The Finnish legislation mainly deals with equality by prohibiting actions like discrimination that contradict it. The basic level of equality in Finnish society is dictated by the Non-discrimination Act (1325/2014) and the Act on Equality between Women and Men (609/1986). The Non-discrimination Act’s §8, Prohibition of discrimination, reads as follows:
No one may be discriminated against on the basis 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. Discrimination is prohibited, regardless of whether it is based on a fact or assumption concerning the person him/herself or another.
In addition to direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, denial of reasonable accommodation as well as an instruction or order to discriminate constitute discrimination as referred to in this Act.
The Act on Equality between Women and Men, for its part, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identity and expression of gender.
In association operations, continual harassment or selectivity in member acceptance, for example, that occur in the association’s operations and are not justified in the rules or by the purpose of the association can be seen as illegal discrimination.
The legislative requirements are easy for an association to adhere to, and associations need not worry about unwittingly breaking the law. However, the legislative requirements should only be seen as the minimum requirements, and the improvement of equality is not limited to ensuring the operations’ legality. If you want to make your association’s operations even more equal, you can think about the following questions together, for example:
- Are the operations of your association transparent? Are the decisions communicated, and do all members have the opportunity to suggest new ideas for the operations?
- If someone feels that there is an aspect of your association’s operations that is unpleasant, how can they express their opinion and how will it be discussed?
- How manifold is your membership? If your membership or the Board of your association consists of persons from similar backgrounds year after year, is there a reason for this?
- What is your association’s communication like? Is the communication accessible (e.g. do you also communicate in English)?
- Are the facilities and events of your association accessible? Do you mention inaccessibility or accessibility when you announce your events?
- Has your association had prior conversations about equality? What kinds of things have been brought up? Has something been done to improve equality based on these conversations?
Associations can also do a survey for its membership that charts the needs and issues specific to that community. A Board member or an official of the association can be named as the person in charge of equality-related matters and to observe the realisation of equality in the association’s operations. The realisation of equality cannot be outsourced to a single person, however; each association operator is responsible for the equality and inclusivity of the operations.
The main thing is that your association thinks about equality-related issues for itself and comes up with practices that are best suited for it to promote equality.
Equality in events
At the core of many associations’ operations are the events organised for their membership. Just like the association’s operations in general, also the events are meant to be aimed at all kinds of association members. Thankfully, this can often be enabled by simply observing the practices and possibly altering them.
Associations’ events are often accompanied by long-standing traditions. Traditions are often very important for and well-liked in associations, and they help integrate new operators into the operations. Many traditions are a significant part of the associations’ events and, at their best, create a sense of connectedness for the whole association. This is why it is also important to observe these traditions with a critical eye from time to time: are the traditions in line with the values of the association’s operations, and are they meaningful to all participants? If a tradition is found to be somehow problematic in terms of equality, it would be good for the association operators to think about whether the tradition could be changed or updated to the present day. In terms of equality, it is not worth it to maintain a problematic practice just because it is a tradition. Updating traditions need not be merely about removing the problematic part – it can also be fun and innovative.
Good equality practices at events
- If the event has a registration, use it to discover the participants’ needs relevant to the event. These can be special diets, for example.
- Non-alcoholic drinks and foods suitable for different dietary requirements that are served at an event are invested in as much as the rest.
- Communication about events does not reproduce stereotypes and acknowledges the manifoldness of students. Whenever possible, event communication is also published in English, and the main language of the event is mentioned.
- Associations can come up with rules that apply to their own events, and this should be announced when communicating about the events. The rules can describe the association’s special characteristics and, for example, things that have been brought up for discussion in the association.
- Try to ensure that the event facility is accessible. Mention the facility’s inaccessibility on the event’s Facebook page, for example. When communicating about inaccessibility, it is good to remember that a large part of facilities is not straightforwardly accessible or inaccessible. Specify in your communication what is meant by accessibility in terms of this facility (for example, whether there are stairs or a disabled toilet there). In addition to physical accessibility, it is good to pay attention to other kinds of accessibility, such as having the written materials used at the event (slide shows, song book…) in an easy-to-read format.
More equal dinner parties
Academic dinner parties, i.e. sitsit and annual balls, are unique student parties that feature many kinds of traditions and practices. At their richest, sitsit reflect student traditions as well as the student culture of today. With a few simple practices, you can make a sitsit an event that is more certainly fun and feels personal for each participant.
- A theme is often chosen for a sitsit that can be seen, for example, in the dress code, foods and decorations. If any of the organisers are wondering whether the theme is genuinely fun for everyone, it is good to reflect on the theme more carefully.
- A seating plan can be done in many ways. Instead of seating people according to their assumed gender, the toasting instructions can be denoted by the colours of the place cards or what is written on them, for example, or a rotating toasting can be used – or a whole new way to instruct toasting can be come up with. It is good to also think about other traditions besides seating plans for sitsit from the perspective of gender division.
- During a sitsit, lots of requests are often made for the songs to be sung there. However, it is good to also provide a way for individuals to let the song master(s) know in advance (for example, by providing a box for notes or an electronic form) if they are requesting that a particular song is or is not sung. Sexist and racist songs should be left out of the party altogether, and the precentor or the song book used at the sitsit, for example, can instruct participants to not sing the sexist or racist verses of a song. The lyrics of many songs can also be rewritten – the renewal potential of singing culture is endless!
Decision-making that involves everyone
Association operations also include meetings, negotiations and decision-making – it depends on the association how central these are and what form they take. When making decisions and, for example, planning the organisation’s operations, it is important that power in the association is divided equally and that everyone’s voice is heard. A good association involves its new members and shares the responsibilities with them as well. In student associations, the renewal of both their operating culture and their active membership is natural and desirable.
Tips for more equal decision-making:
- Communication at meetings should remain understandable to all. Inside jokes of only a few people are avoided and abbreviations and jargon explained.
- When someone is speaking, they are listened to and their words reacted to; they are not spoken over, for example, and the ideas then presented as your own. Others’ ideas should also not be dismissed straightaway – if someone has an alternative idea, it can also be presented constructively.
- The Chair offers the floor to everyone in equal measure and occasionally asks for the opinion of the quieter participants as well. Each participant also reflects on their own participation and tries to avoid dominating the situation.
- Duties are fearlessly offered to new operators; it helps them commit to the operations! In general, the duties are distributed evenly so that no one has an unreasonable amount of work.
- When appointing for positions, no one is led to believe that their selection would be undesirable. The selection processes are kept transparent, and it must also be possible to apply distantly.
- It is taken care of that decisions are actually made in the official decision-making situations, not during the coffee break following the meeting, for example.
- An equal decision-making culture is also promoted by what happens outside of meetings: it is important to invest in the grouping-together of the whole Board and other actives.
- Remember: it is opinions that are conflicting, not people!