Budget proposal for 2024 (HE 41/2023 vp.) and General Government Fiscal Plan for 2024–2027 (TAS 628/2023, issued on 16 October 2023)
The Ombudsman for Equality was heard by the Employment and Equality Committee of Parliament on the budget proposal on 17 October 2023. The Ombudsman for Equality evaluated the proposal from the perspective of the realisation and promotion of gender equality.
The obligation to promote gender equality in societal activity
The obligation to promote gender equality in societal activity is provided for in section 6 of the Constitution of Finland (731/1999).
The budget proposal guides economic policy and has significant effects on gender equality. As groups, women and men are in very different positions, for example in terms of income distribution and in the labour market. Economic policy thus affects gender equality regardless of its stated objectives. Economic policy can consciously or unconsciously improve or degrade the state and development of gender equality.
Gender-aware budgeting is an internationally appreciated strategy for promoting gender equality. The Ombudsman for Equality proposes that more detailed instructions should be drawn up for the administrative branches on gender-aware budgeting, as has been done for gender impact assessments in legislative projects. Gender-aware budgeting can be used to allocate public spending and income in an equality-promoting manner.
A regulation issued by the Ministry of Finance states that the justifications for the main titles in the draft budget shall include summarised analyses of activities with significant gender effects. The social impact targets for gender equality in the administrative branch and the administrative branch's expenses that could impact the realisation of gender equality shall be taken into account in these analyses.
The justifications for the main titles in the 2024 budget accordingly include measures and objectives related to gender equality. These measures are not commensurable, however, and their connection to the actual promotion of gender equality remains ambiguous in places. The measures to be taken to achieve the objectives also remain largely unclear.
The Ombudsman for Equality finds it especially unfortunate that the justifications of some main titles mention the promotion of gender equality without naming a single concrete measure (for example the administrative branch of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, MT 30) or gender equality is only promoted by means of statutory guidance and information (for example the administrative branch of the Ministry of the Environment, MT 35).
Administrative branch of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (MT 32)
The justifications of the main title of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment state that gender equality in working life will be promoted with employment and entrepreneurship measures, among other things. Integration and employment measures aimed at immigrant women are mentioned as one target group.
Several bills are given in connection with the 2024 budget proposal as "expenditure acts". Some of these bills are inadequately prepared. For example, the Finnish Council of Regulatory Impact Analysis has stated that the combined effects of the proposals concerning changes to social security should have been assessed at the preparatory stage. The proposals' combined effects on vulnerable groups should have been taken into account.
A memorandum published by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on 9 October 2023 discusses the financial impact of the proposed changes to social security. However, the impact on fundamental and human rights is not discussed at all. It would be necessary to assess in more detail how the effects will target women and men and whether the combined effects of the changes will target the same groups.
Promotion of gender equality in the government term
The Programme of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo's Government states that the government will eliminate discriminatory practices and structures from working life by promoting compliance with the legislation concerning discrimination and taking more effective measures to prevent discrimination, especially discrimination based on pregnancy and family leave. The Ombudsman for Equality proposes that the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment monitor the effects of the family leave reform on paid family leave in collective agreements as well as on the employment and financial status of women and men.
The Act on Equality between Women and Men (Equality Act) will be amended during the government term, at least for the implementation of the Equal Pay Directive. The Ombudsman for Equality considers it important that the legislative amendments and measures required by Parliament with a very broad consensus when discussing the Ombudsman's report to Parliament in 2022 (Parliamentary communication EK 40/2022vp) be entered in the Equality Act in this connection. They include adding a definition of "work of equal value" to the Equality Act, preventing discrimination related to pregnancy and family leave by clarifying the prohibition of discrimination especially in atypical employment relationships and ensuring sufficient resources for supervising compliance with the Equality Act.
Effective law enforcement and promotion of gender equality requires adequate resources
The Ombudsman for Equality reminded the government that the government statement on promoting equality and gender equality seeks to reinforce the promotion of equality, not erode the preconditions for doing that work. Effective law enforcement and promotion of gender equality requires adequate resources.
The Ombudsman for Equality’s full statement in Finnish is enclosed.