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Finnish Politician Sanna Marin Set to Become Youngest World Leader

Finland, like many other Nordic countries, is known for its progressive social and political environment, as countries in this part of the world tend to favor policies associated with socialism and other liberal forms of government. Finland recently held an election that resulted in the election of a historically young and mostly female parliament, led by the 34-year-old Sanna Marin. When she is sworn in later this week, she will become the youngest prime minister in the world. Additionally, young women in Finland will soon hold many high-level government positions, with five women holding top spots in parliament, four of whom are younger than 35.

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In an interview with a Finnish publication, Marin commented that she had “not actually ever thought about [her] age or gender,” adding that she thinks the reason her party won the election have more to do with their policies and their ability to connect with their electorate. While such a comment from a nation’s future leader might be unimaginable in many parts of the world, not the least of which is the United States, which has had a predominantly male government for the entirety of the country’s history. However, Finland and other Nordic countries has a far more egalitarian culture than much of the Western world, as many of the barriers preventing women from holding positions of power are mitigated. The country elected its first female prime minister in 2003, and women make up almost half of its parliament after this year’s election.

In fact, the country’s political landscape is so progressive that its former prime minister, Alexander Stubb, who is a conservative, praised his country for its modern and progressive stance on female political representation, saying that one day “gender will not matter in government.” In Finland, the fact that these newly elected leaders are so young may actually be more culturally significant than the fact that they are mainly female, as the country has for years had a large percentage of women in its government. Whereas roughly half of Finland’s government officials are women, less than a quarter of American representatives and senators are female, and hopes for the country’s first female president were dispelled after Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, in an apparent rejection of progressive social policies like gender equality.

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A number of potential explanations exist for why Finland and other Nordic countries are so far ahead of the rest of the world in this area, many of which have to do with social policies that enable women to advance in their careers at a similar rate as their male counterparts. For instance, Finland has a generous paid parental leave policy, which applies to both mothers and fathers, which makes it easier for women to keep their careers while also raising families. The country has had robust reproductive health policies since the 1970s, including widespread access to abortion and birth control as well as comprehensive sex education in public schools.

While Finland should be commended for its success in promoting gender equality, it’s also important to point out that the country also has problems with discrimination, like virtually everywhere in the world. Specifically, immigrant women and indigenous women are the most likely to face discrimination, as these populations have much greater difficulty finding employment, and growing rates of immigration to Nordic countries from places like Afghanastan and Russia are fueling anti-immagrant sentiment. Still, the country has taken tremendous steps from the point of view of its embrace of progressive policies and representation, and serves as a model for gender activists in the rest of the world who are fighting for equality and fair representation.

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Researchers Argue Sex and Gender Analysis Improves Science

It has long been understood in scientific circles that unconscious biases, particularly those relating to sex and gender, can have a negative impact on the objectivity of scientific findings. While the goal of science is to discover the truth in as objective a manner as possible, scientists are prone to the same unintentional, biased assumptions as anyone else, and the quality of scientific work can be affected. For instance, the appropriate dosage for a medicine may be devised with the assumption that the patient is male, leading to suboptimal dosage recommendations for women. As another example, safety equipment too can be designed with the physical concerns of men in mind, negatively affecting women who use the equipment. And as machine learning technologies advance, engineers are realizing that machine learning programs are capable of picking up on human beings’ unconscious biases and replicating them, perpetuating the problem.

In light of these realizations, much conversation has taken place regarding how best to correct for sex and gender bias in science. This concept is explored in an article posted in Nature entitled “Sex and gender analysis improves science and engineering.” The article’s authors argue that taking sex and gender into consideration while conducting science not only benefits less-advantaged individuals by recognizing the institutional challenges they face, but also improves the quality of science itself, as unconscious biases are identified and corrected. This approach, the authors claim, benefits multiple scientific fields, including medicine, artificial intelligence, and even climatology. 

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While many consider the terms synonyms, the researchers explain the difference between sex and gender, defining the former as including mainly biological attributes, whereas they define the latter as “psychological, social and cultural factors that shape attitudes, behaviours, stereotypes, technologies, and knowledge.” This distinction is important because sex and gender interact in complex ways; for instance, there exist physiological differences relating to the experience of pain between the sexes, and gender impacts how patients communicate pain with doctors and researchers. The researchers point out several improvements which have been made in this area over the past several decades; for instance, crash test dummies were originally based on a male physique, but now represent more diverse body shapes, allowing engineers to design vehicles that are safe for a larger number of people. However, they also point out areas for future improvement. 

As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that it doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

In their paper, the scientists focus on the surprising and complicated ways sex and gender manifest across a variety of disciplines, with the most focus placed on marine science, biomedicine, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The authors discuss how sex impacts science even in non-humans, as male and female marine life react differently to the effects of changing ocean temperatures, an observation which has generated insights about more accurately modelling the effects of climate change. In human beings, sex differences account for disparities in responses to various medicines, such as vasopressin and cancer immunotherapy, for biological reasons including differences in amounts of testosterone and estrogen and overall body composition.

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Perhaps more surprisingly, artificial intelligence is a field in which unconscious biases can make their way into technologies, unintentionally perpetuating cultural biases and stereotypes. For instance, advertising algorithms are more likely to automatically serve ads for high-paying jobs to men than to women, and automatic image captioning algorithms tend to misidentify pictures of men in kitchens as women. As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that artificial intelligence doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

The authors conclude by proposing solutions to many of the problems with sex and gender biases in science they identify. One suggestion is to foster greater interactions between the scientific community and the humanities, including social scientists. Allowing for interdepartmental conversations in this way helps scientists to learn about how biases emerge and affect human reasoning, and can incorporate this knowledge into their work. Additionally, the researchers advocate for greater transparency in scientists’ reporting by including variables relating to sex and gender in their data analyses.