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Statement to the parliamentary Employment and Equality Committee on the report on internal security (VNS 4/2021 vp) (TAS 437/2021, issued on 16 September 2021)

In the statement, the Ombudsman for Equality drew attention to the following matters:

Recognising intersectionalities and differences between genders

The Ombudsman for Equality wishes to point out a statement included in the report, according to which the perceived and measured security of population groups considered to be in a vulnerable position is worse than that of the average population. 

It is important to note gender as a factor when examining perceived security and security threats. By analysing how gender intersects with other factors, such as age or being part of a minority, more detailed information can be obtained on differences related to perceived security, allowing us to better meet the needs of various population groups. It is difficult to target measures without identifying intersectionalities, and the most vulnerable groups may be left unidentified. 

The Ombudsman for Equality wishes to highlight the importance of taking the gender perspective into consideration when assessing internal security.

The report states that Finland is the safest country in the world. It should be ensured that it is possible for everyone to live without violence or threat of violence, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression of gender.

The Ombudsman for Equality considers it important for national crime victim research to systematically monitor and analyse changes in crime according to gender. Furthermore, new forms of online abuse, hate speech, online targeting and harassment are phenomena that require analysis from the gender perspective together with other underlying factors. 

Gender minorities, including children and young people, are more likely to become victims of violence, bullying, harassment and sexual abuse. This must be taken seriously.

Social exclusion from the gender perspective and violence against men

The report states that crime and accidents are often linked to deprivation. Social exclusion is examined extensively. Factors such as a low level of education, unemployment and problems related to income are mentioned as significant risk factors for social exclusion. (2.1.6.) The prevalence of violence experienced by young people placed outside their home has been raised as a concern. (3.3.3.) 

A large portion of the population is concerned about increase of inequality. When it comes to security, this is particularly evident with threat of violence, accidents, discrimination, hate crimes and various forms of neglect. (3.1.5.) 

The report states that the greatest underlying factor linked to security-related inequality is the risk of poverty and social exclusion, which affects a significant portion of the population, approximately 860,000 people. 

However, these risk factors are not consistently examined from the gender perspective, and gender is not taken into specific consideration with regard to measures and monitoring. In preventing social exclusion, it would be important to assess risk factors from the gender perspective in order to identify any differences between genders with regard to exclusion and its various forms, as well as to acknowledge the need for any gender sensitive measures.

Violence and threat of violence against men and boys must also be addressed. It is known that there are differences in the wellbeing, social participation, health, morbidity and mortality of different genders. The report states, among other things, that the number of injuries and deaths resulting from accidents involving men is high in Finland, more than double the figures of the Nordic country with the lowest number of injuries and accidents, Denmark, and a third higher than in Sweden. (3.2.2.) The report also mentions the “male sex” as one factor related to crime with both perpetrators and victims. (3.3.2.) 

A significant portion of homicide mortality in Finland is connected to social exclusion of men and abuse of alcohol or other intoxicants. (3.6.6.) On the other hand, the report does not indicate whether and how social exclusion of men and women differs, and what are the underlying factors for men’s proneness to accidents. This makes it difficult to plan and target efficient preventive measures.

Violence against women

Violence experienced by women, including severe domestic violence that may even be lethal, is alarmingly common in Finland. International law defines gendered violence against women as violence committed against women based on gender and/or violence the victims of which are typically women. This type of violence includes various sex offences and domestic abuse offences. The State’s responsibility to effectively protect women from violence, including intimate partner violence and sexual abuse, is emphasised in cases involving severe violence. This responsibility of the State is laid down in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and General Recommendations no.  19 and 31 of the CEDAW Committee, as well as the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). In the view of the Ombudsman for Equality, it is important that violence against women has been examined in the report and the issue has been acknowledged on a national level. 

Both the CEDAW Committee and the expert body for the Istanbul Convention, GREVIO, have commented on the situation in Finland. In its recommendations, GREVIO has urged Finland to ensure sufficient resources aimed at preventing and combating violence against women and domestic abuse, improve the regional accessibility of shelters everywhere in the country, train police officers and prosecutors on the subject of violence against women and domestic violence, ensure sufficient resources for law enforcement authorities to intervene with violence and assess legislation such as the Act on Restraining Orders and its implementation practices from the perspective of the Istanbul Convention.

The significance of assessing the risks of violence against women, including intimate partner violence, must be acknowledged and invested in. Parties such as GREVIO have encouraged Finland to ensure that systematic gender-sensitive risk assessment becomes a standard practice for all relevant authorities and criminal justice agencies in particular in cases involving violence against women. 

Although the number of shelters has increased in Finland, the network of shelters is not sufficiently extensive on a national level. The report could have suggested possible changes to the use of shelter services and assessed accessibility of shelter services for women in a vulnerable position, such as women with disabilities and women with an immigrant background. Furthermore, women with substance abuse issues do not have access to shelter services. 

Access to shelters and other support services is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when internal conflicts in families may have escalated and the threat of violence is likely to have grown. The report states that the number of domestic calls has increased significantly. (3.7.7.) 

The report notes that resistance towards authorities and violence faced by authorities at work has steadily increased in the 2010s. With regard to this, the Ombudsman for Equality wishes to point out that violence experienced in the workplace disproportionately affects female dominated industries, such as the service industry, the health care industry and the social service industry. The report should also have noted that women experience more violence and threat of violence at the workplace on average.

The Ombudsman for Equality was heard by the parliamentary Employment and Equality Committee on the report on internal security on 17 September 2021.