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Statement on the Government report on development needs in promoting integration (TAS 72/2021, issued on 9 March 2021)

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment requested a statement from the Ombudsman for Equality concerning the draft for a Government report on development needs in promoting integration. The objective of the report is to comprehensively promote integration, taking into account the different needs of immigrants, the service system as a whole and the promotion of good relations between population groups. The Ombudsman for Equality replied to the request for a statement from the perspective of gender equality.

The objectives of the Act on Equality between Women and Men (609/1986, Equality Act) are to prevent discrimination based on gender, gender identity or gender expression, and thus to improve the status of women, particularly in working life. (Section 1 §) According to the Equality Act, authorities must in all their activities promote equality between women and men purposefully and systematically, and must create and consolidate administrative and operating practices that ensure the advancement of gender equality in the preparatory work undertaken on different matters and in decision-making. In particular, circumstances which prevent the attainment of gender equality must be changed. (Section 4)

There are many significant differences with regard to equality in the labour market positions of men and women. But this is not the only line of division in the labour market. Women and men are not uniform groups with regard to labour market position. Neither do differences in the ability to participate in the labour market or in the status of employees arise solely from gender, but also from factors such as immigrant background. When gender intersects with such other factors, it can generate experiences and phenomena of intersectional discrimination in working life. These are also equality issues faced by Finnish society. As a discrimination issue, intersectional discrimination falls outside the competence of the Ombudsman for Equality, being in the remit of the authorities responsible for enforcing the Non-Discrimination Act. The Ombudsman for Equality nevertheless considers it important to pay attention to intersectional discrimination in equality and non-discrimination policy. This also highlights the necessity of cooperation between authorities.

The Ombudsman for Equality commends the fact that the report on development needs in promoting integration highlights equality issues, such as the impact of the use of family leave on the duration of the integration programme, the employment problems faced by women of immigrant background and involving women of immigrant background caring for their children at home in employment measures. Furthermore, the Ombudsman for Equality considers it important that the position on integration adopted by Parliament in January 2019 requires making women of immigrant background a special focus group of integration services.

The report describes how experiences of bullying and loneliness accumulate for boys of immigrant background. The Ombudsman for Equality is concerned about this phenomenon and considers it important to plan concrete action for tackling these issues. Experiences of bullying and loneliness can otherwise lead to a variety of problems related to, for example education, employment and marginalisation.

Promoting the employment and inclusion of immigrants

In its latest concluding observations on Finland's periodic report, the United Nations Committee overseeing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) expressed concern about the high unemployment rate, low wages and underrepresentation in political and public life of migrant women. The Committee recommended that Finland should pay particular attention to these issues. (CEDAW/C/FIN/CO/7)

The family leave reform should also take into consideration the special circumstances of families of immigrant background. The reform must not undermine the position of women of immigrant background. The circumstances of women of immigrant background range from the highly educated to the highly vulnerable. It would be important to also inform families of immigrant background about the family leave reform and encourage fathers to use their family leave.

Improving the availability of guidance and counselling for immigrants

The CEDAW Committee recommended that Finland take action to increase the awareness of migrant women of their rights, access to education and employment, other basic services and legal remedies. The Committee also recommended Finland to conduct comprehensive studies on discrimination against migrant women both in their communities and in society at large. Statistics are needed on the employment and health care of migrant women, as well as the forms of violence that they may experience, in order to address multiple or intersecting forms of discrimination. (CEDAW/C/FIN/CO/7)

The Ombudsman for Equality is a key authority with regard to the realisation of the legal protection of individuals in matters involving discrimination. This is a group of issues in which the financial risk involved in trials can discourage individuals from bringing action in the courts. Furthermore, the Ombudsman for Equality has a central role in the supervision of the duties to promote equality provided for in the Equality Act.

People of immigrant background have only rarely contacted the Ombudsman for Equality. It is to be assumed that they suffer from, e.g. gender-based discrimination at least as much as the majority population, so under-reporting is a particularly serious issue in their case. It would thus be important to ensure that people of immigrant background are aware of their rights and able to turn to the authorities, such as the Ombudsman for Equality.

Creating an integration programme to support early-stage integration

The Ombudsman for Equality finds it commendable that the use of family leave has been taken into account in providing flexibility in the duration of the integration programme. In practice, attention must also be paid to the fact that every person and family of immigrant background is individual and has unique needs. It is important from the perspective of equality that the use of family leave does not have a negative effect on the rights and benefits of individuals, such as on the integration programme.

Reinforcing partnerships and the role of organisations

The Ombudsman for Equality considers that the integration of vulnerable women of immigrant background requires close cooperation between the authorities and NGOs at the local level. Low-threshold services provided by NGOs are particularly important for the successful integration of vulnerable women of immigrant background. Therefore, adequate resources should be provided to organisations working with women of immigrant background.

Guidelines for promoting integration in the 2020s and summary of next steps

The amendment of the Act on the Promotion of Immigrant Integration and other legislation requires gender impact assessments. The effects of pregnancy and family leave must also be taken into account in the assessment. The simultaneous effect of a variety of background factors, such as immigrant background, age and socio-economic standing, the status of individuals in addition to gender must be borne in mind when conducting the gender impact assessment.