Looking at the state of our society, I have to say that we are far from achieving equality. Progress has been made, but as long as the debate over minority groups has to start with society’s willingness and ability to ensure the safety, and more widely the basic rights, of all population groups, something is fundamentally broken.
Building equality means ensuring equality of opportunity to everyone when it comes to their right to live, be, do and participate in society. Achieving this requires dismantling structures that prevent part of the population from truly standing on the same starting line as others. As such structures are deeply rooted and often have multiplier effects, the operating culture and practices must also be actively worked on to be able to close the current opportunity gap.
Promoting equality is about being on the side of the disadvantaged, but the common interest of society must also be taken into consideration. Knowing how to nurture the diversity of the population enables us to benefit from a wealth of perspectives that will push us to do better and lay the foundations for a strong and healthy society. However, if we do not see the value added of diversity, a huge amount of human potential will be lost and costly well-being challenges, nausea even, will be caused to both individuals and society.
Recorded in the policy paper of the National Union of University Students in Finland are the organisation’s values. One of those values is equality, which we seek to promote in society and through our operations. To be a serious advocate for equality, it is important that we uphold equality ourselves. At the office, the achievement of equality is monitored annually and equality training is provided to staff, the board, and student unions. Through our day-to-day operations, we work to promote, for example, equal educational opportunities. This year, we have also supported various citizens’ initiatives calling for trans law reform, whose successful outcome should be celebrated.
In the autumn, we also participated in the communications-oriented I am Antiracist campaign organised by the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman. Especially during the current and previous years, anti-racism has been a frequent topic in social debate. The debate has clearly identified a lack of action on the part of the higher education sector in this matter. Actions are called for, but knowledge also needs to be increased.
This November, the student movement once again showed its will to stick to its values and step up its equality work as the General Assembly approved the board’s proposal to add anti-racism to the union’s values without a single opposing argument or proposal. Where there’s a will – there also needs to be knowledge and appropriate actions.
Now, after the General Assembly, it’s time to roll up our sleeves. It is time to live up to the campaign promises: let’s provide anti-racism training at the office, pay more attention to assessing the day-to-day practices, designate someone in charge of promotion and update the principles for safer space. This will not make us achieve equality, but at least these are steps in the right direction.