INTERVIEW: Women's Rights Help Individuals, not Statistics

The Jakarta Post
Monday, March 21, 2011 - 20:00
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding
Initiative Type: 

Indonesia is planning a national action plan to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, security and peace. The Jakarta Post's Tifa Asrianti talked to Elizabeth Rehn, former defense minister of Finland, on the importance of gender equality in society. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Question: How do you see the condition of women in Indonesia?

Answer: I believe it's important that the government has started to develop a national action plan on UN Resolution 1325. [Indonesia] has created legislation for the protection of women such as from domestic violence. It's very well covered — but even if you have all the laws in the world, you also have to follow and implement them in the home.

In every country there is violence in family homes. This is something we must work much harder to get rid of.

In the cold north it's a bit different than it is here, but some principles are important for everybody to have, and that is equal rights for all.

Men or women, rich or poor, in the city or countryside, we always count statistics — so many millions. We must remember that we are talking about human beings. It's the individuals that count, the happy or the suffering individuals.

How about the position of women in Finland?

I come from a country that has strong women position. We have women as president and prime minister. We have twenty members in the government, 11 are women. It's very equal in Finland.

Women in Finland have started to work outside of the home very early. We got our voting rights and eligibility to be candidates in general elections in 1906 — 105 years ago.

In the first election of parliament, 18 women [were elected] out of 200 parliament members without any quotas. It was in 1907, only one year after we got voting rights for women.

During the war in 1939 with Russia, women were pretty much on the front line, not fighting, but taking care of society, doing the jobs that men in the front did.

We have a hard environment with cold winters and a short time for food production. Everybody is needed. Now we have good economy. We have built a society in a way that women are equal to men in politics.

What should government do to strengthen women's roles in the economy?

We should give women possibilities in working life. They should have good day care. So you know that your children are well taken care of while you're working.

In Finland, we have been working hard on the participation of the men. Men are forced to take paternal leave.

We are just planning for...mothers to have six months, fathers have six months and then there are six months of parents' leave that can be taken by either of them, so it would be 18 months that parents [can spend] with their children.

The expense for this should be paid by the employers of both the father and mother. Sometimes it's difficult for women to get a job because bosses think that the mother will have a baby and have maternity leave and it will be expensive for us.

But if the fathers' companies also pay for this there is no difference. Women can be accepted in top jobs, too. We have paternal leave, but it is shorter. This is a proposal for the next government.

We need children to pay our taxes and take care of us. It's economically important that we have more children and that families can afford to have children and work.

What do you think about Indonesia, which has the opposite problem –a rapidly growing population ?

In Finland people usually have two children. Family planning should be stronger [in Indonesia]. If you have ten children it will be difficult to feed them.

It's important to have a balance. You should have a lot of information, and hold training for both men and women. It's important that they getting information on family planning. Even if children are blessing, you can regulate how many children you want to have.