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Survey: More than half of young women in Finland have faced sexual harassment

A new gender equality barometer has found that women experience sexual harassment at the hands of men, while men are targeted by both sexes.

Image: AOP

Some 38 percent of women and 17 percent of men say they have experienced sexual harassment during the past two years, according to a survey released Friday by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

The survey, which was conducted in 2017, found that young women in particular reported that they had been the target of unwanted advances with sexual overtones. More than half of women under the age of 35 said that they had experienced such harassment over the past two years.

Most commonly, sexual harassment reportedly takes the form of double entendre jokes as well as obscene language and inappropriate comments about people’s bodies and sexuality. Roughly a quarter of female respondents and eight percent of men said they had experienced this kind of behaviour. Another 15 percent of women and six percent of men said they had endured unwanted physical advances.

Men harassed by both sexes

The new barometer took a deeper dive into the gender profiles of perpetrators of sexual harassment. Women reported harassment from mainly men, but men said that they had experienced improper advances from both sexes. In most cases the perpetrator was a stranger.

Over the years, respondents have reported an increase in the number of instances of sexual harassment. The report speculated that harassment could have been on the rise, but also noted that increased public discourse on the subject may have helped people to better recognise cases of harassment.

Women struggle in the workplace

The survey uncovered a clear different in the way women and men view harassment and gender. Male respondents said that gender equality was well-established in Finnish society, but women said that there was still room for improvement in many areas. Up to two thirds of respondents said that men were in a better position than women in Finland.

Women reported more cases of unequal treatment in the workplace than men.

Half of women in the survey said that they had encountered patronising or demeaning treatment in different situations. This most often occurred at the workplace or during leisure activities with relatives.

By contrast, one in five men reported similar experiences, although in addition to the workplace, they reported such treatment among friends.

Overall, up to three-quarters of young women said that they had faced sexual harassment, patronising treatment and hate speech.

Minorities a target of hate speech

For the first time, the barometer also looked at the link between gender and reports of hate speech. The results indicated that 15 percent of women and eight percent of men had encountered hate speech. By contrast, more than a quarter of religious, ethnic, language and sexual minorities had had to deal with it.

Gender-related hate speech often involved demeaning or threatening speech or writings.

Respondents also said they believed that sexual minorities would face difficulties in the workplace. Roughly one-third of respondents said that trans or intersex persons would likely encounter discrimination if they worked on the same job.

The gender equality barometer is published at five-year intervals by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the gender equality centre of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and Statistics Finland. Nearly 1,700 respondents were interviewed for the latest edition.