A Q&A with Nina Vaskunlahti, Ambassador of Finland to India on international women's day

Nina Vaskunlahti

Plan India, with the Delegation of the European Union to India and the Embassy of Finland jointly celebrated International Women’s Day to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls so that they can learn, lead, decide and thrive.

To mark the day, Nina Vaskunlahti, Ambassador of Finland to India participated in a panel discussion on ‘Women and Economic Empowerment’ with Tomasz Kozlowski, Head of the Delegation of the European Union in New Delhi, Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director, Plan India along with Nisha, a member from the Banking on Change project.

Nina Vaskunlahti, Ambassador of Finland to India shares her thoughts and insights on the importance of ensuring economic empowerment for women.

Q 1: As an Ambassador to India, what message would you like to convey on International Women’s Day?

Nina Vaskunlahti: Women’s equal participation in society and economy is an important and just goal in its own right for the sake of all women. But I would like to say that gender equality also truly benefits society as a whole. We simply cannot afford not to use half of society’s resources. When all people, regardless of their gender, can freely perform their roles in society and contribute to the economy, the full potential of humanity is released. This is a worthy goal for everyone to pursue. I trust that International Women’s Day adds to spreading this crucial message in India and across the globe.

Q 2: Finland has implemented various progressive policies and programmes. How do you think it can be extended in the Indian context? What should be a priority for India to ensure gender parity?

Nina Vaskunlahti: Gender equality consists of a broad range of issues. Equality in education and subsequent opportunities springing from one’s educational background is something that could be highlighted from the Finnish point of view. We have very good experiences from pursuing equality in early childhood institutions and education. These factors already create a more equal starting point for life and help women to confront regressive attitudes that might still prevail in their own communities.

Another important lesson is that the empowerment and equal status of women are not conceivable without political and economic inclusion and empowerment. It is extremely important to underline women’s participation and leadership in political and economic decision-making. Enhancing the rights and the position of women and girls and their opportunities to participate strengthens the society as a whole.

Every country has its own pressing gender issues and many countries also share challenges in this field. Some of the thematics for India to address are for instance sexual and reproductive health and rights, discriminatory practices faced by women and violence against women. Domestic violence is unfortunately an issue we are also fighting against in Finland.

Q 3: Any transformational experience in programmes related to gender equality that you would like to share which you have come across during your tenure in India?

Nina Vaskunlahti: Women carry with them tremendous potential and I have seen many impressive efforts to harness this potential in India. I like the approach to work locally with Civil Society Organisations that promote women's and girls' rights. I find this efficient. Here in India we have, for instance, organised awareness-raising activities, conferences and other events together with local stakeholders.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit a project supported by Finland in Dungarpur [Rajasthan] in rural India. It was inspiring to witness these workshops through which the shy tribal women gained the courage to express themselves. They shared experiences and addressed problems related to their everyday lives, livelihoods, and equality within the family.