Finland’s Feminist Party started last summer. It will participate in nine of Sunday’s municipal elections and has its highest number of eligible candidates in Helsinki. One important issue in the election campaign in the capital has been the handling of newly arrived immigrants and refugees.
‘We see that fundamental human rights are not respected when it comes to refugees. It is an inhumane process where many are sent back, despite the fact that they will not be safe in their home countries,’ says Katju Aro, leader of the party.
According to Aro, refugees who have had their asylum applications rejected and been kicked out from their asylum housing have set up tents in the centre of Helsinki. They lack housing, food and water and are at risk of freezing to death.
‘Our government wants to convey the message that they must fend for themselves if they don’t leave the country. The government thinks that their responsibility ends when the asylum process is over. But we believe that this treatment violates both human rights and Finnish legislation.’
The Feminist Party’s engagement in the refugee issue is not surprising, says Katju Aro. The party started as a reaction to right-wing populism and growing xenophobia. When the nationalist Finns Party won a landslide victory in the recent parliamentary election, she felt that something needed to be done.
‘Two friends and I have been active in non-profit organisations and pushed feminist issues there, but we felt that it didn’t lead to any changes that were big enough. It was time to take the next step and go into party politics,’ she says.
Inspired by Feminist Initiative
Finland’s Feminist Party has drawn a lot of inspiration from Feminist Initiative in Sweden. Katju Aro says that they studied carefully the Swedish party’s policies, and today the two parties share a similar ideological foundation, where antiracism and an intersectional perspective are of key importance.
‘I think it reflects the issues that are important to Finnish feminists. Or maybe we are a little more progressive than the feminist movement as a whole,’ says Katju Aro.
She continues to say that the interest in the party has been strong since its inception, from both the media and people in general.
‘We have also noticed a change in the established parties since we came into the picture. Now all parties have feminist issues on their agenda. It didn’t use to be that way,’ she says
Katju Aro does not want to speculate about the election results, but hopes to get at least one person into the Helsinki City Council.
‘There is a small chance and it would be a big deal to us,’ she says.
The Women in Iceland Created World History
Feminist parties are not a new phenomenon in the Nordic countries. The first women’s party in Iceland was founded already in 1908. When it participated in the municipal election in Reykjavik, it received 21.8% of the votes and became the largest party in the city council. In 1983, the Icelandic women once again created world history. The newly formed party, the Women’s List, gained three seats in the Icelandic parliament. No other women’s party in the world had ever been able to enter a national parliament.
Ragnhildur Vigfúsdóttir was active in the party and remembers how they put new issues on the political agenda.
‘At that time, only unmarried mothers were entitled to day care for their children. We took on the issue at city level and pushed the right to day care for all children,’ she says.
The Women’s List also focused on the environmental issue and brought attention to men’s violence against women.
After 15 active years, the party was dissolved. It made a significant difference in Icelandic politics, according to Vigfúsdóttir.
‘I’m convinced our work paved the way for Iceland’s current tripartite parental insurance.’
An Intersectional Approach
Swedish political party Feminist Initiative was formed in 2005. The idea was to bring together feminists from different grass-root movements in a single party, thus gathering issues related to antiracism, LGBT and gender equality under the same umbrella.
‘We had an intersectional perspective from the outset. If you are a feminist and want to fight for equality among all people, you can’t just fight for the rights of women. You have to fight for the rights of all discriminated groups,’ says Lotten Sunna, co-founder of the party and currently its spokesperson on issues related to social security.
The other Nordic countries have shown great interest in the party. Its leader Gudrun Schyman have visited them many times to talk about the party’s work. Today, both Finland and Norway have similar parties, and a Danish feminist party is in the pipeline.
‘I think it’s because the political development is similar across the Nordic region. Some parties want to close the borders, and we offer an alternative in that view,’ says Lotten Sunna.
She argues that similar trends can be seen outside the Nordic region. England has a feminist party, just as Poland and Germany.
‘It would be wonderful if there were feminist parties in so many countries that we could form a feminist group in the European Parliament that could push the issues. That would be a dream come true,’ says Lotten Sunna.