meals for children have promoted the employment and career progress of mothers in Finland. The first Finnish day-care centres were established in the late 19th century. Childminder training was introduced at the same time. By 1920, approximately 80 day-care centre were operating in different parts of Finland, offering day care for some 6,000 children. By 1960, the number of day-care centres in Finland had increased to over 400. A specific Act on Children’s Day Care became effective in 1973.

Finnish children have been entitled to a meal during the school day since 1943. In the early 20th century, elementary schools only served food to their poorest pupils. Preparations for a new legislation regarding school meals were launched in the 1930s, leading to schools opening their own kitchens. By 1948, all elementary schools were required to offer their pupils a free lunch.

When the new comprehensive school system was introduced in 1972–1977, all comprehensive school pupils became entitled to a hot meal.

Influential women in the history and present of Tampere

The women of Tampere have given the city an equal contribution to men as entrepreneurs, teachers and in positions of influence – and continue to do so. A joint school for girls and boys was opened in Tampere as far back as in 1840. Active women established the Varala sports institute to promote the well-being of women and families in 1909.

Many women have shaped the history of the City of Tampere by contributing to the city’s general development and improving women’s rights. One of them was Minna Canth, born in Tampere in 1844. Minna Canth was a writer, journalist and social activist and an acute observer of society from an early age on. She was one of the most significant Finnish playwrights. Canth aspired to describe the lives of poor people and specifically women realistically, as they were. Her newspaper articles and plays took a stand for women’s rights and she was the first female journalist to voice her opinion in the Finnish language. The title of her first-ever newspaper article was “Our Daughters’ Upbringing" (“Tyttäriemme kasvatus"). Canth’s life’s work has greatly influenced Finland’s evolvement to pioneer status in the field of equality and education. She became a forerunner of education in the Finnish language. Canth was also a successful businesswoman.
Finland has an official flag-raising day on 19 March in honour of Minna Canth’s birthday and equality. Minna Canth is the eighth Finnish person and only Finnish woman to have been awarded a flag-raising day.

Another influential woman from Tampere was Wivi Lönn, the first Finnish female architect. Her work is visible in many early 20th century Jugend-style buildings in Tampere and the rest of Finland. Wivi Lönn was born in Tampere in 1872.

She studied at the department of construction at an industrial institute in Tampere. However, she was the only female student in addition to thirteen men and she could only attend private classes; women were not eligible for an actual study place at the time. In Finland, women were able to study by special permission starting in 1870 and gained equal study rights in universities in 1901.
Wivi Lönn was top of her class and transferred to the then University of Technology – again as an additional student. She graduated as an architect in 1896 and served successfully in her profession. She designed nearly 30 schools and won numerous design competitions.

Other influential women from Tampere include Sara Hildén, a great art promoter and business woman born in 1905. She opened her own clothing shop in Tampere in 1952 and created a successful career as a businesswoman. She owned clothing stores in both Tampere and Lahti.
Sara Hildén married painter Erik Enroth and began collecting modern art, initially as a hobby. After her business endeavours made Hildén wealthy, she began to purposefully expand her collection. Sara Hildén donated all her art property to a foundation she had created. She acquired the most significant works in her art collection during trips abroad. The most renowned items were made by Picasso, Gris, Giacometti, Klee and Miró. Her foundation and the City of Tampere concluded a contract to establish the Sara Hildén Art Museum in 1779.

Sara Hildén in the early 1940s
Sara Hildén in the early 1940s. Photo: Heinrich Iffland.

Thanks to Sara Hildén, Finland hosts an internationally acclaimed modern art collection of great value and quality. The collection is one of the largest and most significant modern art collections in Finland. It has allowed the art museum to conduct notable exhibition cooperation and gain many exhibitions of fine modern art. The permanent collection includes approximately 4,600 Finnish and foreign items as well as an art collection bequeathed by graphic artist Pentti Kaskipuro. The collection is annually expanded through acquisitions.

Renowned poet and author Eeva-Liisa Manner lived in Tampere from 1963 until her death. She wrote numerous poetry collections, newspaper articles and works of prose and translated literature and plays. Writer Anni Polva, famous for her Tiina series, also grew up in Tampere. Her books have sold nearly three million copies, the Tiina series covering over a third of the sales. Anni Polva included themes and ideas related to her childhood in Tampere in her popular Tiina books.
Modern-day influential female writers include Kirsi Kunnas, Johanna Sinisalo, Sirkku Peltola, Sinikka and Tiina Nopola, Salla Simukka, Tiitu Takalo and Päivi Alasalmi.

Many influential women are also in charge of cultural institutions and the science sector in Tampere, including: General Manager of the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra Helena Hiilivirta, General Manager of TTT Theatre Maarit Pyökäri, Director of Tampere Art Museum Taina Myllyharju, Director of Sara Hildén Art Museum Päivi Loimaala, Managing Director of Tampere Hall Paulina Ahokas and Director of the Unit of Libraries and Adult Education Centres Pirkko Lindberg. Kaija Holli served as the Rector of the University of Tampere in 2009–2015 and Liisa Laakso took over the position in 2017. Moreover, many of the different disciplines are headed by female professors.

The Design on Tampere phenomenon has established a strong foothold in the business sector in Tampere as a continuum of the local textile industry. Design activities in Tampere rely on clothing design businesses run by bold, innovative women, including designers Mira Vanttaja and Hanna Virkamäki of Uhana Design, Anna Reilin and Saara Naskali of NOUKI, Liisa Pikkujämsä of Unica Fashion, Anna Mattelmäki and Emilia Kimiläinen of Mukava, Maisa Salonen, Sofia Salmi and Roosa Mattson of Pihka Collection and Anna Kurkela of Papu Design.

Women also play an important role in political decision-making in Tampere. Anna-Kaisa Ikonen served as the Mayor of Tampere in 2013–2017 and currently chairs the City Council. The previous chairs of the City Council were Irene Roivainen in 2009–2012 and Sanna Marin in 2013–2017.

Female ministers of parliament in the first Finnish Parliament
Female ministers of parliament in the first Finnish Parliament. Photo source: Tammerkoski 5/1996.

Work still needed in women’s career development

The Global Gender Gap 2015 report of the World Economic Forum ranks Iceland, Norway and Finland as the three most equal countries in the world. In Finland, women’s wages correspond to approximately 84% of men’s wages. Approximately half of the wage difference can be explained by women’s different education choices. When comparing women’s and men’s wages under the same job title, the difference decreases as women’s wages correspond to 97% of men’s.

In Finland, fields of education are clearly divided into female- and male-dominated fields. Female-dominated fields include social services and health care as well as the care industry, cleaning services and textile and clothing technology. Male-dominated fields included forestry, construction technology and electrical and automation engineering. Finland is an equal country for women to
work in. However, a report published by international audit company Grant Thornton shows that the proportion of women in leading positions is not developing. Women complete a higher number of degrees beyond basic education in Finland than men; however, women’s higher education rates do not translate into career development or employment in the labour market. A more even distribution of education paths would help to even wage differences.

Tampere will continue to be a city of equality, providing everyone with the opportunity to be themselves, participate in public debate and reform the city. The City of Tampere endeavours to promote gender equality in the fields of early education and learning, social and health care services, culture and sports, housing, urban planning, traffic and immigration. Particular emphasis is also placed on preventing intimate partner violence. Equality is further promoted by guaranteeing women the right to physical inviolability.

The City of Tampere has a valid human resources equality plan. The City of Tampere employs approximately 14,000 people wherein around 70% are women. The public sector is a significant source of employment for women. The City of Tampere’s annual measures for promoting equal pay for equal work are based on a report by Statistics Finland. The city’s Human Resources Unit annually submits a clarification request to the units that have gender-based wage differences in accordance with the report prepared by Statistics Finland.

Text Aila Rajamäki

Photos Sources: Tampere-Seura, Heinrich Iffland, Tammerkoski 5/1996