Functions of municipalities and joint municipal authorities

Gender equality and non-discrimination

A diverse group of people

The Finnish Local Government Act requires that municipalities advance the well-being of their residents and promote sustainable development in their areas. Gender equality, non-discrimination and the observance of human rights are central to well-being and socially sustainable development.

As the level of government closest to the citizen, local authorities are well-placed to promote gender equality and non-discrimination in the daily life of local residents and hence increase their well-being. Well-organised services, safety and security, the smooth running of daily life, and equality in decision-making lay the foundation for the gender equality and non-discrimination of residents. 

Local authorities are tasked with promoting the equality of both genders and preventing direct and indirect discrimination. In practice, this work is integrated into many different functions: decision-making, operational and financial steering and management, service organisation and production, the employer role and promotion of local vitality.

This is not an additional task, but a set of practices to improve resident focus, service quality and efficiency through better targeting of services.

Action to promote gender equality and non-discrimination and to prevent direct and indirect discrimination should take account of the fact that the gender and one or several personal attributes may be grounds for multiple discrimination.  Examples of such attributes are age, place of residence, economic and social status, background, religion and sexual orientation. Various differentiating attributes affect the daily lives of local residents simultaneously. To give an example, a school pupil, an elderly service user or a member of a minority group is also a girl, boy, man or woman. That is why social exclusion, for example, can affect women and men in different ways.

Local authorities promote gender equality

Finland has achieved a high degree of gender equality in many aspects, yet differences persist between the sexes and minority groups in their well-being and equal opportunities at a practical level. In the local government sector, there are gender differences in health and well-being, education, occupational specialisations and work-life balance. Domestic and gender-based violence are both serious issues. Women and men are not equally represented in local democracy and do not participate equally in decision-making. Local authorities can contribute to reducing the differences and create a socially sustainable future.

Legislation imposes obligations on local and joint municipal authorities

The Finnish Act on Equality between Women and Men covers all aspects of local government: administration and decision-making, local residents and services provided to them, the local authority as education provider, educational institutions, and the employer role of local authorities. The Act imposes many obligations on local and joint municipal authorities. In their role as public authorities and employers, they must prevent discrimination, promote gender equality purposefully and systematically and comply with the quota requirement. They have a specific planning obligation as employers and education providers. Municipal residents should be equal in terms of decision-making and services. Employers must observe equitable human resource policy.

Finland ratified the Council of Europe's convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence on 1 August 2015. Its implementation is largely carried out by local and regional authorities. 

The European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life

The European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life is a good practical and local policy tool for promoting gender equality in municipalities in accordance with Finnish law.

The Charter builds on the fact that local authorities are well-placed to promote gender equality and non-discrimination in the daily life of local residents and hence increase well-being. The Charter covers local authorities’ democratic accountability and decision-making, services, the employer role, prevention of gender-based violence, sustainable development and the promotion of equality as way to prevent multiple discrimination. When local authorities commit to the Charter, they do not take on an additional task, but rather change their ways of working and thinking and promote gender equality in accordance with Finnish law.

CEMR’s Observatory of the Charter on Equality of Women and Men in Local Life

Gender impact assessment

A gender impact assessment is a key means of promoting equality in services and decision-making. It refers to the evaluation of decisions and measures in advance for their possible effects on women, men, girls and boys.  The assessment identifies potential differences, which are then taken into account in target setting, planning, decision-making and operations. 

The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities supports local government’s action on equality 

The AFLRA supports the equality work of cities and municipalities by:

  • ensuring that gender equality and non-discrimination are considered in legislation and politics
  • providing municipal elected officials and officeholders with a gender equality and non-discrimination network to exchange information and experiences
  • coordinating the work related to the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life in Finland
  • cooperating with the Nordic local government associations and by participating in the work of the Gender Equality Committee of the Council for European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), the umbrella organisation of European local and regional associations
  • implementing joint development projects with local authorities and its partners.

Local authorities promote equality

Local authorities should promote equality and prevent non-discrimination in all aspects of their work and in their role as public authorities, service and education providers and employers. This is a job for the entire local authority corporation — the municipality, joint municipal authorities and municipally owned companies alike.

The Finnish Non-Discrimination Act states that no one may be discriminated against because of age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. In addition to direct and indirect discrimination, the following constitute discrimination under the Act: harassment, denial of reasonable accommodation and an instruction or order to discriminate.

In addition to preventive measures, joint municipal authorities and municipally owned companies should foster equality systematically. This often means measures to organise public services in way that takes better account of the needs of groups at risk of discrimination. Authorities, education providers, and employers who regularly employ at least 30 persons must have an equality plan that covers all grounds of discrimination.

The equality plan should evaluate how well equality has been realised and list the areas of development based on this evaluation. Examples of areas for evaluation are preparation of matters, decision-making, management, operational and financial planning and communication. In large or otherwise important projects, an evaluation should be made of whether the project will affect the rights, obligations or status of groups at risk of discrimination. The evaluation and the municipality’s resources and operating environment determine the plan’s content and scope.

Education providers and the schools and educational institutions that they maintain have an obligation to promote equality. A plan is formulated individually for each educational institution and it should take account of the institution’s individual needs and circumstances. The education provider has the ultimate responsibility for drawing up a plan.

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