The 8th International Helvi Sipilä Seminar took place at Scandinavia House in New York on Wednesday, March 6, as a part of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Helvi Sipilä (1915-2009) was a Finnish diplomat, lawyer and politician. She was Finland’s first-ever female presidential candidate and the first-ever female Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. Helvi Sipilä was widely known for her advocacy for equality and women’s rights and received several national and international awards for her work.
Mr Paavo Arhinmäki, Minister for Gender Equality of Finland shared some welcoming words with the seminar crowd. He emphasized the importance of a comprehensive approach in the international and national battle against violence towards women and girls. “Preventive actions such as education and awareness-raising play key roles in the matter.”
Ms Meryem Aslan, Chief of UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, represented proudly millions of women in more than 100 countries across the world. “The lessons that we learn today are most likely nothing new – but what we do with what we hear is essential. We can shake the world.”
The seminar’s panel discussion presented Scandinavian organizations working against violence towards women in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The panelists talked about the need for support services & funding and the use of terminology in violence-related discussions.
Ms Randi Iversen, Chairperson for the Danish Women’s Council emphasized the importance of statistics in the matter. She presented campaigns and programs devoted to ending violence against women in Denmark. “With statistics it is possible to monitor changes in law and people’s behavior.”
Secretary General of NYTKIS, Ms Johanna Pakkanen from Finland, voiced the appalling lack of support systems in Finland for victims of violence. The very few services that do exist are governed by non-governmental organisations and therefore lack funding and continuity.
Ms Lone Alice Johansen, Head of Information for the Norwegian Shelter Movement underlined that knowledge and training in attitudes should come further. “Primary prevention, especially in the health sector, is essential.”
Ms Beatrice Unander-Scharin, Board Member of Roks - The National Organisation for Women’s Shelters and Young Women’s Shelters in Sweden, called upon new laws on rape in Sweden. She also agreed with Finland on the difficulties of NGO-funding and lack of consistency in services.
Deputy General Secretary of World YWCA, Ms Michelle Higelin, complemented the late Helvi Sipilä on being a real trailblazer of women’s rights and equality. She deemed it unacceptable that 7 in every 10 women experience violence at some point in their lives. “We need to see women as critical agents of change.”
Kaikki panelistit olivat yhtä mieltä siitä, että sukupuolineutraalisuustrendi vaikeuttaa työtä naisiin kohdistuvaa väkivaltaa vastaan.
Professor Helena Ranta chaired Wednesday’s discussion. After the seminar she shared her relationship to Ms Helvi Sipilä. “Oh, I’ve known her ever since I was a child! She was close friends with my aunt. She once told me that she still remembers my parents’ wedding, in 1936.”
Ms Ranta described Sipilä as being extremely broad-minded and dedicated.” That’s probably why we remained so close throughout the years. What she committed to, she held on to – whether it was a friend or a career project.”
”She was open to everything that was going on in the world and took on every challenge it gave her. She was extremely devoted to fight for women’s rights.”