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In nature, everyone is equal: Finnish Forest Administration embraces gender-neutral language

Youths jump into the sea on a hot summer's day, in Vaasa, Finland, July 19, 2018.
Youths jump into the sea on a hot summer's day, in Vaasa, Finland, July 19, 2018. Copyright Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva via AP
Copyright Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva via AP
By Paula Hotti
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The updated term seeks to emphasise the inclusive ethos that lies at the heart of Finland's efforts to promote equality in all areas of life.

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Freedom to roam is part of everyday life in Nordic countries, where foraging, relaxing and exercising in nature is a widely popular leisure activity.

Now, the state-owned Finnish Forest Administration (Metsähallitus) has changed the term describing the freedom to roam from ‘jokamiehenoikeudet’ (everyman's right) to ‘jokaisenoikeudet’ (everyone's right) to highlight their commitment to foster equality in nature.

"Words affect the way we think, and with our communications, we wish to promote equality," Liina Aulin, the communications director from the Finnish Forest Administration, told Euronews.

The Forest Administration governs Finland’s forests and waters, which cover a third of the country and are used by millions yearly.

"This is why we see that we have an opportunity to show example and encourage other organisations to use ‘jokaisenoikeus’ in their communications," Aulin added.

A Finnish way of life

Freedom to roam was first defined in Finland’s law books in 1920 when a berry picker Ilma Lindgren won a court case against a local landowner in the Saimaa Lakeland region with the word everyman’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 everyone’s rights gives nature lovers immense freedom to roam – but comes with responsibilities, primarily to respect nature, other people and property.

To put it simply, everyone is allowed to walk, cycle, or horseback ride freely as well as camp out temporarily, except very near homes and other private buildings.

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

Finns can also use boats, swim or bathe in inland waters and the sea while winter activities including 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 as positive by Fatim Diarra, a member of parliament and chairperson of the feminist association of Finland.

"It is a better term to describe something that runs very deeply in us Finns. Nature is for everyone. This is a great way to put it into words and more descriptive of the Finns’ attitudes toward nature," she said.

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

The only bad feedback she's heard, she said, has been on social media. "I noticed shouting from the conservative right-wing people saying that everything is ruined. But other than that also many men have said that this is a good change.

"Nature doesn't care about people's gender," Diarra said.

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Aki Kuitunen, a father of two who enjoys picking bilberries with his family, is among the men who have embraced the change, believing that it will advance equality. 

"The change in the term affects the way we speak, and our speech becomes our values, which in turn become our actions," Kuitunen said.

The layered rollout

While the gender-neutral term has already been employed by some companies and organisations in Finland, the Finnish Forest Administration's recent announcement further reinforces the shift toward gender-neutral language in government communication, aligning with recommendations from the Council of Europe.

The implementation of the new term in the Finnish Forest Administration's digital channels has been swift, but it will take some years for the new term to appear in physical signposts.

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"The terms on signs, info boards, and printed materials will be changed in due course when their renewal is timely, thus avoiding additional costs caused by the change," Aulin said.

Meanwhile, there is little need to adapt the term to the other two commonly used languages as ‘everyman’s right’ is already used in the Finnish Forest Administration’s English communications. Similarly, in Swedish, Finland's second language, the term ‘allemansrätt’ includes a passive form, which encompasses people in general, and is not being altered to a more gender-neutral expression.

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