India 60 and Finland 90

Social well-being and gender equity in a globalising world: Dialogue between India and Finland

Edited by

Minna Säävälä,
Population Research Institute (Väestöliitto), Helsinki, Finland


Sangita Kulathinal,
Indic Society for Education and Development (INSEED), Nashik, India

© Copyright 2008/INSEED/Väestöliitto
Revised: 2008.03.03




This monograph is a collection of articles or presentations made by invited speakers from Finland and India at the workshop on Social well-being and gender equity in a globalising world: Dialogue between India and Finland held during 27-28 November, 2007 at Helsinki, Finland. This was the first workshop of its kind organised jointly by Väestöliitto, Helsinki, Finland and Indic Society for Education and Development, Nashik, India.

Finland is a welfare society while India is a kinship-based society. Despite vast differences between Finnish and Indian societies, the two societies are similar with respect to the history since both were ruled by an imperial power. The trade, tourism and migration between the two coutries have also increased in the last decade.

We would like to acknowledge the financial support from the India programme of SITRA (The Finnish Innovation Fund) and the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, Finland. We would also like to thank Väestöliitto, Finland for hosting the workshop and providing with the local facilities. Our thanks are due to all the contributors to the workshop and to the e-book.


Familial and gender relations are undergoing thorough changes both in the developed, post-industrial welfare societies such as Finland, and in fast developing societies where social security relies on kinship relations, such as India. In both societies, the family is pivotal for people's well-being and the future of the society, although the challenges are different. In the globalizing world, societies and social actors are fundamentally interrelated: what happens to the family in Finland is not independent of what goes on in the Indian subcontinent. Migrancy, tourism and media create interactions in which cultural models of arranging gender relations and reproduction influence each other; new reproductive technologies create unprecedented forms of interconnectedness and force societies to react to emerging problems, such as sex selective abortions.

Despite being utterly different, India and Finland share certain fundamental similarities concerning political-historical background. They both were ruled by an imperial power; they gained independence without bloodshed and after independence, they both experienced atrocities (partition of India and Pakistan leading to a pogrom sometimes referred to as a genocide, Finland suffered the bloody civil war). These processes led to a kind of national inferiority complex as well as deep wounds for the national unity to overcome. How Finland has managed to rise from such a situation to one of the leading information and communications technology (ICT) powers in the world and gained all-encompassing social security systems as well as social stability and relatively balanced gender relations, would have a lesson to teach to India, struggling with many hurdles Finland has managed to overcome during the past decades.

Gender relations are among the most important factors influencing well-being in its many manifestations in any particular society. Unequal opportunities of men and women deeply affect family relations and through the family they are reflected in the socialization of new generations. Finland is renowned for relatively good gender equity. In terms of the most quantitative indicators, Finnish women are faring well: they are highly educated; they have a longer life expectancy than men; they have nearly as high labour participation rate as men; and maternal mortality is among the lowest in the world. The history of how Finnish society has managed to improve gender equity and social welfare especially when in the transition to today's industrialised nation could be instructive for the Indian side in its struggle with many problems: how to gain universal literacy and encourage girls' education; how to improve reproductive and sexual health; and how to combat a worsening sex ratio that reflects daughter aversion. The Finnish case could show how intentional social policies have been used to improve the well-being of men, women and families.

Although women suffer in India from many disadvantages, strong kin networks and social connectedness also create an advantage for women in some respects. When an Indian woman ages, her social value and power improves, while in Finland, where a woman's social worth is based on conjugality, sexual attractiveness and working roles, the class of ageing women experiences cultural devaluation. In India, kin networks that support in child care enable women's work outside the family sphere, while in Finland the nucleated family of small children commonly suffers from shallow social support networks. Finnish society could be said to suffer from a tendency to instrumentalization of social relations. Finnish society would fruitfully benefit from understanding how Indian society has managed to keep up with binding family networks even in conditions of modernity and growing influence of global capitalism.

Till the last decade, Finland and India seem rather unknown to each other, far and unreachable, unheard of! In the recent years, the information technology development has brought these two countries closer. There are more and more young professionals moving to Finland for collaborative work. Finland being close country in many ways, foreigners usually remain unaware of the local ways and then there are clear groups formed separating locals from the outsiders. The distance between the two countries is further narrowed down because of the direct flight started by Finnair which connects Helsinki and Mumbai/Delhi in just six and half hours. This will surely increase the trade and movement between the two countries. People of both the countries need to know more about each other (history and developmental phases) so as to interact easily. A study comparing various aspects of society in India and in Finland will provide a great resource for this.

This comparison would be instructive of the ways global interconnectedness is evolving, also to other parts of the world. In the classical manner of socio-cultural anthropology, comparison helps to conceptualize and bring forward issues that would remain unnoticed and taken for granted without the comparative effort. Because Indian and Finnish societies can be compared from so many different points of view and concerning so many themes, starting from historical and political developments and ending to the adoption of IT technologies, here we narrow down the themes and consider following five themes aiming at more popularized and more general impact, to benefit both decision-makers and the informed common men and women in our societies.

  1. Social security
  2. Education
  3. Sexual health
  4. Social responsibility and change
  5. Migration

We also give accounts of our personal encounters since we both have lived in both the societies. These personal accounts are not based on any scientific research or data and hence, can not be generalised or supported scientifically. They should be read as our personal views only.