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Hän is the inclusive Finnish pronoun that stands for equal opportunity.

It's a symbol for a better world where people are not defined by their background, gender or appearance.

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Hän stories

You’re a hän. I’m a hän. Everyone’s a hän. In Finland, everyone is entitled to be treated equally, enabling them to belong, participate and achieve their full potential. Through this article series, get to know how mutual respect and solidarity, along with equal opportunities and decent living standards for all, lead to an inclusive society.

Hän honours

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Equality is a core value for Finland and its people. Finland wants to highlight the important work that is being done every day to promote equality-related values in society, around the world. Here is a list of the Hän Honours that Finland has presented so far.

  • 14/04/2021

    United Kingdom

    Seyi Akiwowo

    Seyi Akiwowo is a multi-award Winning founder and CEO of a newly formed charity, Glitch. Glitch’s mission is to awaken a generation of digital citizens equipped to create and demand for safe online spaces for all. Akiwowo founded the charity during her time as a local politician in East London (2014-2018), after she faced hideous online abuse and violence. Using her lived experience and expertise, Seyi co-designs practical solutions with Governments, NGOs, UN Human Rights Council and tech companies to protect public online spaces from hate and abuse. Akiwowo was selected as the Amnesty International Human Rights Defender in 2018 and the Digital Leader of the Year in 2019. In 2019 Akiwowo was chosen as one of Marie Clare's Future Shapers; trailblazers who are working hard to make the world a happier, safer and better place for women. Also in 2019 Akiwowo was listed in the Evening Standard as one of London's most influential people in the social media stars category.

  • 09/03/2021

    Kazakhstan

    Katerina Suvorova

    Katerina Suvorova is a director and filmmaker who has been elevating the voices of Kazakhstani women and girls through her past and new film projects. She is known for her ability to take the viewer on a journey through some of the most complex issues, ranging from environmental problems (like the film “Sea Tomorrow”) to social and cultural contradictions that have surfaced in the modern independent Kazakhstani society. Katerina Suvorova is specifically known for her activism in promoting gender equality. She is vocal and visible whenever women and girls’ empowerment is on agenda. Among her recent productions was a touching viral video on equal rights and opportunities of girls and boys “Big dreams – equal opportunities”. Katerina’s future documentary “QyzBolsyn” (May it be a Girl) is exploring the lives of women and girls named at birth “Ulbolsyn” (“May it be a Boy”) meaning the preference for a son at birth of a child. Such a tradition is not unique to Kazakhstan and exists in other countries of Central Asia and various regions of the world as well. See more: https://vimeo.com/suvorova

  • 11/11/2020

    The Netherlands

    COC Nederland

    COC Nederland is the oldest existing LGBTI organization in the world – founded in 1946. COC strives for the decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity and stands for equal rights, emancipation and social acceptance of LGBTI’s in The Netherlands and all over the world.

  • 10/09/2020

    Namibia

    Karin le Roux, Omba Arts Trust

    Founding Director of Omba Arts Trust, Ms. Karin le Roux was awarded the HÄN honour to celebrate her long-standing work in advancing inclusivity and equality through the development of sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities. The Omba Arts Trust supports artists and craftspeople in rural Namibia by selling and marketing their unique works. Ms. Le Roux is a pioneer in developing, marketing and researching the crafts sector in Namibia. Her important work has benefitted thousands of Namibians, especially in rural areas over the past 30 years.

  • 06/03/2020

    United Kingdom

    Caroline Criado Perez

    Caroline Criado-Perez is an award-winning writer, broadcaster and feminist campaigner. Her #3 best-selling book, "INVISIBLE WOMEN: exposing data bias in a world designed for men", was published in 2019. She was the 2013 recipient of the Liberty Human Rights Campaigner of the Year award, and was named OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2015.

  • 15/02/2020

    Ireland

    Sister Stanislaus

    Sister Stanislaus has committed her life to improving the conditions of the most vulnerable people in the society, for instance immigrant women and the homeless. Her aspiration has been to fight inequality, but also to encourage others to rise up to defend humanity. The many organizations she has founded have had a strong role in promoting equality in the Irish society.

Q&A

  • Hän is both ‘he’ and ‘she’ at once – or any other gender. It’s the inclusive Finnish personal pronoun that symbolises equal opportunity.

    It symbolises a better world, where people are not defined by their background or appearance. Hän doesn’t pay attention to your gender, or your social status.

    Finland wants to introduce this word – and the thinking behind it – to the rest of the world. There is still much to be done to promote inclusivity and equality, so let’s work together for a bias-free society!

  • Finland wants to encourage international dialogue and collaboration on equality by introducing the Finnish word hän to the world. In this campaign, hän is a tool for telling the Finnish story about equality as a cornerstone and source of strength for society.

    Finland also wants to thank the world for all the words that have made their way into the Finnish language. If you go back far enough, Finnish has borrowed a majority of its words from other languages. Now, we want to give something back in return.

  • Thousands of languages are in active use in the world today. For this campaign, we have selected a few widely spoken languages from which Finnish has borrowed words.

  • The pronoun hän appeared in 1543 in The ABC Book, the first printed book published in Finnish. However, hän has, of course, been part of the language since the beginning of spoken Finnish.

    Over the centuries, the meaning of the word hän has shifted. Before the 19th century, the pronoun was even more inclusive than it is now, since it was also used, among its other meanings, when talking about animals. As the project of creating a standardised, written form of Finnish began, the word received a new, more specific role: hän became the pronoun that distinguishes humans from animals.

  • Finland uses the word hän as a symbol for equality in Finnish society. We use it as a tool for talking about a complex, multifaceted subject.

    It is true that Finnish is not unique in terms of having a gender-neutral pronoun. According to a study that covers around 400 spoken languages, the majority of those languages – as much as 67% – are like Finnish in this sense. Gender-neutral pronouns are typical of Finno-Ugric languages as well as Sino-Tibetan, Altaic and Bantu languages.

    However, Indo-European languages, such as English and Spanish, typically have gendered pronouns.

  • No. Languages are full of gendered, covert meanings, and no word can guarantee an inclusive society. Despite the lack of grammatical or natural gender, the category of gender is expressed in many ways, and so is inequality between genders; the Finnish language is no exception.

    For example, many professional titles are gendered in Finnish. In 1990, Statistics Finland published a directory of titles, and almost 400 of these titles ended in “-man” (-mies in Finnish), such as “fireman” (palomies).

    It has even been suggested that the gender-neutral pronoun works against gender equality by rendering women invisible in public discourse. In languages with natural gender, such as English, it is possible to come up with alternatives to sexist expressions. For instance, “s/he” simultaneously denotes males and females. This increases the linguistic visibility of women.

    Finnish linguist Mila Engelberg, PhD, is the author of a 2018 book whose Finnish title translates to “Men and Female People – Sexism in the Finnish Language and its Dismantling.” She writes: “What is more difficult is to recognise and dismantle the gendered, covert meanings of words, or to give up idioms suggesting that all humans are men. Dismantling linguistic sexism still requires both analysis and concrete action.”

    Nonetheless, the power of an inclusive personal pronoun should not be trivialised. Speaking in an inclusive manner is easy in Finnish, since there are no grammatical genders, and the personal pronoun hän refers to women, men and non-binary people alike.

  • We do not claim that Finland is a perfect country in terms of equality. We recognise that discrimination based on, for example, gender, race, ethnicity and disability has been brought to light by women and minorities in Finland.

    For example, various interest groups have called attention to breaches in the rights of transgender, Roma and Sámi people, and to the difficulties that people with disabilities face, for example, in finding employment in Finland. Nor is racism unknown in Finland, unfortunately.

    Although there are 93 women in the 200-seat Finnish Parliament, women are still a minority in leadership positions in listed companies, media and politics. There are structural differences between pay levels in industries dominated by one gender: on average, salaries are higher in industries dominated by men, and men make more money than women in Finland. Moreover, violence against women continues to be a critical issue.

    Tangible progress is being made in all of these issues, but they deserve continual attention and require work towards improvement.