In nature, all are equal: the Finnish Forest Administration embraces a gender-neutral language

Adriana Lima
By Adriana Lima 6 Min Read
origin 1Young people jump into the sea on a hot summer day in Vaasa, Finland on July 19, 2018. ©Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva via AP

Freedom to move is part of daily life in the Nordic countries, where foraging, relaxation and exercise in nature are popular leisure activities.

Now, the state-owned Finnish Forestry Administration (Metsähallitus) has changed the term describing freedom to roam from “jokamiehenoikeudet” (everyone’s right) to “jokaisenoikeudet” (everyone’s right) to underline their commitment to promoting equality in nature.

“Words influence the way we think and with our communications we want to promote equality,” Liina Aulin, director of communications at the Finnish Forestry Administration, told RockedBuzz via Euronews.

The forest administration governs Finland’s forests and waters, which cover a third of the country and are used by millions of people every year.

“This is why we see that we have the opportunity to lead by example and encourage other organizations to use ‘jokaisenoikeus’ in their communications,” Aulin added.

A Finnish way of life

Freedom to roam was first defined in Finnish law books in 1920, when berry picker Ilma Lindgren won a case against a local landowner in the Saimaa lake region with the word everyone’s right (jokamiehenoikeus) used since 1930 to define this freedom to roam and forage.

In Finland, residents and visitors have the right to enjoy nature regardless of land ownership. The legal concept of the rights of all gives nature lovers immense freedom to move, but comes with responsibilities, mainly to respect nature, other people and property.

To put it simply, everyone can freely walk, cycle or ride a horse, as well as temporarily camp, except in the immediate vicinity of houses and other private buildings.

People are also free to pick wild berries, mushrooms and flowers (provided they are not protected species) as well as fish with a simple rod and line. The freedom to forage does not apply to the collection of fallen moss, lichen, or trees from other people’s property.

Finns are also allowed to use boats, swim or bathe in inland waters and the sea, while winter activities such as skiing, driving a motor vehicle or ice fishing on frozen lakes, rivers and the sea are also accepted.

“Nature is for everyone”

The new term used by the Finnish Forest Administration has been welcomed by Fatim Diarra, Member of Parliament and President of the Feminist Association of Finland.

“It’s a better term to describe something that is very deep in us Finns. Nature is for everyone. This is a great way to put it into words and more descriptive of Finns’ attitude towards nature,” he said.

Diarra, who has also been a member of Finland’s Scouts for 20 years, said the change in terminology sends a particularly important message of inclusion to children.

The only negative feedback she’s heard, she said, has been on social media. “I have noticed shouts from the conservative right that everything is screwed up. But other than that many men have also said that this is a good change.

“Nature doesn’t care about gender,” Diarra said.

Aki Kuitunen, a father of two who likes to pick blueberries with his family, is among the men who have embraced the change, believing it will foster equality.

“Changing the term affects how we speak, and our speech becomes our values, which in turn become our actions,” said Kuitunen.

Layered launch

While the term gender-neutral has already been used by some companies and organizations in Finland, the recent announcement by the Finnish Forest Administration further strengthens the shift to gender-neutral language in government communication, in line with the Council’s recommendations of Europe.

The implementation of the new term in the Finnish Forest Administration’s digital channels has been rapid, but it will take a few years for the new term to appear in physical signs.

“Terms on signs, information boards and printed materials will be changed in due course when their renewal is timely, thus avoiding additional costs caused by the change,” said Aulin.

Meanwhile, there is no need to adapt the term to the other two commonly used languages ​​as “every man has a right” is already used in the Finnish Forest Administration’s English communications. Similarly, in Swedish, the second language of Finland, the term “allemansrätt” includes a passive voice, encompassing people in general, and is not altered into a more gender-neutral expression.

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