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Monday's papers: Sexism in Finnish politics, services held for murdered aid workers, and pain relief by phone

Jibes about weight, online abuse, and growing pressure over appearance - these are the things some female politicians say they are subjected to while their male colleagues are free to get on with their job. The debate over differential treatment in Finnish politics was reignited over the weekend with a prominent MP speaking out about the treatment she's received, and in today's papers many other women parliamentarians come forward to describe similar experiences. Elsewhere, the organisation whose two Finnish aid workers were murdered in Afghanistan last week says it's suspending its local mental health projects, and Helsinki health authority begins offering pain-relief advice to cancer sufferers by phone.

Merja Kyllönen
MEP Merja Kyllönen took to Aamulehti this weekend to speak out about sexism in Finnish politics Image: Yle

Many newspapers pick up on the debate about sexism in Finnish politics, which was reignited over the weekend after a damning account of the harsh criticism levelled at female MPs over their appearance, described in a column in Aamulehti by Left Alliance MP Merja Kyllönen.

While their male colleagues are free to look and dress how they like in summer, regardless of their physical appearance, female parliamentarians come in for a constant stream of abuse in the media, online and even in person, Kyllönen argued.

“Who would enjoy being told when you meet someone: 'Ah, in real life you don’t look as fat as on the telly’?” she asked.

And, she said, the problem is getting more acute.  “For years I’ve got used to the fact that it’s fair game to criticise women politicians for their appearance. Newspapers do go on about their weight or what they wear. But it’s a new thing that people are criticising our faces too now,” Kyllönen wrote.

Following Kyllönen’s comments, Monday’s papers carry a string of responses from other female MPs, most of them echoing Kyllönen’s experiences.

Centre Party MP Annika Saarikko tells Iltalehti that she thinks Finns’ way of talking to each other has become more direct, thanks to anonymous online comment pages and communications. Saarikko says she doesn’t read web comments about herself any more as a result of the personal abuse.

For SDP politician Hanna Tainio, the problem is not just about explicit attacks. “When I see what’s written about me in columns I’m always amazed. They’re not especially hurtful things, but things are written about me that are not at all linked to my profession,” she says.

Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen – whom Ilta-Sanomat claims did not own any makeup before she got into politics – says she sees the issue as part as a wider problem, that pressure on women and girls over their appearance has grown throughout society. She’s not against praising someone for their appearance though, Räsänen insists, but she says it’s wrong if a politician’s judged solely on how they look.

Herat projects suspended

Turun Sanomat is among the many papers today reporting on the latest in Herat, western Afghanistan, where two Finnish aid workers were shot dead last week. The organisation the two mental health practitioners worked for, the International Assistance Mission, has decided to suspend its projects in the city for at least a few weeks as a result of the deteriorating safety situation.

The Christian aid body announced yesterday they will also stop sending foreign staff to the region, Turun Sanomat says, adding that a series of services were held in churches across Finland on Sunday to remember the two victims.

Pain relief by phone

Helsingin Sanomat reports on a new initiative by Helsinki’s health authority, to offer pain relief to cancer sufferers by phone. The free service puts patients in touch with an expert who can give advice about medication and arrange a consultation if necessary. A cancer specialist tells the paper that many pain-relief issues can in fact be resolved by helping the patient manage their medication.

The hotline also has another purpose – to gather information about when cancer pain relief medicines are failing to work, and use the data for further medical research. Providing the patient agrees to their case being analysed, the health authority hopes the insight gained will help improve pain care in the future.

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