06 November 2014

Interview: Inequality is a lifelong story

Options Magazine Winter 2014/15: An interview with Tarja Halonen, Finland’s first female head of state.

Tarja Halonen © IIASA

Tarja Halonen

How have you been involved in the formation of the Sustainable Development Goals? Why is this process important?

I have been involved in this process since the development of the Millennium Development Goals, and I consider that it is very important that we continue to work for these principles after the implementation of the millennium goals has ended in 2015.

In spite of all of their weaknesses the Millennium Development Goals were important goals, informing the knowledge and expectations that we have regarding sustainable development and a global climate agreement or commitment. To me, the post‑2015 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals are perhaps the most important guarantee for the future of the world.

"Being poor does not mean that you are stupid; it sometimes demands a lot of intelligence to survive if you are poor.It is very important to take these issues seriously and our primary focus should be the empowerment of people."


What is different about the approach of the Alpbach–Laxenburg Group?

We have said many times—and many world leaders agreed at Rio+20—that it is time to stop working in silos. We need a multidimensional approach, where academia, politicians, business, civil society, and also NGOs are involved. This is where the Alpbach–Laxenburg Group is so important. I think that this group is an effort to address that need, and I hope that by bringing together the various areas of society we can address the great social injustices in the world. It is not only the business of scientists what happens in the world. It is not just someone else’s problem: everyone needs to be involved in the process.

How do you hope to see the issues of gender inequality reflected in the group?

In 2012 I was co-chair of a report entitled Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing for the UN Secretary General, as part of my role on the High-level Panel on Global
Sustainability. While compiling this report we noticed that there are a lot of resources that are overused and which cause problems. However, what is underused is human capital.

There are three categories we should focus on: the poor, youth, and women. Of course all of these groups are very important to include. But for women, inequality is a lifelong story that you cannot get rid of.

It is very important to take these issues seriously and implement measures to change the status quo. I have already tried in many ways; and of course the Council of Women World Leaders has already done a lot of work which I am very thankful for. I am also very proud of Michelle Bachelet, current President of Chile and the first Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, who has led work on the empowerment of women at all levels. We need to make an effort to strengthen gender and women’s rights as part of the post-2015 goals.

There are many similar attempts to raise this issue but I hope this group can make it a stronger voice.


Tarja Halonen

Tarja Halonen, Finland’s first female head of state, was the 11th President of the Republic of Finland from 2000 to 2012. She currently serves as Co-Chair of the UN High‑level Panel on Global Sustainability and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders. She is also a member of the high‑level reflection group, the Alpbach–Laxenburg Group.

Text by Philippa Brooks 


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Last edited: 21 November 2014

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Options Winter 2014/2015

Reflecting on inequality

How IIASA is creating positive narratives for the path to sustainable development.

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