Photos from the opening


Finnish women scholars and scientists have been strongly involved in shaping our society and enriching our culture for over a century. The contribution that they have made through their work is valuable and its value increases even more when one takes into account the many obstacles that numerous women have had to overcome to be able to pursue scientific careers. As recently as the late 19th century, women had to apply to the Czar for a special dispensation to be allowed to enrol at a university.

Finnish women scientists have always been very international in their outlook and well-versed in languages. Many who played pioneering roles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries earned their doctorates and did their research abroad. Maikki Friberg, who in 1897 earned her doctorate from the University of Berne with a thesis on the genesis of folk high schools could hardly have imagined that the University of Helsinki would institute a gender equality award bearing her name just under a century later. Nor could Finland's first woman professor, Alma Söderhjelm, have foreseen that her 1900 thesis, written in French on the subject of newspapers in France at the time of the Revolution, would be re-printed in 1971.

Women in Finland have participated in higher education and scientific work more intensively and extensively than in most other countries. Enrolment by women at universities likewise became commonplace in this country earlier than elsewhere in Europe.

Finnish women today are better-educated than their male compatriots. The proportion of girls in senior secondary schools and of women at universities and other third-level institutions has been constantly rising. In fact, a majority of women have been donning the white cap of the matriculant ever since the 1950s. More women than men have been receiving master's degrees since the latter half of the 1980s. The number of women earning doctorates has been rising rapidly in recent years. In the light of these statistics we can say that matters are in quite good shape; we are a model country where gender equality is concerned.

When we take a closer look at the matter, however, we see another reality behind the statistics. Inequality and features that discriminate against women can still be found in working life - and thus also in the world of science. Differentiation that begins already in education and training manifests itself in the workforce as bifurcation and the wage differences that flow from this. Women and men are also placed at different levels in the workplace hierarchy. Women's career development comes to an end without visible reason. Thus it is right to talk of a glass ceiling. Women are still in a clear minority among researchers and on university teaching staffs, not to speak of the highest positions in the academic world. That this phenomenon is global is meagre consolation. An important policy decision emerged at the fourth UN Women's Conference in Beijing five years ago, when women's rights were declared to be legally-binding human rights. The three main principles enshrined in the Beijing programme are that the status of women and the esteem accorded them must be enhanced, the human rights of women must be implemented, and gender equality promoted in line with the principle of mainstreaming.

The European Union's - and thus also Finland's - equality policy is founded on this idea spelled out in Beijing. In science policy this means legislation to prevent discrimination and special measures - such as arranging events like this Women of Knowledge exhibition - to accelerate progress towards equality in practice. However, that is not enough on its own; there must also be an effort to ensure that the principle of equality becomes firmly rooted in every aspect of the work of all scientific institutions, in their structures, culture, programmes and practices.

The European Union has in recent years been focusing a great deal of attention on under-representation of women and gender inequality in the scientific communities of member states. The Commission and the Council of Ministers have pointed out that effective measures are needed - on the community, regional and national levels - to promote gender equality in science. These policy measures will not be limited to improving the status of women scientists, but will also have a bearing on questions relating to the content of research. It is essential to fund research that corresponds to the needs of all citizens, both men and women. Gender research, with its focus on women's, men's and equality issues, is a field that especially deserves funding.

Under-representation of women and other inequality among researchers is a problem that will not solve itself as women acquire competence. As a country whose women are highly educated, Finland is a good example of this. Many kinds of special measures - such as the mainstreaming of thinking in relation to gender equality that I have just mentioned - are needed in order to solve the problem. Both from the perspective of human rights and the national economy and as an internal issue of the scientific community, gender inequality and under-representation of women can be seen as a question that has very much to do with the quality of research and higher learning.

The lifework of the women presented in this exhibition proves this point: many of them were not content to seek the acceptance of the scientific community and carve out a career by treading only a safe, familiar path. The exhibition pays tribute to many women of learning who boldly renewed their fields of research by challenging the existing paradigms. Unfortunately often, recognition came considerably later and sometimes it had to wait for posterity to express it.

Built as it will be on knowledge, competence and education, the Finland of the 21st century can thrive only if women of learning - in common with their male counterparts - are guaranteed the opportunity to use their creative potential to the full. This is a challenge for universities, research institutes and those who fund science. We must see our highly-educated, polyglot women as one of Finland's trump cards in an internationalising world.

With these words I declare the Women of Learning exhibition open.

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