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The Student Union of Åbo Akademi University

Equality Plan 2010-2012

Publications from The Student Union of Åbo Akademi University 7/2010


Contents 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

Introduction Regional equality Disability, health, history of illness Ethnic background, nationality and language Gender and sexual identity Beliefs Age Students who have children Financial situation Evaluation and monitoring of this plan Co-operation partners within Ă…bo Akademi University Terms used

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1. Introduction This plan is intended as a tool for promoting equality and non-discrimination at the Student Union of Åbo Akademi University (ÅAS). All of the Student Union’s activities involve working for equality, and it is borne in mind when preparing issues, decision-making and meeting protocol, when arranging and publicising events, as well as in staffing policy and recruitment. The equality plan functions as training material for both new board members and salaried employees, as well as student parliament members and student associations. Equality (jämlikhet in Swedish) and equality of opportunity (jämställdhet in Swedish) are two concepts which are often confused. This plan concerns both equality of opportunity, as required by the Act on gender equality (609/1986), and promotes equal treatment regardless of ethnicity, as required by the Non-Discrimination Act (21/2004). The Non-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the following grounds: age, ethnic or national origin, language, religion, beliefs, opinion, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or any other reason concerning the person (such as finances, pregnancy, family circumstances). Not all positive discrimination is considered discrimination in the negative sense. The Non-Discrimination Act permits special measures aimed at achieving actual equal treatment (so-called positive discrimination) in order to support an under-represented group. Equality should also be seen as a quality issue. Universities have the task of seeking and producing new knowledge while simultaneously re-evaluating old and new perspectives. Diversity therefore leads to research of a higher quality and greater breadth, and applies similarly to teaching, protecting the interests of students and decision-making. We cannot achieve equality without targeted measures. Achieving equality is an ongoing process and it is important to constantly monitor it. One way in which the student parliament has been made aware of inequalities and given feedback on them has been to elect two equality observers to every student parliament session during 2009. The Student Union also tries to lower the bar to reporting harassment of a sexual or other nature by nominating a harassment ombudsman among its staff.




2. Regional equality The Student Union of Åbo Akademi University has members in Åbo, Vasa, Jakobstad, Helsingfors and Mariehamn. In the academic year 2009-2010, the number of enrolled undergraduate students on all sites was as follows: Åbo 3,612, Vasa 981, Helsingfors 74, Jakobstad 184 and Mariehamn 9. Åbo Akademi University is split between two main campuses, Åbo and Vasa. It is important that the Student Union does not neglect students studying in the smaller sites. The Student Union shall guarantee to protect the interests of all students to the same extent regardless of where they study. All student union members shall have access to equal services in terms of health care and other student social benefits provided by the Student Union. The Student Union should also monitor that the education provided by Åbo Akademi University is of the same standard at all sites and that no anomalies arise for students at any of the five sites. Measures: • The Student Union keeps in regular contact with student representatives and staff in all locations where Åbo Akademi provides education. • The Student Union works together with other local student unions to secure and improve service for its students. • At least one student parliament session per year is held in Vasa.




3. Disability, health, history of illness The Student Union of Åbo Akademi University aims to ensure that all students at Åbo Akademi University have the same rights and opportunities to study regardless of disability, learning disability or state of health. Accessibility means that the learning environment and campus are such that everyone can use and operate in them equally and regardless of their capacities or life circumstances. Disability means permanent physical, mental or social limits on a person’s ability to function. Disabilities can be congenital or acquired, visible or invisible. Disabilities include physical disabilities, visual or hearing impairment, speech and learning difficulties, learning disabilities, mental illness and other illnesses. Some types of illness and health condition can awaken prejudice and possibly irrational fears that may sometimes lead to discrimination. A functional impairment must not result in limited access to education or buildings, and all efforts shall be made to ensure that students with disabilities can participate in university life on the same conditions as other students. Accessibility, then, is not just about stairs and doorsteps. It also means good lighting in all areas and induction loops for hearing aid users. Teaching materials should be written in large fonts which use a serif to make them easier to read for students with visual impairment or who have difficulties reading and writing. Disabilities, health conditions, or histories of illness shall not unjustifiably affect how people are recruited to positions within the Student Union or how representatives to the Student Union are chosen. Each individual has the right both to tell others of his/ her state of health, and the right not to do so. Measures: • The Student Union works together with Åbo Akademi University towards a more accessible campus, both in terms of the physical environment and accessibility of the teaching. • The Student Union works towards Åbo Akademi University employing a handicap ombudsman. • The Student Union co-operates both locally and nationally in questions concerning accessibility and keeps up to date with best practices and design for all developments. • Student Union events are arranged in venues which are accessible to all. • Special dietary requirements will be taken into consideration on a day-to-day basis




as well as on special occasions. • The Student Union respects every individual’s right to tell others or not tell others about his/her illness, history of illness or disability and will not ask why someone has taken sick leave.




4. Ethnic origin, nationality, language The Student Union of Åbo Akademi University is an international and multicultural student union. Some 200 international exchange students and 40 international degree students commence their studies at this university each year. Generally speaking, exchange students come from other EU countries and degree students from countries outside the EU. If research students are also taken into account, then foreign students make up almost 20% of the student body at Åbo Akademi University. Finland’s constitution, the Non-Discrimination Act, the Penal Code and the Act on Employment Contracts prohibit discrimination on grounds of ethnic or national origin, nationality or language. The legislation on discrimination gives provision for those with of non-Finnish ethnic origin to be able to study without discrimination. The concept of ethnic origin can refer both to immigrants’ background and to ethnic minorities in Finland. As members of the Student Union, all ethnicities should be respected on the same conditions. Racism describes an attitude or view according to which groups of people can be treated differently based on their ethnic origins, nationality, appearance, culture or language. Racist behaviour can be expressed as for example prejudice, discrimination, negative attitudes and behaviour towards ethnic minorities, immigrants and foreigners. The Student Union should fight racism and racist behaviour at all levels. Jokes and drinking songs that insult or stereotype ethnic minorities, immigrants or foreigners are examples of racism and have no part to play in a student union that works for multiculturalism and diversity. Traditions involving racist behaviour or xenophobia must not be accepted within the Student Union. The Student Union of Åbo Akademi University shall be pro-active in preventing discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin within all of the Student Union’s spheres of activity. Student Union activities shall be imbued with a respect for different cultures and customs, anti-racist actions and general promotion of diversity and transparency. Student union members from a foreign background should be borne in mind when student union activities are being planned. All student union members should be able to access the same services regardless of their ethnic origin, nationality or language. The Student Union shall profile itself as an international and multicultural student union which provides information about its services in both Swedish and English. Student associations are encouraged to consider foreign students in their activities. Åbo Akademi University also has a large number of students whose mother tongue is Finnish. Swedish speakers often tend to switch from Swedish to Finnish if they notice that the other person does not speak Swedish perfectly. This can be perceived as in-




sulting, especially if the other person actually wishes to practice his/her Swedish. The same applies to our international students. Measures: • The Student Union works actively to ensure that everyone has an equal right to a good, anti-racist study environment. • The Student Union works together with Åbo Akademi University and ISTU (International Students of Turku Universities) to improve international degree students’ position within the university. • The Student Union also provides foreign students with information on the opportunities available for participating in student union democracy, for example by standing as a candidate the in the student parliament elections. • The Student Union supports the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) in its efforts to enable immigrants and those with a non-typical higher education background to study at university. • The Student Union opposes any kind of tuition fee and thoroughly monitors how the trialled tuition fees for students who come from countries outside the EU and EFTA area affect the position of these students in terms of equality of teaching. • The Student Union monitors how the right to a home municipality works in practice for students taking a degree at Åbo Akademi University, as well as how the health insurance requirement affects equal opportunities to study for all. • The Student Union makes information on its member benefits and events available in English. • The Student Union encourages student associations not to sing racist drinking songs (sticker campaign).




5. Gender and sexual orientation Gender equality is guaranteed by law and discrimination on grounds of gender is prohibited. Nevertheless, gender segregation and wage differences between the genders still arise. Women form the majority at universities at the lower hierarchy levels (library and administrative staff, hourly-paid teachers, undergraduates) while men occupy the majority of higher-level positions (researchers, assistant professors, professors). Åbo Akademi University is no exception. Following graduation, significantly more women than men find themselves in socalled precarious jobs. The reason for this is partly that the costs of parenthood are even now still borne by the woman’s employer, meaning that young female employees are often viewed as a risk by employers. The Act on gender equality only recognises men and women, thereby ignoring gender diversity. An individual can have a gender identity other than that of man or woman. Sexual orientation includes heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality as well as transgender people. There are also people who do not wish to or cannot fit themselves into one category. We live in a society based on gender and heteronormativity, meaning that heterosexuality is uncritically presented as the one and only way of being, without any further reflection. Every individual’s sexual identity should be thought of as a private matter for that individual. It should be a personal choice whether to publicly express your sexuality or not. The discrimination and harassment of people who belong to a sexual minority are the biggest reason why these people choose not to express their sexuality in public. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome, unwanted and one-sided physical or verbal actions with consequences that are always negative for the person on the receiving end of them. What actions are seen as harassment depends on the victim’s perception of them. Harassment disturbs both work and studies, reduces the motivation to study and can destroy the atmosphere in an academic community. Serious harassment can cause physical and mental health problems, sick leave, prolong studies or even necessitate a change of degree programme. The Student Union of Åbo Akademi University treats everyone equally regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The Student Union aims to lower the barrier to reporting harassment of a sexual or other nature by giving students information on how to proceed in the event of harassment.




Measures: • The Student Union works together with the university to make Åbo Akademi University an equal university for both its students and employees. • The work towards equality shall be seen as a continuous effort for quality in both teaching and the Student Union’s own activities. • The Student Union encourages discussion about the diversity of gender identities. • The Student Union also encourages the Student Health Service to better take into consideration and deal with different gender identities both in day-to-day services and in its publications. • The Student Union has one or more harassment ombudsmen to make it easier for students to report sexual harassment. • The Student Union encourages groups represented in the student parliament to bear gender issues in mind when nominating representatives to various organs within the university and the Student Union. • The Student Union works with the National Union of University Students in Finland against the discrimination of female graduates on the employment market. • The Student Union encourages student associations to report offensive course literature.

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6. Beliefs Beliefs can be categorised as religious, social, political and ethical. Finland’s constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of belief. Freedom of religion and opinion is enshrined in the constitution. Using one’s own belief to justify discrimination against others is also prohibited. Everyone involved in the Student Union’s activities has the right to express his/her beliefs or religion, or not to do so. All beliefs should be treated as mutually equal. Beliefs can be expressed in many different ways: in the form of lifestyles, diet, attitudes towards alcohol consumption, clothing and jewellery, and these forms of expression should be respected to the same degree as the beliefs themselves. Measures: • The Student Union respects different beliefs, whether they involve religion, politics or ethics. • Special dietary requirements shall be considered both on a day-to-day level and for special occasions and non-alcoholic drinks shall always be available at parties. • The Student Union and the student associations will make every effort not to offend anyone with the information and publicity they create for events they arrange.

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7. Age Various studies of working life have indicated that age discrimination is one of the most common forms of discrimination in Finnish working life. Age is also the characteristic which most clearly affects all of us compared to other grounds for discrimination: anyone can experience age discrimination regardless of their environment and circumstances in life. Student unions are often regarded as youthful organisations who protect the interests of young people. Although a large proportion of university students are young, student union members are by no means a homogeneous group. Students can find themselves in many different kinds of circumstances, which means that the Student Union needs to take this into consideration in its activities. The Student Union shall treat people of different ages equally when it comes to recruitment and respect the experience and knowledge people have at different ages. Measures: • The Student Union respects differences in age and the strengths that people have at different ages.

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8. Students who have children Combining studies and family life is not always easy. Students active within the Student Union and staff employed by it should be able to combine work, studies and family life. The Student Union takes a positive view of flexible working times for employees who have a duty of care. Employees’ working tasks, salary or opportunities for promotion shall not be affected by their duties of care. Apart from childcare, these duties may involve taking care of elderly parents. Measures: • The Student Union keeps in mind in its activities that staff and elected representatives have a private life outside student union activities. • The Student Union participates in the Student Village Foundation’s residents’ association activities aimed at students who have children, together with the Student Union of the University of Turku. • The Student Union works together with the National Union of University Students in Finland to improve the financial situation of students with children.

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9. Financial situation Everyone shall have the opportunity to pursue higher education regardless of their financial situation. For this reason, the Student Union opposes the introduction of tuition fees for both Finnish and foreign students. The results of the most recent survey carried out among university students on the subject of financial support and gainful employment (Ministry of Education publications 2006:51) indicated that 27% of university students perceived their financial situation as bad. The same figure for students who were lone parents was 54%. Many students are forced to work alongside studying in order to support themselves. Over one-third (38%) of university students responding to the survey indicated that they worked part-time and 21% had been involved in project work at some point during the previous calender year. Half (50%) of university students thought that working had had a negative effect on the progress of their studies. Measures: • The Student Union aims to ensure that events it organises for its union members are offered at cost price, thereby ensuring that the price does not prevent anyone taking part. • The Student Union works to encourage student associations to also offer opportunities to join in student events that cost nothing. • The Student Union takes an active part in developing the student grant system to that it better supports full-time studies, as well as in the work in developing meal aid together with the National Union of University Students in Finland. • The Student Union works to avoid the introduction of tuition fees for students who come to Åbo Akademi University from countries outside the EU and EEA area and follows the debate on potential chargeable programmes of education provided by Åbo Akademi University.

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10. Evaluating and monitoring this plan This equality plan is in force during 2010 - 2012. It will be revised and updated in 2012. Among the data used in evaluating the plan will be the equality observers’ reports from student parliament sessions and the statistics available from surveys sent to staff, board and student parliament members and student associations. The first survey will be carried out at the start of 2010 to chart the current situation.

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11. Co-operation partners within Åbo Akademi University The Student Union of Åbo Akademi University nominates student representatives to a number of the university’s internal working groups and committees. The student representatives are one of the Student Union’s most important links when it comes to influencing students’ daily lives in matters concerning equality and equality of treatment within the university. The Committee for Equality of Opportunity The Committee for Equality of Opportunity is responsible for updating and monitoring Åbo Akademi University’s equality plan, taking initiatives within and constantly developing equality of opportunity at the university, providing information about equality issues and issuing opinions on proceedings and decisions at Åbo Akademi University from the point of view of equality of opportunity. In addition, the Committee for Equality of Opportunity has started work on adapting the physical environment of the university to the needs of disabled users. Issues concerning equality of treatment are are also the Committee’s responsibility. ÅA utan hinder (Åbo Akademi University Without Obstacles) ÅA utan hinder is a working group entrusted with the task of drawing up measures concerning the university’s physical accessibility for disabled students and staff at Åbo Akademi University. The student social benefit working group - Studs This working group deals with questions concerning student well-being as a whole, i.e. their physical, mental and social welfare. The aim of the group is that students shall feel well in everyday life, not just in academic life. The working group is made up of all parties involved in achieving student well-being, including the Student Union, the Student Health Service and the Student Office. The working group for internationalisation The working group for internationalisation deals with matters including the criteria for participating in student exchange programmes as well as measures to be taken to increase the numbers of outgoing students and market Åbo Akademi University’s degree programmes abroad. The Student Grants Committee The student grants committee deals with matters including rejecting student grant applications, suspension of student grants or demands to repay grant money in cases where the academic progress made is not considered to meet the requirements of the Act on student finance. The committee also processes requests to extend the student

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grant period for the remaining time left as a student for students who have already received the maximum number of grant payments usually given to those aiming at a master’s degree.

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12. Terms used Design for all Design for All is a philosophy of design which aims to create products and services that can be used by as many people as possible without any need for special adaptation. The concept of Inclusive Design or Universal Design are closely related. The concept of Design for All originated with the aim of creating accessibility for people with functional impairments with the goal of a society without obstacles, benefiting a greater part of the population. Discrimination This means that a group or individual is treated differently in some way. Structural discrimination means that the discrimination is intrinsic to the way society works. Ethnic origin When someone belongs to a group of people having the same skin colour or another similar shared relation, national or ethnic origin. Disability Permanent physical, mental or intellectual limitations on a person’s functional capacity which have been present since birth owing to injury or illness, have arisen later or are expected to arise. Functional impairment Reduced physical, mental or intellectual functional capacity. A functional impairment can occur due to illness or another condition or as a result of a congenital or acquired injury. These illnesses, conditions and injuries may be permanent or temporary in nature. HBT This stands for homosexual, bisexual and transgender, and is used as an umbrella term for people with a sexuality or gender identity other than the heterosexual norm and when questions concerning non-heterosexual sexuality and concerning gender identity are being discussed. HBTQ This stands for homosexual and bisexual, transgender and queer. A queer perspective or identity is one where the person in question aims to live so that no sexual or gender norms are a barrier to them living their own life.

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Heteronormativity and gender normativity The expectations of how a woman or a man should behave in society, as well as of what is “natural” for a woman or a man, e.g. the idea that men only fall in love with women and vice versa. Equality Means that people shall have the same and equal rights regardless of their background. Equality of opportunity Equality between men and women, that men and women shall have the same opportunities, rights and obligations in society. Gender A person’s gender. A contentious term, which for some people means “biological gender” while for others it describes someone’s biological, social and mental gender. Gender identity The gender to which one perceives oneself as belonging. Gender segregation One common definition of gender segregation is that it occurs when a profession/field of work is occupied by more than 60 percent women or men, and called “male-dominated” or “female dominated”, whereas professions where the male-female proportion is between 40 and 60 percent are seen as “balanced”. Equality of treatment Equality of treatment means that an individual is given equally good opportunities to access education, employment and services as everyone else. Equality of treatment does not mean putting that individual in a better position - rather, the aim is to guarantee everyone the same opportunities regardless of nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, age, gender or handicap. Put simply, equality of treatment means accepting differences and respecting others as they are. Diversity Openness towards the fact that people are all different. It is not the differences in themselves that make diversity a success factor, but the interplay between them. It is about making use of the resources within every individual. In practice, it means seeing each person’s skills as a whole, disregarding factors such as gender, ethnic origin, disabilities and sexual orientation.

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Positive discrimination The aim of positive discrimination is equality of treatment, and it aims to prevent and alleviate anomalies which have arisen due to discrimination as well as to achieve actual equality of treatment for different groups. Positive discrimination supports one person or a group using special methods or special aid. Positive discrimination should be in correct proportion to the target being aimed at. If positive discrimination does not occur, the person/group may risk ending up in a position of inequality. One example of positive discrimination is a quota system guaranteeing study places for members of minorities. Sexual orientation Bisexuality, heterosexuality and homosexuality are sexual orientations. Harassment Behaviour which violates someone’s integrity and relates to ethnic origin, disability, gender, transgender identity or expression religion or other creed, sexual orientation or age. Transperson An umbrella term usually referring to individuals whose gender identity and/or expression occasionally or always varies from the norm for the gender as which they were registered at birth. Someone can only be a transperson if s/he self-identifies as one. The term usually includes drag queens, drag kings, intersexuals, transgender and transsexual people, and transvestites. Sources for terms (October 2009): Equality.fi http://www.yhdenvertaisuus.fi/svenska/likabehandling/ http://www.yhdenvertaisuus.fi/welcome_to_equality_fi/ Regnbügsankan http://www.regnbagsankan.fi/hbt_fakta/ RFSL - Swedish national association for the rights of homosexuals, bisexuals and transpersons. http://www.rfsl.se/?p=410 Stockholm University http://www.su.se/pub/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=1748&a=1730 Uppsala municipality http://www.uppsala.se/sv/Omkommunen/Jamstalldhet--mangfald/Ordlista/


ÅAS Equality Plan