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Change in Finland: A government led by five women and the world’s youngest prime minister

The Social Democratic party nominated Sanna Marin, 34, on Dec. 8 to become the youngest prime minister in Finland's history. (Video: Reuters)

Finland is set to get a new left-wing government this month, led by five female leaders, four of whom are younger than 35. Among them is the current transport and communications minister, Sanna Marin, a 34-year-old Social Democrat who is widely expected to be confirmed as prime minister.

She would be the youngest sitting head of government, as the other leader competing for that title — 33-year-old former Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz — is still looking to form a coalition government after new elections in fall.

Unlike the conservative Kurz, Marin is a political liberal. The government she will take over has declared itself a global front-runner on combating climate change. Her predecessor, 57-year-old Antti Rinne, recently called himself a “feminist,” but later resigned over accusations that he had mishandled a postal service worker strike. He is expected to remain the leader of the Social Democrats.

Marin’s rise to the top of Finnish politics would preserve the country’s left-wing coalition that has recently found itself under pressure from an increasingly popular conservative opposition, amid a weakening economy and growing pressure on Finland’s expansive welfare state.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to rebuild trust,” Marin acknowledged Sunday.

Finland’s liberal voters hope she might be able to champion her bloc’s liberal ideas more effectively than her predecessor.

Political opponents, such as former conservative Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb, acknowledged the composition of the coming new government sent a powerful message.

“One day gender will not matter in government,” Stubb wrote on Twitter.

The prime-minister-in-waiting’s take was less focused on symbolism. “I have never thought about my age or gender; I think of the reasons I got into politics and those things for which we have won the trust of the electorate,” said Marin, according to the AFP news agency.

While the party leaders who form the coalition are all women, male ministers are expected to also be part of the government.

Marin’s rise to power fits a common narrative of Finland abroad, said Teivo Teivainen, a political science professor at the University of Helsinki. Alongside New Zealand, the country was among the first in the world to allow women to vote and run for office in the late 19th or early 20th century. With Marin in Finland and Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, both countries have recently produced a generation of young, female leaders that punch above their relatively small countries’ weight. Finland has a population of about 5.5 million; New Zealand has about 4.8 million.

But Teivainen cautioned that such narratives are oversimplifying. Abroad, Finland may commonly be believed to perform far better at gender equality than it really is, he said, pointing at the country’s high rates of gender-based violence.

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