Photo Credit: Politico
By Molly Ruebe-Haig
Sanna Marin lost the Finnish elections on April 2nd to the country’s center-right party, the National Coalition Party, whose campaign spoke to the nation’s economic concerns. She endured a close loss, with the National Coalition winning 20.8%, the Populists 20.0%, and Marin’s party, the Social Democrats, winning only 19.9%. Finland made headlines again in the same week when it announced its newly approved NATO membership on April 4th. To some, this made Marin’s loss even more surprising considering this has been a key goal of Finland’s since the start of the Russia-Ukraine War; however, being a NATO ally simply did not guarantee enough security. The Prime Minister’s exit from office comes not even 2 months after the resignation of two other top female leaders, former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and former Scottish National Party Leader Nicola Sturgeon. Sexist political pressures have been cited by many as one of the main reasons Ardern and Sturgeon stepped down, and thus, one wonders if such pressures played a role in Marin’s political defeat as well.
Marin became the world’s youngest female head of government when she was elected Prime Minister in 2019 at 34 years old, and remained more popular than her own party throughout her term. Similar to Ardern, she was hailed for her effective COVID containment policies, especially given that the pandemic began a mere three months into her term. However, closer to election times, she saw a fall in popularity in the polls, echoing Ardern’s dismal approval ratings leading up to her resignation in February.
Finland’s recent poor economic performance is cited as the top reason for Marin’s loss after such a relatively successful tenure, however many other world leaders have faced similar economic downturns without repercussions on their approval ratings. For example, former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was re-elected in 2019 despite a decline in Australia’s economic growth during Morrison’s tenure. Again, French President Emmanual Macron was reelected in 2022 despite poor economic performance in the first three years of his term. The question thus arises of whether politics was the main reason for Marin’s poor performance at the polls, or if underlying misogyny, subconscious or not, influenced voters’ choices.
Marin has faced numerous experiences with sexist media commentary. In August 2022, she was criticized by the media and public alike for videos that surfaced of her partying on a night out with friends. These videos were met with unjust calls for drug testing for the Prime Minister, and suggestions that she is not doing her job as state leader properly. In an interview with journalist Fareed Zakaria, Marin was questioned about her age, drawing similarities to her 2022 press conference with Ardern. She was also asked if she, as a female leader, had done anything to “further a women’s agenda or certain issues that you understood better than others”, thus illustrating that female leaders are burdened with pressures from the public other than policymaking.
Male politicians are never asked if they have done anything to “further a man’s agenda”, and so the double standards for men versus women in the political world are evident. Despite an increase in female leaders around the world in the last few decades, and their policy milestones, it is disappointing to see politics take a step backward. Ironically, Finland and New Zealand rank within the top five countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Gender Gap Report, but fail to apply this feat to their political arenas. Instead, the international political stage emphasizes the fact that these female leaders are women, and holds this fact against them.
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