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Women majority happened because elections started from a clean slate, says researcher

Female candidates won over 60 percent of county councillor spots in Vantaa, Kerava and Western and Central Uusimaa.

Newly elected county councillor Anita Westerholm believes voters now pay more attention to gender diversity in decision-making. Image: Christoffer Westerlund / Yle

Finland's county council elections were the first regional or municipality elections in the history of the country in which women won the majority of seats. In total, female candidates snapped up 53 percent of county councillor spots in the elections.

Women dominated the polls to the greatest extent in the Western Uusimaa municipality, where they accounted for 68.4 percent of elected candidates. Women also won over 60 percent of seats in the municipalities of Vantaa, Kerava and Central Uusimaa.

Sunday's elections were Finland's first-ever county council elections, and according to Anne Holli, a political science professor at the University of Helsinki who has researched gender equality in politics, this had a significant impact on the election results.

Incumbents are generally far more likely to win in an election than newcomers, according to Holli. Since men already hold the majority of seats in most decision-making bodies, gender diversity proceeds at a slow pace. "This election started from a clean slate," she stated.

Saara Hyrkkö (Green), who was elected to the county council in Western Uusimaa, said she hopes that these election results will not be an exception, and that results with a female majority will become as common as those with a male majority.

"These elections were, in terms of dealing with matters that are still pending, equal to the greatest possible extent," she stated.

According to Hyrkkö, political parties now have the opportunity to ensure that women acquire positions of political power. "This will enable gender diversity among political parties."

Social and healthcare sector is female-dominated

Holli revealed that national studies surveying public opinion and attitudes indicate a belief that women are better suited for certain policy areas, such as health and social welfare.

"In terms of policy areas, women have found success in the social and healthcare sector, because stereotypical perceptions suggest that women are better at handling issues related to the sector than men," she said.

"The elections were, for the most part, related to work done by women, as a significant number of employees in the social and healthcare sector are women. Additionally, an exceptional number of female healthcare professionals were elected to councils across Finland," she added.

Anita Westerholm (SPP), another female candidate elected to the council in Western Uusimaa, said she believes several women could identify with the issues brought to the fore in the council elections.

In her opinion, people have become more aware of the fact that women are under-represented in the decision-making process.

"It has certainly been one of the factors, among others, to influence voting behaviour," she said.

The last time women received a clear majority of votes in Finland was in the country's European Parliament election in 2019.