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#metoo: Finnish MPs tackle issue of sexual harassment

Finnish parliament spent around 90 minutes discussing the topic of sexual harassment and abuse, but MPs did not have many concrete proposals to address the problem during their talks on Tuesday afternoon.

Tuula Haatainen
Social Democratic Party MP Tuula Haatainen addresses parliament on Tuesday. Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

At Finnish Parliament on Tuesday dozens of MPs made statements on the issue of sexual harassment. While all of the speakers underscored the seriousness of the topic, only a couple of concrete measures — like law change proposals — were suggested.

Several MPs spoke of Finland's need to improve its work on equality issues in places like schools and the workplace, but there were not many suggestions about how that task would be carried out.

Social Democratic Party MP Tuula Haatainen — who's also running for president next year — initiated Tuesday's discussion about harassment and made the day's first statements on the topic.

"I want to thank the #dammenbrister campaign and all the brave women who broke the culture of silence. I have a message to you today: You were right to speak up. You've done nothing wrong. You have a right to your own body. You have a right to live without harassment," Haatainen said.

The #dammenbrister campaign was launched by Swedish-speaking women in Finland and a local response to the international #metoo social media campaign on raising awareness about issues like sexual harassment and abuse.

Several MPs thanked Haatainen for her initiative on the issue. Some MPs said sexual harassment was a problem of attitudes that should be dealt with on a personal basis and that it was a matter of personal responsibility for people across Finland.

"We need an attitude change about sexual harassment. We can solve this problem together," Haatainen said.

Concern for kids, but also for accused

Several MPs noted how vulnerable children are in the issue, particularly kids who participate in, for example, extra-curricular sports.

Finns Party MP Leena Meri said that people with disabilities were another vulnerable group when it comes to harassment. Fellow Finns Party members Ville Tavio and Ritva Elomaa used the opportunity to highlight the issue of vulnerable immigrant women and sexual harassment and abuse.

Several MPs — including National Coalition Party MP Antti Häkkänen, Markus Mustajärvi of the Left Alliance and Jari Lindström of the Blue Reform  — said it is important to use caution when naming suspected perpetrators of sexual harassment or abuse.

On Tuesday Yle published results of a survey of current advisors and staff at Finnish parliament that found more than one-in-ten had experienced sexual harassment of some sort.

During her talk, Haatainen noted the Yle survey and said that the issue needs to be addressed in all arenas, including in schools and places of employment, through the use of awareness campaigns as well as education programmes.

Some cross-party unity

One group that came forward with a concrete proposal about how to address the issue of sexual harassment was not separated by party divisions.

MPs Sanna Marin of the Social Democrats, Li Andersson and Hanna Sarkkinen of the Left Alliance as well as Olli-Poika Parviainen and Satu Hassi of the Greens said the country's legal definition of rape should be changed.

The MPs said that rape should be defined as a lack of consent of the victim, rather than the current legal definition of the crime, which carries with it the stipulation that violence or a threat of violence be made against the victim.

Social Democrat MP Tytti Tuppurainen suggested that verbal harassment should be outlawed because current laws on the books only ban physical harassment and touching.

Several other MPs, however, said Finland's laws are adequate as they stand.

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