A young, female Prime Minister is inspiring Finland — but judge her on her actions not her gender

Susannah Butter
Susannah Butter: Daniel Hambury

Sanna Marin sounds ace. And not just because she is a woman. While Londoners lamented our chronically uninspiring election campaign yesterday, a picture was released of Finland’s new government — a centre-Left coalition of women led by Social Democrat Marin, who at 34 is the world’s youngest leader.

This image of the Finnish government stood in pointed contrast to the one used to advertise last week’s Question Time — of four men. That snapshot of our politicians looked like an outtake shot from a T.M. Lewin shirt catalogue.

Despite a record number of women standing in this election, the list of politicians used most frequently by the Tories for media interviews is exclusively men, while Labour’s equivalent has a paltry five. No wonder women under 30 are among the least likely to vote.

The US is no better. Marin wouldn’t be allowed to run for President there as there’s a rule stipulating you need to be at least 35. New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is too young at 30 despite being far more impressive than many. Note there’s no upper age limit. Just two of the 15 Presidential candidates are under 40 and four are women.

So Finland’s government is instantly uplifting as it shifts the global balance. Finnish commentators have said that Marin’s age matters more than her gender, as the electorate are fed up with the established voices and want a new generation, untarnished by the past. Same here, actually.

Women have been well represented in Finnish parliament for decades, a third of all entrepreneurs there are women (above the global average) and female wellbeing scores high. But Marin makes an astute point about the perils of reducing successful women to their gender. “I have never thought about my age or gender,” she says. “I think of the reasons I got into politics and those things for which we have won the trust of the electorate.”

Men have dominated the UK election, so it’s no wonder women under 30 are among the least likely to vote...

In other words, judge her on her work — just as you would with a man. No one wants to be in their job or put on a pedestal because they are fulfilling a quota. That’s not real equality, and risks setting women back with reverse discrimination.

Instead, look at what Marin has achieved. She was raised by a single mother (take that, Boris Johnson, with your derogatory comments about them) and then with her mother’s female partner. Saying she benefited from the welfare state, she was the first in her family to go to university. She rose fast, becoming an MP at 30. Her Instagram profile is fairly typical of a thirtysomething.

There are pictures of the cake she ate for breakfast and of her toddler Emma, with a caption about how even though she looks sweet she is depriving her parents of sleep. Marin talks about the challenges of being a working mother; how lucky she is to be able to take Emma to Parliament (she slept during voting) and share parental leave. Her husband works in communications.

Marin has a daunting task ahead. Until yesterday my knowledge of Finland was confined to The Moomins, but I’ve learnt that the country is facing strikes and bitter division.

Marin has taken a moment, though to encourage other women.It’s notable that Marin and fellow female PM New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, are from countries which were among the first to allow women to vote. And since Nancy Astor was elected as an MP here in 1919 it’s been clear that female politicians are likely to pass legislation that benefits women.

The dream is that one day gender won’t matter. Until then, let’s root for Marin.


Nell’s circus brought magic to the world

I’m going to wear sequins and listen to T. Rex tonight in honour of Nell Gifford, the owner and co-founder of Giffords Circus, who died of breast cancer on Sunday aged 46.

I was lucky to interview her in July before watching her enchanting production of Xanadu, inspired by Colderidge’s poem Kubla Khan; where incredible feats were performed on horseback to a Seventies soundtrack.

It was a much-needed celebration of all that is magical in the world. Even circus-sceptics were captivated, tapping their toes.

Nell offered me cherries from a brown paper bag and spoke honestly about how bored she was of her cancer, and how much she adored her twins, now nine.

The world has lost a creative genius but her legacy is the beautiful world she built with her circus. Her spirit lifted so many and she created a family.

Next year is the 20th anniversary of Giffords and they are celebrating Nell with a Celtic-inspired show called The Hooley. So book a ticket and kick up a Hooley.


Female furniture

Would you like to lounge on Izzy? Or are you more at ease with Julie? I went furniture shopping yesterday and all the midmarket sofas I liked were named after women. I saw an ad for Celine and wasn’t sure if that was the blue velvet armchair or the woman next to it.

Who are these names aimed at?

Serves me right for thinking I’m too sophisticated for Ikea — I assumed the names of their furniture meant something in Swedish but a Google suggests they are gobbledegook.

At the higher end, the Eames is an equal opportunities chair, named after its designers, husband and wife Charles and Ray They start at around £6,000. Izzy is comparatively cheap at £1,250.

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Finland set to be led by 34-year-old Prime Minister