Inka HOPSU, Member of Finnish Parliament: “I'm happy I was able to participate in politics as a woman with small babies”

Photo: Hanne Salonen / Finnish Parliament
14.07.2021 (Caucasian Journal). Caucasian Journal’s guest today is Ms. Inka HOPSU – Finnish politician, member of Parliament for the Green League.

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Read the Georgian version here.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ:  Welcome to Caucasian Journal! Your career is remarkable in so many ways.  Being a mother of four, you managed to become a parliamentarian. You were a teacher and now you are a “green” politician. You seem like a role model for everyone, who wants to make life better in his or her city or community.  We are delighted to get such as a guest as you for an interview, and have prepared many essential questions. Let me start with this: Have you ever thought about yourself as a role model? Maybe your teaching experience has prepared you for such a role long time ago?

Inka HOPSU: Even before teaching, I was a scout leader for many years, first responsible of smaller groups, then working in the board of national organization and in international tasks. I think these prepared me to take responsibility and to be an example of a good and motivating leader for many young people. I think the role of civil society in preparing for leadership tasks in politics is very essential.

AK:  For many our readers, it seems unthinkable for a woman to combine raising four children with any professional career, to say nothing about going to the politics. Do you remember the moment when you decided to become a politician, and was it easy? If you had a difficult time, where did you get most important support from:  Your family, your party, or perhaps your community or government?
IH: I was first supporting my friend in election campaign and didn’t think of candidating myself in municipal or national politics. I was although elected member of the church council of my area and I had got quite a good number of votes for three times in those elections.
My friend wasn’t so successful and he and many other friends of mine from other activities (church, scouts, nature league) supported me to campaign in municipal elections, so I took my chance and the election result took me to be the deputy member of city council, so I started my political career, step by step. To the national parliament I got elected in my third attempt. The green party increased number of its seats at the same time, and  now it is a part of the ruling government.
I can be happy, that it has been possible to participate in politics in Finland with small babies and as a woman. Of course my mother, sister, husband and many others have helped taking care of the babies many, many times.
AK:  For non-professionals, it is often difficult to distinguish the political parties in a foreign country, but the “greens” is an exception. Greens are greens almost everywhere, including here in Georgia, and the priorities of green parties are well known. This makes it easier for you to answer my next question: How did you choose the Green League, and how did you get involved?
IH: As I mentioned earlier, I actually started my political career in the Church Council in my hometown of Espoo in 2002. Before running myself in my first municipal elections (2008) as a Green candidate I used to support and participate in other municipal election candidates’ campaigns. After a while I have been asked  so many times, that I decided to try it myself. I have been a deputy or full member of the Espoo City Council since 2008.
Why Greens? In my youth I was an active member of the Scouts in Finland and internationally. Therefore, an understanding of the importance of biodiversity, the ecosystem, climate change and impacts on the surrounding nature were always present. My experiences from The Scouts and from the Finnish Nature League provided a good platform to develop the respect between nature and humans. 
So the sustainable view of the nature was inherited through my experiences at young age. The Greens have spoken about biodiversity and climate change for several years. Fortunately now the themes have been brought up by other parties as well.

The Green League’s agenda is also heavily oriented towards human rights, global issues, and social justice. Those themes are also close to my heart.  International and global responsibility have been part of the party’s themes since its establishment. These values are relevant and fundamental in my thinking.

In addition, one could say that, economically, the party's position suits me well, because the Greens promote education, strong state welfare, sustainable business environment, but not at the expense of nature or well-being, a good middle ground and solution-oriented focus have been the right line for me.
AK:  For a developing civil society such as ours, it is important to understand the mechanism which selects the most motivated and capable citizens and transforms them into decision-makers. Do you think Finland has such mechanisms effectively in place? And, is your political career typical for your country?
IH: I truly believe that politics need people from different backgrounds. Politicians or decision-makers should not only be the most successful individuals in our societies. We need more inclusiveness in the Parliament which should reflect the social diversity of the population in terms of gender, language, religion, ethnicity, and so on. Therefore,  we need more politicians representing different minorities, people with versatile backgrounds, young candidates etc. It is important that society provides participatory skills and opportunities for all. Experts in different fields are also important, they have firsthand experience in important issues and can question proposals that could be taken for granted by other MPs or councilors.

 The average campaign budget that secured a seat in the Finnish Parliament was around 35 000 euros.

When it comes to Finnish election system, I’ll start by saying that financial issues are still ground for inequality between candidates and parties, especially in the Parliament elections. It is pretty simple: people with loads of money or big donors can buy more visibility. During the last Parliament elections in Finland in 2019, the average campaign budget that secured a seat in the Parliament was around 35 000 euros. In Finland parties are very different in sizes and therefore are able to support their candidates in very different ways.
If candidates are not well-known politicians, famous celebrities or willing to take big bank loans, it is hard if not possible to get elected at least at the first time. This is a matter of equality. We should enact limits for Parliament and municipal election campaign funding to address the issue.
In Finland, however, the transparency of election campaign financing is at a reasonably good level from an international perspective. In parliamentary elections, all donors donating more than 1,500 euros must be reported publicly. In the Green Party, the principle has been a bit stricter which means that donors whose donations are over 1,000 euros must be announced. In municipal elections, the limit is 800 euros. Those elected are required to provide a more comprehensive report on campaign expenses.
My own political career has probably been quite ordinary, perhaps a little longer than usual nowadays, as the participation of young women in Parliament has increased. Although in my youth it was not so common. 
AK: In many countries, people want changes, but do not know how to proceed.  How does your party work with the people on the “ground” level? If you could share some of your know-how, or even tell about any practical cases,  that would be very important.

Neighborhood democracy means genuine opportunities for residents to influence matters concerning their own lives and areas of residence.

IH: It is of utmost importance to listen to the “ground” or grassroot level when making decisions. In Greens we have a well established habit to have vast and inclusive hearings regarding different political issues. Therefore, our contact with the civil society in various forms, especially with NGOs, is strong. In my opinion the Greens have an accessible and democratic working culture internally. The “internal democracy” is reflected in the functioning of the party's institutions and working groups, and the consultation of its members. It is possible for everyone to participate in the working groups and give comments at the drafting stage of the political programmes which are eventually also guiding the work of the parliamentary group. 
Moreover, on municipal level we have been active in strengthening the voice of the young people. For instance in my hometown, we have established a platform (ManiMiitti) which enables young people from Espoo to participate in planning the use of money for youth services. It is important to encourage the involvement of young people, promote transparency and so-called “neighborhood democracy” of the citizens. Neighborhood democracy means genuine opportunities for residents to influence matters concerning their own lives and areas of residence.
However, there is always room for improvement. We need more young voters, young candidates and platforms for young people to have an impact on society, and the same improvements we need with immigrants. 
AK: I agree, in the fast-changing world of today, the winner is the one who gets the sympathy of the young people.  How do you, or your party, engage the younger generation?

IH: If we think about long-term decision-making, which is vital in order to tackle massive lifetime challenges (for instance climate change and biodiversity loss etc.), it requires young generations - the ones who will be affected the most by current decisions - to be involved in the policy-making.
In Finland the Greens have been for many years among the top 3 parties in the election surveys which measure the political parties’ popularity among the youth. I think there are several reasons why the Green League has been so popular. Maybe the most obvious one is that the party has prioritized in its policy actions many issues regarding the life of the youth. Greens have emphasized, for instance, the education, students' well-being, and public transportation in their policies. In addition to that we can argue that the Greens speak about challenges that are important for young people. Climate change is a great example of that.
For the future of representative democracy it is crucial to encourage young people to vote and run as candidates. Political parties, including Greens, have a responsibility to innovate and look for new ways to communicate with young members of our society. Even though, in the last municipal elections (June 2021) the number of candidates increased from the previous election (2017) by just over 2,000 candidates, the number of both young candidates and women decreased. It is an unfortunate development.
In the end, it is still important to remember that politics is just one way of changing the world. Young people should also have other channels to have impact in society, for example in civil society organization etc.
AK: Women in the politics, women in the government: Finland has a lot of experience to share with the rest of the word in this regard.  I guess there are many details which you know better than anyone – both from your personal lifetime experience, from the Finland’s national perspective, and from the EU level as well.  Are there any aspects you would you like to touch upon?

There is also a child-friendly atmosphere in the parties and many decision-making bodies: For instance, breastfeeding is allowed at the meetings, baby-sitting fees are covered during meetings, etc.
IH: The Parliament election (2019) result was historical in terms of gender equality, there are more women in the Finnish parliament than ever before.
For 30 years, Parliament has had a so-called Women's Network, which consists of female MPs from different parties. Network has raised the issues of women and families with children. Equality clauses in different political committees and other decision-making bodies have better ensured that both sexes have more or less equal access to decision-making positions.
I could argue that there is also a child-friendly atmosphere in the parties and many decision-making bodies: For instance, breastfeeding is allowed at the meetings, baby-sitting fees are covered during meetings etc. 

The Parliament building itself is a bit problematic when it comes to moving around with strollers. Parliament also lacks a specific childcare room where a parent or parents could take care of the young ones if necessary. 
All in all, Finland's gender equality has gained a lot of success during the years, but there is still heaps of work to do. We need more education about gender equality as the attitudes are changing slowly and we see setbacks in many countries. 
AK: So, even in the highly developed society such as Finland, problems still exist – in gender equality, or perhaps also minorities-related? How would you prioritize them?
IH: Absolutely, the fight for equality is never finished. Part of this constant “fighting” is the fact that the understanding of the world is developing all the time. For example, now as technology has a greater grasp over our communication and information than ever before, we have to be extremely alert with human rights and equality questions. Who has the access to knowledge? Can algorithms violate human rights?
I could mention a couple of problems related to equality and human rights currently taking place in Finland. Firstly, the situation with asylum-seekers have been poor since the 2015, when Finland encountered record-high numbers of asylum-seekers. Their constitutional and human rights are not fulfilled or protected fully, even though the situation has progressed.

I have accommodated three asylum-seekers in my own home since 2015.

Pride Week is celebrated during this interview. The current Act on legal recognition of the gender of transsexuals should be updated to take better account of human rights. In Finland, there is still a law in force that requires sterilization as a condition for legal confirmation of gender.
AK: Are you professionally engaged in solving any problems you have outlined? Perhaps you can give an example, from your daily routine?
IH: In my private life I have accommodated three asylum-seekers in my own home since 2015.
Professionally, in my previous work with the Finn Church Aid, I worked on development cooperation and coordinated the Teachers without Borders -network, which is a network of Finnish teachers who were send around the world to support local educational systems and projects.  
In Parliament I have for example just initiated a legislative initiative aimed at supporting the condition of foreign-speaking children to have better opportunities in Finnish primary schools and strengthening their language skills to study in Finnish or Swedish.
AK: If you had any professional experience regarding Georgia or South Caucasus, our readers would be especially interested to hear your comments.
IH: I myself have interesting memories of Georgia. Last year, I participated in OSCE election observation mission in Georgia. My area of observation was in the capital, Tbilisi. Although the schedule of the mission was quite busy, I had the opportunity to get to know the country a bit. The election process went well in the areas I observed and it was great to talk to local media, politicians and civil society representatives. I wish to come back one day to your beautiful country.
AK: My last question – in your political work, is your teacher’s experience useful? When you are addressing the Parliament, does it resemble the feeling of teaching a class? 
IH: I actually try to avoid teaching as a style in political speaking. My goal in social interactions is to discuss, argue, and develop and form collaborative solutions and decisions. Even when teaching, the best thing to do is to listen carefully to what is not understood and make students think with their own brains, to gain more knowledge and form their views.
AK: Thank you very much!

Read the Georgian language version here

Caucasian Journal
 appreciates kind support of Royal Norwegian Embassy in Tbilisi in preparation of this interview.

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