Striving for fairness and inclusiveness in our everyday lives

Iida Kauhanen, doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Education, specialises in participation and social justice. She is also a board member in the Society for the Study of Ethnic Relations and International Migration (ETMU) – a multidisciplinary scientific association that promotes research on international migration, multiculturalism, minority rights and related topics in Finland. We asked how she perceives her research area and how we can jointly strive for fairness and inclusiveness in the community. This is what she answered.

Iida Kauhanen, what do participation and social justice mean for you on a personal level?

For me, working towards social justice is the core ethical value in my life and in my research. Following Nancy Fraser’s theorisation, I see participation as a way to describe social justice. Social justice requires that all people would have equal possibility to participate on a par in social life.

Unfortunately, even in the “happiest country on the earth” many different people (and peoples) are denied equal possibilities for participation. Quite interestingly this happy country has been also nominated as the most racist country in Europe by an OECD research report. It is exactly these kinds of contradictions that make me feel frustrated. The strong narrative of the happy Finnish nation often dismisses the voices of those Finnish people who are discriminated.

Your special interest is in the normalised practices that hinder possibilities of equal participation. What makes this an intriguing and important research area?

In our everyday lives, we are subject of and produce numerous different practices. Many of these practices become so normal to us that we don’t stop to reflect on them but accept them as normal parts of our everyday lives. Often these normalised practices may harm possibilities of participation of those people who are marginalised.

To fight inequities, it is vital that we analyse different practices so that we see whether they produce equal possibilities of participation. Although this is an ideal, I believe we should still strive to work towards it. Many initiations for example related to accessibility and women’s rights have improved possibilities of participation. However, there is still vast amount of work to do to spot and deconstruct those practices that harm possibilities for equal participation.

In your thesis work, you focus on the everyday experiences of young people who arrived in Finland as minors and were seeking asylum without their primary caregivers. What are your key findings so far?

In my thesis, I focus on possibilities of equal participation in unaccompanied children’s and youth’s lives. I have found that the municipalities and the schools often invest a lot of resources for the best of these young people. Also, I found that there are plenty of individual officials (teachers, group home personnel, social workers), that deeply care for these young people and do their best to support them in their lives. Many of the participants described how they had created strong trusting relationships with officials and how these relationships were meaningful for them in their lives in Finland.

However, I also found that different practicalities in these young people’s lives create obstacles that prevent them the possibility for equal participation. These include the strict foreign policy in Finland that has made family reunification practically impossible for many children living in Finland without their primary families. Further, many of the young people have to go through different relocations during their life in Finland. These relocations create obstacles in possibilities to create stable, loving relationships.

In schools, on the other hand, these young people are often supported extremely well with their studies. However, these supportive measures simultaneously produce social exclusion that limit these people’s possibilities to participate in their schooling communities.

You are currently working as a doctoral researcher at the Mobile Futures project at the Faculty of Education. The recently launched project runs until September 2027. How is the project striving towards an increasingly fair and inclusive society in Finland?

In mobile futures, we focus on integration as two-way process based on trust. This means that integration is something that cannot be pre-determined by the state or a municipality with for example fulfilling certain goals, but it is relational and involves the whole society.

The project aims to foster good demographic relations, to promote diverse cultural and working life and to identify and tackle structural discrimination and racism occurring in different spheres of societal life in Finland. To achieve these goals, the project utilises the Living Lab methodology, where researchers and partners of the research develop solutions to the identified problems.

Mobile Futures is funded by the Strategic Research Council (SRC) established within the Academy of Finland and the principal collaboration partners are the Centre of Expertise in Immigrant Integration (Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment), the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations (ETNO Secretariat), Moniheli ry, and the Multicultural Centre Villa Victor, the City of Oulu.

Finally, how can we as a community and as individuals strive for fairness and inclusiveness in our everyday lives?

There are of course numerous things that should be done, but one very practical thing I think everyone should do is to start thinking about their own prejudices and especially their privileges. When looking at society from a privileged position, the injustice of marginalised people may be invisible. Only once people realise their own privileges, they can start to open to see the injustices that those less privileged are facing.

One way to start thinking about your own privileges is to do a “privilege walk (etuoikeuskävely)” that can be found on the internet. Related to this, people in the privileged positions often like to boost themselves with slogans like:”Only you can change your life” or “You can become anything if you just believe in you”. This kind of rhetoric may be very harmful for people, who for example cannot be cured by just believing or who have to face racial discrimination every day. When you are repeatedly dismissed for example as a job applicant because you don’t have the right kind of a name or you’re wearing a scarf due to your religion, it is not only due to you believing in a society that includes everyone as a significant member.

Therefore, we need to analyse our everyday practices and practices in our society to realise whether they do in fact promote fairness and equity or if it is the opposite. Of course, many practices do not change just like that, but a community is comprised of individuals. As we have seen, the BLM movement and the Me too movement have had major impact in how people discuss sexual harassment and racism.

Also, there are some concrete actions that people can always do to promote equity. For example, the sudden appearance of Ukrainian refugees has clearly shown how racism is persistent in the whole of Europe, including Finland. In 2015, when many refugees came to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, people talked about refugee crisis. Some people welcomed refugees but many didn’t and the asylum seeking centres were attacked. Many of those people who arrived in 2015 are still waiting for a residence permit.

Now, when white, middle-class people are fleeing from Ukraine, the tone is totally different. There is suddenly room for everyone, no one is talking about refugee crisis, or no one is questioning the motives to flee of these refugees. In addition, on the structural level, the Ukrainian refugees and their families are given temporary protection right away. Many children who have fled Afghanistan cannot get protection for their families because of the very strict family reunification protocol in Finland.

As we see, these strict protocols are only applied to racialised refugees. Having said that I definitely do support all the help the states and individual citizens are offering to those fleeing the war in Ukraine. I only hope the same solidarity would reach to all people fleeing war and destruction.

One way to make this a bit more fair is to impact by signing a “Lupa elää” -petition that asks that those who arrived in Finland before 2017 and are still on hold as they have no right to live in Finland, should be granted residence permits:

Iida Kauhanen will be attending the panel discussion of the online event organised by the City of Oulu on Thursday 24 March 2022 at 12-2pm. Link to the event can be found on the City of Oulu website.

Read more about Iida Kauhanen’s research work:

Kauhanen, I, Kaukko, M. Recognition in the lives of unaccompanied children and youth: A review of the key European literature. Child & Family Social Work. 2020; 25: 875– 883.

Other useful links:

Privilege walk

OECD-research: Being black in the EU

Last updated: 23.3.2022