My name is Joni, and I recently became a proud father of two.
My son, Tomi, is six and a half years old, and will soon be finishing nursery school. After that, he’ll go on to preschool for a year, and then to school. His new baby sister, Eeva, is just six and a half days old. She was born in a public hospital, right here in Helsinki – the same place where the president’s wife gave birth, I believe. It’s been exciting to have the chance to become a father all over again, and it has made me reflect on equality.
When I think about my children, I think about their future. I want what’s best for them. So I am grateful to live in a place where I can refer to them both with the same word: hän. Hän is the Finnish language’s inclusive, gender-neutral, third-person pronoun. And, the word hän is the ultimate symbol of equality, and a great aspect of Finnish culture. My daughter, my son and my wife, Suvi, are all hän – so is the president, so am I, and so are you.
Eeva doesn’t know it yet, but she has a bright future ahead of her. Like her brother before her, she can expect to be treated as an equal member of society, thanks to the inclusive structures and institutions that Finland has in place. Once they become adults, the kids can enjoy wonderful social benefits like free higher education.Laws like the Equal Marriage Act mean that society will accept them for who they are.
Before my children were even born, Suvi and I were comfortable in the knowledge that there is a system in place that has their best interests at heart. In Finland, absolutely no mother or child is left behind, thanks to the universal maternal healthcare system. The state also gifted us the iconic baby box for expectant parents – we still have Tomi’s. The baby box is also gender-neutral, of course.
I am proud of my children, but I’m also proud of where I live. Paid maternity leave is a generous 105 days, and paid paternal leave is 54 working days. That’s a total of 159 paid working days – more than seven months. And a recent study found that Finland is the only country in the developed world where fathers spend more time with school-aged children than mothers.
After decades of hard work, Finland has become a country with social equality at its very core, and hän is proof of that. I can honestly say that social equality and life-long equal opportunities are two of the pillars of Finnish society. Hän makes it possible for every child to prosper, and – once they grow up – for every adult to be defined not by their background, gender or appearance, but by who they are.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, as a Finn, I want to bring hän to the rest of the world. Just as I want the best for my children, I want the best for everyone. That’s the beauty of equality. Together, we can work towards a better, more equal world, and hän can help lead the way.