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tion, and to-day they outnumber the men teachers
both in the elementary schools and in the secondary
private schools. Of recent years the women have
flocked in great numbers to the University, and are
likely soon to be eligible for election to professor-
ships and lectureships. Among other sources of
employment for women are certain branches of the
public administration.

A subsidiary circumstance which made Finland
more predisposed than most countries to the idea of
women's suffrage is the prevalence of co-education,
which, whatever its advantages and disadvantages
may be, has certainly helped to familiarize men and
women with the idea and the practice of working side
by side and enjoying the same rights and responsi-
bilities.

Passing from general circumstances f avoruable to
women's suffrage to particular ones, we are con-
fronted with the stirring events of the last fifteen
years. Previous to those events there was, indeed, a
Feminist movement in Finland, which began to be
organized in the eighteen-eighties. In 1884 a Wom-
an's Suffrage Bill was introduced in the first of the
old "Four Estates" (the Chamber of the Nobility).
The Bill was defeated, but it proves that as early



THE EIGHTS OF WOMEN 255

as 1884 women's political rights had at least received
some recognition. Fifteen years later began that
curious concatenation of events which carried the
movement to a realization of its central aim. For
in 1899 the Tsar issued the famous February Mani-
festo, which at a stroke deprived Finland of her
Constitution. Not content with protesting against
this coup d'etat through the ordinary channels, the
leaders of public opinion in Finland desired to make
a protest which should be representative of the
nation at large. A great address to the Tsar was
planned and carried out, every adult man and wom-
an in the country being invited to sign it. It was
generally felt that this appeal to the non-enfran-
chised portions of the nation at a time of crisis im-
plied a moral responsibility to enfranchise them,
both men and women, when the crisis had passed.
The women, moreover, proved themselves of great
value during the period of russianization which fol-
lowed the February Manifesto, both by the moral
stimulus they gave to passive resistance and by
many services in the same cause. They often under-
took work which it was impossible for the men to
carry out. In 1905 took place the Great Strike,
which resulted in the restoration of the Constitution,
and when subsequently the question arose of widen-
ing the electoral system, and the women put for-
ward their claim to the vote, this was agreed to by
all the Four Estates with hardly a dissentient voice,
special reference being made in the debates to the
great services rendered by the women in resisting
russianization.



256 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

It seems clear that had not the women been helped
by outer circumstances they would not have gained
the vote as early as 1905. They have to thank for
their enfranchisement not only their own efforts,
but also both the exalted state of national feeling
which followed the restoration of constitutional
government and the wave of strongly democratic
sentiment which accompanied the Great Strike. It
is no less clear, however, that the women would not
have been enfranchised even under these circum-
stances had they not shown by their conduct in a
time of crisis that they had earned the right to be
considered as citizens.

How did the women utilize the vote thus acquired?

Before trying to indicate what they have actually
done, it may be well to clear the ground by pointing
out a number of things that they have not done.
Firstly, they have not formed an independent wom-
an's party. There was, indeed, some talk of this,
but the idea was abandoned. There were good rea-
sons against it. In the first place women were
politically inexperienced; and in the second, seeing
that they already enjoyed full political rights, the
formation of a special party seemed unnecessary.
Accordingly the women joined the political groups
already existing, and election statistics show that
they have voted for the different parties in much
the same proportion as the men. There is no truth
in the assertion sometimes made that woman's suf-
frage has especially benefited the Socialist party.
An investigation made by two members of the Diet,
Dagmar and Arvid Neovius, shows, on the contrary,



THE EIGHTS OF WOMEN 257

that it was in districts where the women voters out-
numbered the men that the percentage of Socialist
votes was smallest.

Secondly, women did not fail to use their votes.
The percentage of women on the register who have
voted at the various elections since 1907 has varied
between 54 and 60 per cent, the corresponding fig-
ures for men being 64 and 70 per cent.

Thirdly, in spite of their numerical preponderance
there are about 60,000 more women than men on
the register women have not flooded the Diet with
representatives of their own sex. The number of
women elected has varied from twenty-five to four-
teen in a House of two hundred members, i.e., from
12.5 to 7 per cent. Women's moderation in this
respect has been due to a recognition of the greater
political experience of men, to the feeling that the
conflict with Eussia made the time inopportune for
introducing changes or risking experiments on a
large scale, and also perhaps to a growing convic-
tion that a small number of women representatives
is sufficient to ensure a due recognition of women's
interests, seeing that experience shows that men pay
great attention to the opinion of women on subjects
which mainly concern the female sex.

Fourthly, women have not wasted the House's
time by prolixity of speech.

When we pass to the question of what women
have actually achieved some valuable evidence is
available. In January, 1913, when the Danish Gov-
ernment's plans for electoral reform were being dis-
cussed, the leader of the Eight asserted that in most



258 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

countries where women's suffrage had been intro-
duced there was a feeling of great discontent with
it. The Danish women saw a danger to their cause
in the spread of such reports, and, in order to meet
it, applied to competent persons, in countries where
women already enjoyed the franchise, to give their
opinion on the subject. Dr. Maikki Friberg took up
the matter as regards Finland, and collected a num-
ber of representative opinions. These are valuable
as coming not from young enthusiasts, but from
tried statesmen and public men, whose names are
respected throughout Finland. As their testimony
about the actual work of the women and the general
effects of the suffrage is infinitely more valuable
than the writer's own opinion could possibly be, I
shall quote from them at some length. 1

With regard to the character and qualifications of
the women representatives in the Diet, the follow-
ing extracts may be taken as typical. Professor

1 Of the persons whose opinions I quote, the late Senator
Mechelin was the best known of Finnish statesmen and an emi-
nent champion of Finland's constitutional rights. Theodore
Rein was successively Professor of Philosophy, Rector and Vice-
Chancellor of the University, besides having been a prominent
figure in politics and literature. Baron Wrede, after being Pro-
fessor of Civil Law, became President of the Department of Jus-
tice in the Senate, i.e., he has held the highest juridical appoint-
ment in Finland. He is also one of the most universally re-
spected members of the legislature, his opinion carrying great
weight there. P. Svinhufvud was the Speaker of the Diet from
the first session of the Single Chamber in 190T until 1912. Pro-
fessor Rosenqvist is Professor of Theology at the University and
a member of the Diet, while Dr. Axel Lille was a member of
the old Diet (the Four Estates), and is editor of the Nya
Pressen.



THE EIGHTS OF WOMEN 259

Rosenqvist writes: "As regards women's work in
the Diet, it probably bears comparison with the
average among the men. It is true that no leading
personalities have emerged from the ranks of the
women representatives they will perhaps always
have to be looked for among the men but there
are, and doubtless will always be, among the women
in the Diet, competent, hard-working, conscientious
and enlightened women representatives. If weaker
elements can be pointed out among them, the same
are not lacking among the male representatives
also."

Senator Mechelin wrote : ' ' The women who have
been elected to committees have performed their
duties satisfactorily. This has been especially the
case with the Finance, Social and Cultural Com-
mittees. At the Diet debates not all the women mem-
bers have spoken the same thing is true of the
men but in practical knowledge and oratorical
ability their speeches have usually been as good as
the men's."

With regard to the personal relations of the men
and women members, these, said Mechelin, "may be
briefly characterized as a good comradeship," while
Th. Kein writes that "the co-operation of men and
women has, so far as I know, been in every way a
friendly one and marked by mutual respect." This
testimony coincides with that given elsewhere by
Miss Vera Hjelt, one of the women representatives,
who writes: "We could turn to the men as to com-
rades and friends when we desired to be initiated
into any branch of the complicated machinery of



260 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

State. The tone of goodwill, sincerity, refinement
and encouragement that we met with in our partici-
pation in the life of the party to which I belong has
confirmed my belief that it is by way of co-operation,
and not of suspicion or separation, that the influ-
ence and work of women can be of importance in
legislation. Also in committee work, shared with
men of different parties, equality has prevailed.
Women have had no reason to feel themselves re-
pulsed or in any way treated inconsiderately."

With regard to the work of the women M.P.'s in
general, Baron Wrede holds : " As regards the share
taken in the Diet's work by the women representa-
tives, they have, as far as I know, neither in the
question of political petitions and addresses nor in
that of the Budget, contributed in any way worth
mentioning to the solution of these problems. On
the other hand, in the sphere of legislation proper
they have made notable contributions, both by their
own initiative and by their participation in commit-
tee work and in parliamentary debates. To what
extent such contributions would or would not have
been made by men, if there had been no women rep-
resentatives, remains an open question. Neverthe-
less, it seems as if certain questions or groups of
questions, especially social ones, are taken up with
warmer interest by the women than by the men.
That the former have not mastered the technique of
legislation is a natural consequence of their lack of
juridical knowledge, and is true also of the majority
of men."

As regards the work specially furthered bjr



THE EIGHTS OF WOMEN 261

women, Senator Mechelin wrote that "many of the
questions brought up by them had not received
proper attention from the men. Among the ques-
tions of reform which have been taken up by the
Diet on the initiative of women members, the fol-
lowing may be mentioned: the property rights of
women, the raising of the marriage age for women
from fifteen to seventeen, the improvement of the
legal position of illegitimate children, the establish-
ment of maternity insurance for very poor women,
the appointment of female sanitary inspectors, the
setting aside of funds for the promotion of public
morality, the extension of the right of women to hold
public offices. The above examples show that our
women representatives have specially concerned
themselves with those spheres in which women usu-
ally have a closer insight into existing evils than
men. This is not feminism, for the measures pro-
posed are all of a universally useful nature."

Theodore Rein gives a longer list of the motions
and petitions in which women have wholly or partly
taken the initiative, including, in addition to those
already cited, such matters as the abolition of the
husband's guardianship of his wife, the rights of
women to their children, the establishment of a home
for unprotected children and their mothers, practical
training in housekeeping, alterations in the prison
administration, temperance legislation, compulsory
schooling, the construction of new railways, the im-
provement of the legal position of the Jews, etc.
"Many of these propositions have," he goes on to
say, "been accepted by the Diet. The fact that only



262 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

in a very few cases they have resulted in the passing
of new laws and ordinances is due, not to the Diet,
but to the Government's (i.e., the Eussian) policy
of obstructing ameliorative social legislation."

Finally, as regards the alleged general discontent
with woman's suffrage and its bad effect on home
life, there is an absolute consensus of denial. P.
Svinhufvud writes briefly: " Neither have I heard
in Finland the expression of any dissatisfaction over
woman's suffrage, nor are there, in my opinion, any
well-founded reasons to be advanced against it";
while Dr. Axel Lille says : i l The granting of wom-
an 's suffrage was an act of justice and wisdom.
There is in this country hardly any politically
mature man, with a feeling of responsibility, who at
this moment would wish the reform had never been
made, and quite certainly none who would wish to
take away from woman the franchise she has already
received. ' '

Senator Mechelin wrote that "the granting of
woman's suffrage has not in any way had a bad
effect on family and social life, but just the reverse.
It lies in the nature of things that equality of rights
has a healthy and ennobling influence on the way
human beings treat one another. And that woman's
exercise of the political franchise is calculated to
have a disturbing effect on family life and house-
hold duties is nothing but a fancy of weak men who
fear that their traditional authority will be lessened
by such a reform."

Although the quotation is a long one, I shall con-
clude with some remarks on this subject by Theodore



THE EIGHTS OF WOMEN 263

Rein, which sum up the situation very fairly : ' ' My
own opinion, which I believe coincides with that
generally held in this country, is that the reform
which gave the franchise to adult persons of both
sexes, and made them eligible for election to Parlia-
ment, has not had any harmful consequences, even
if the positive gain has not been so great as had been
hoped this being due to the general political situa-.
tion, which has prevented the Diet's legislative work
from bearing the fruit it ought to and could have
borne. The fear not seldom expressed, that
woman's right to partake in political life would
estrange her from and make her indifferent to her
chief duty, that of caring for the home and the grow-
ing generation, has not in any way been confirmed
here. As a matter of act, it is only an exteremely
small proportion of the women who devote any con-
siderable part of their time to political work proper,
and of these it is only a minority who have families
to look after. The incomparably greater num-
ber of women share in political life only in so far as
once in every three years or sometimes, if the Diet
is dissolved, with a shorter interval they take part
in the elections. Naturally this cannot take up any
one's time in such a way as to prevent her from
fulfilling her duties to home and family. Nor need
participation in the elections make women indiffer-
ent to their private obligations. The fact that, in
consequence of their enfranchisement, they begin to
interest themselves in its implications, and try to
get the information they need for the exercise of
their right, cannot be regarded as harmful. . . .



264 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

Women who have families to care for will then, more
than they would otherwise, implant in the rising
generation love of the nation and the fatherland,
and the desire to promote their welfare. And even
the relationship between man and wife ought in gen-
eral to gain from the widening of the circle of inter-
ests which are common to both and whose impor-
tance both fully recognize."

Although the principle of equal rights for men and
women is recognized in the political suffrage, it has
by no means been extended to all spheres of women's
activity. Thus, it is a little surprising to find that
Finnish women, while eligible for election to the
Diet, are generally not eligible for election to mu-
nicipal bodies, service on which would constitute an
excellent preparation for parliamentary work, and
that married women cannot even vote in the munici-
pal elections. These facts are sometimes quoted by
foreign opponents of women's suffrage as an argu-
ment against it. The Finns, it is said, are so dis-
gusted with the effects of woman's influence in poli-
tics that they refuse to have it extended to the sphere
of local government. As a matter of fact, however,
the Diet passed a new communal Bill in 1909, giving
women full equality with men, but the Emperor has
not sanctioned the Bill.

Another important disqualification under which
women still labour is that certain branches of the
public service are, according to the letter of the law,
confined to men. The law can in certain cases be
circumvented, women getting a special exemption
from their sex disabilities. Most women, however,



THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN 265

prefer to enter professions where the bar of sex has
not to be removed for them. They can only be freed
from this disqualification by a change in the funda-
mental laws.

With regard to property rights, the unmarried
woman is rather favourably situated; she comes of
age, like a man, at twenty-one, and then has abso-
lutely the same property rights as a man, including
those of inheritance. So also have widows, even if
they have not reached the age of twenty-one. The
position of married women, however, is considered
less satisfactory. The law 1 unites, and has since
time immemorial united, the real estate in the coun-
try acquired during marriage and the chattels, or
personal property, of husband and wife, in which is
included, also, real estate in towns, in a communaute
like that of the French Code Civile, and it is, at the
end of the marriage, equally divided between hus-
band and wife (or heirs), if not otherwise agreed
by a pre-nuptial settlement. Separate property is
the real estate in the country which husband or wife
owns at the time of marriage or inherits during mar-
riage. But, by a pre-nuptial settlement, everything
which husband or wife owns at the time of marriage
may be made his or her separate property, and by
a will or a gift the property conveyed, be it real or
chattels, can also be made separate. By will, hus-
band and wife can dispose of their property to each
other or third persons, according to the common

x For marriages since 1890, the Act of April 15, 1889; for
marriages between 1890 and 1879, Act of June 27, 1878; for still
earlier marriages, the Swedish law-book of 1734.



266 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

rules of the liberty of testament. The right and
duty of administration generally belongs to the hus-
band. But newer legislation (Act of April 15, 1889)
has, under the influence of the English Married
Women's Property Acts, given the married woman
the control of her own earnings, which, like the earn-
ings of her husband, are common property and can-
not, even by a pre-nuptial settlement, be made sepa-
rate. Her husband cannot prevent her from work-
ing outside her home, if she so desires. On the
other hand, she generally may not run a business
without his consent. She has no control whatever
over her own separate property unless this has been
specially provided for in a pre-nuptial settlement;
but her real property he may not alienate. By mis-
use of administration he makes himself liable to a
judicial separation. A married woman is thus prac-
tically under her husband's guardianship. She is
represented by him in judicial matters, but not in
criminal matters nor in those concerning property
which she controls. 1 It is probable, however, that,
when the political situation becomes normal again,
a comprehensive measure will be passed removing
all the disabilities of married women; a draft Bill
has already been produced by the Government stand-
ing legal-reform committee.

The divorce laws are rather favourable to women,
By divorce a marriage ceases to exist altogether,
and the wife's legal situation bcomes like that of a
widow. When divorce results from adultery, the

1 The income of the wife's separate property of which she has
the administration is common property, but under her control.



THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN 267

guilty party loses one half of his or her share in the
common property. The innocent party may re-
marry, but the guilty party may never marry the
co-respondent, nor any one else as long as the inno-
cent party remains unmarried, unless the innocent
party and the Government give their consent. The
husband and wife may agree as to who is to have the
children and be their guardian ; the other has to pay
half the cost of their education and up-bringing.
The only other legal ground for divorce is desertion,
i.e., when husband or wife leaves home and goes out
of Finland, with the intention of not returning and
living with the other. At the request of the one
remaining at home, the court of justice asks the
other to return within one year, and if the request is
not complied with, the divorce is granted. In prac-
tice, divorce can be obtained still more easily, but
this is not approved of. The guilty party loses his
or her share in the common property, which goes to
the children, if any, otherwise to the innocent party.
This form of divorce is designed for cases of incom-
patibility, which is the commonest ground of divorce.

By special license the Senate also affords divorce
in grave cases, such as hopeless mental disease in
wife or husband.

The Diet has recently given its assent to two very
interesting Bills concerning illegitimate children.
Although the Bills have not yet received the Em-
peror's sanction, it is worth while describing their
contents. The first has to do with the general posi-
tion of illegitimate children. Guardians are to be
appointed in each commune who will look after them



268 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

if the mother is thought to be unfit to do so. The
father is compelled to help the mother to support the
child until it is sixteen, and in certain cases even
longer. The amount of money demanded for the
child is to depend on the position of both parents it
is payable in advance at fixed intervals. The guard-
ian has to bring about an agreement between the
father and mother as to the sum required, and to see
that it is not too low. The father has to support the
mother entirely for two months before and after
her delivery, and, if she keeps the child, for six
months after its birth. If doubt exists as to the
child's father, more persons than one are liable to
be called upon to contribute to its support.

The second Bill is still more far-reaching. It
provides that as soon as fatherhood has been either
admitted or proved, the illegitimate child is entitled
to absolutely the same rights of inheritance as chil-
dren born in wedlock and to the use of its father's
name. 1

In spite of the important share they take in indus-
try, women have not organized themselves very
much except in certain trades. In many cases they
belong to the men's unions, which are on a firmer
foundation than their own. The feeling of resent-
ment amongst the men at female competition is not

1 The present law as regards illegitimate children is as follows :
The illegitimate child is supported by father and mother, and
inherits both parents when the mother has been at the concep-
tion ~bona fide, i.e., has believed herself in legal wedlock with the
father or has at least had his promise; so also when he has
married her afterwards or only given her his promise and death
has come between. The illegitimate child is generally educated
by its mother, the father paying his half of the cost.



THE EIGHTS OF WOMEN 269

stronger in Finland than in other countries. Men
continue to receive higher pay than women for the
same work in nearly all branches of industry except
the printing trade, where an agreement between em-


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Online LibraryArthur ReadeFinland and the Finns → online text (page 17 of 22)