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Finns Party MP backtracks on contentious comments about women in armed service

Finns Party MP Jussi Niinistö has sought to clarify comments he allegedly made to the Tampere-based daily Aamulehti, in which he said that the army was “made for men by men”, and that suitable roles for women would include tasks such as medical care and IT services.

Jussi Niinistö perussuomalaisten puoluekokouksessa kesäkuussa 2013. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

Finns Party MP Jussi Niinistö said Sunday that the comments he made in a newspaper interview had been misinterpreted. The current chair of Parliament’s Defence Committee, the Finns Party MP said that the furore that erupted over his statements had been based on an incorrect quote.

“It has been interpreted and headlined that Jussi Niinistö wants women in the army as (computer) mouse pushers. I have not said so, rather I have always said that I value those Finnish female volunteers who are completing or have completed their military service. There has been a terrible misunderstanding that I would in some way have contempt for the voluntary and patriotic contributions of young women towards Finland's national defence. I appreciate their efforts tremendously,” Niinistö said Sunday.

On Saturday the daily Aamulehti reported Niinistö as saying that appropriate national defence roles for women would include tasks such as medical care or IT services.

“Pushing a mouse or typing on a keyboard does not require any physical preparation, but rather mental preparation,” Niinistö allegedly told the daily.

Stone age comments

The comments ignited a firestorm of controversy, with the Conscripts Association (Varusmiesliitto) branding Niinistö's views as “stone age”.

The chair of the women’s arm of the National Coalition Party, Lenita Toivakka, also weighed in on the discussion, saying that she was shocked by the lawmaker’s statements.

“Although I also don’t support compulsory military service, I am shocked by Niinistö’s contemptuous attitude to women,” Toivakka added.

In his defence, Niinistö stressed that there was an element of misinterpretation in the Aamulehti article. He pointed out that the paper asked about the need for gender neutral military service, in other words, whether compulsory military service should be extended to include men and women of all age groups.

“I did not think it necessary that all women should be called up for compulsory military service, and (I think) the current system is adequate. It was a question of whether there should be national service for those women who do not volunteer for military service. I said that this should be opened up for public discussion,” he expanded.

“I told Aamulehti that a period of about three months’ military service would be realistic. During such time I would teach civil society to increase its crisis tolerance skills. It could include situations related to dealing with power outages, first aid skills and other things that would be useful during a crisis. I also said that IT skills are important nowadays and that it’s possible to serve one’s country by using a (computer) mouse,” he added.

According to Niinistö, women who volunteer for military service are far more motivated than men who are called up.