The dismantling of the rights of women and gender and sexual minorities is not an incidental but an organized activity.
Equality is developed in Finland by world standards. It is important to be aware of the milestones that have already been reached, and we should thank the politicians and civic activists who have worked tirelessly for women’s rights. Still, there is not a single country in the world that has achieved gender equality. As the coronavirus crisis continues, the progress already made threatens to take a backseat, as the consequences of the pandemic are in many ways particularly severe for women.
Women’s rights have suffered numerous setbacks. Power in Washington has changed, but decisions made during the previous U.S. administration, such as denying support to organizations promoting sexual health services and abortion counseling, continue to be reflected elsewhere in the world. Poland has tightened its abortion law so that all abortions that were considered legal before January have been stopped. In some Latin American countries, states are campaigning against women and sexual minorities. Women who defend their political and civil rights in Belarus are in a particularly vulnerable and risky position precisely because of their gender.
Women and the dismantling of the rights of gender and sexual minorities is not a haphazard but an organized and generously funded activity. At the heart of this is the cross-border anti-gender movement, which is also active in Europe, seeking to undermine the rights of women and gender and sexual minorities by calling into question the international commitments already made.
Women’s sexual and reproductive rights were promoted in the 1990s at major UN conferences, the outcome documents of which were progressive even by current standards. The use of the term gender, which recognizes the spectrum of gender identities, is in itself the result of multilateral international negotiations.
In addition to semantics, it is about values. Some see the rights of women and gender and sexual minorities as a threat to traditional structures and family and gender roles. According to a recent study, the anti-gender movement is characterized by varying degrees of female hatred and sometimes nationalist values. Sometimes actors have links with organizations and institutions of different religious backgrounds.
Last years ideas that violate the rights of women and gender and sexual minorities have been secretly infiltrated into the structures of societies, both through state influence and non-governmental organizations.
Finland succeeds in international equality comparisons thanks to our traditional strengths – such as education, healthcare and opportunities for political participation. At the same time, there are areas of equality that we cannot be as proud of. Our challenges are the intensified and often gendered hate speech in recent years, as well as violence against women, which is remarkably common in Finland on a European scale. International multilateral agreements oblige us to act. Courage and pioneering mean tackling national grievances and an open and encouraging dialogue with countries whose problems are much wider than Finland’s.
State Department has co-sponsored a publication published in March by the German Center for Feminist Foreign Policy research, which identifies the causes and consequences of the movement and campaigning against the rights of women and gender and sexual minorities, as well as ways to respond to it. The research report emphasizes that anti-gender campaigns are not limited to women or sexual minorities. They also seek to crumble democracy, for example through targeted harassment online.
Responding to a systematic anti-gender campaign requires a tireless and vigilant defense of the rights of women and gender and sexual minorities. This needs to be done in many ways and at different levels, together with states and civil society, all over the world.
The author is the Minister for Nordic Co-operation and Equality (r).
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