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Working at Plan has made Secretary General Ossi Heinänen challenge the way he thinks about gender norms 

Publication date 2.11.2023 14.33

Ossi Heinänen first got in touch with organizational activities already during his time as a student. Heinänen had many interests, such as running his own event agency, but when he was working as the Secretary General of a student union, an idea of finding a career in the field of civil society began to take shape. His meaningful and fulfilling work at Plan started in 2012. 

Ossi Heinänen.

Plan currently operates in more than 80 countries. Heinänen says that there is a great need for non-governmental organization and their work in times of crisis and disaster. In order to respond to all crises, much more funding would be needed.

– At the moment, Europe’s attention is understandably focused on Ukraine. The extremely alarming food crisis on the African continent receives very little attention.

The climate crisis hits girls particularly hard

Heinänen says that girls face multiple discrimination. In addition to age and gender, discrimination is often compounded by poverty, disability or being part of a minority group. The idea that girls are not as valuable as boys has been ingrained in people’s minds in certain places over the centuries. 

– Many issues in the climate crisis are gendered, even though you might not think so at first. In developing countries, girls and women are mainly responsible for taking care of the household. When you have to walk further and further away to fetch water, you have less time to be in school or have free time, which everyone should be entitled to as well. Sexual harassment becomes more prevalent. Forced marriages have increased in areas most affected by drought. Families are struggling to make ends meet, and it is easier to revert to old traditions when trying to look after your daughter’s survival.

Climate change also causes conflicts, which contribute to the emergence of refugee camps. Studies show that girls in these camps are in a much more vulnerable position than others. Rapes, abductions and human trafficking are prevalent, and menstrual hygiene is poor.

Girls are part of the solution

Heinänen says that the most important thing we can do for girls in developing countries is to make sure that they can stay in school longer.

– The situation is already good in terms of girls starting school. But when the family needs help with raising siblings, fetching water and other household chores, girls’ school attendance usually suffers.

Education is also key to girls learning how to fight and adapt to climate change.

– We must make sure that the girls’ voice is heard. It would be absurd to ignore half of humanity’s potential when seeking solutions to climate change.

Ossi Heinänen sitting on a sofa.

The organization is making an impact on many levels

As a large organization, Plan can work on many different levels: discussing with governments, but also working at the grassroots level. In the latter, work is often done one discussion at a time. The employees are almost exclusively locals or from local partner organizations. 

Heinänen has positive experiences from Ethiopia, for example, where talking to all the parties involved and telling them about the harms of female genital mutilation has led to this traumatizing procedure to be almost eliminated in several villages and entire regions.

A broader understanding of equality

Heinänen says that his own way of thinking has become more diverse and that his understanding has increased as a result of his work at Plan.

– I feel that I have been brought up in a way that cherishes equality. Still, I have noticed how various gender norms influence my way of thinking without actively thinking about them. This has made me challenge myself in situations where I automatically make a certain assumption.

Heinänen is baffled by the fears expressed particularly by heterosexual white men on various platforms regarding questions of equality and gender diversity, since no one is trying to take anything away from them.

– Trying to identify situations where you make assumptions based on a certain norm and striving to learn from it can go quite a long way.

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