Bright Teen Girl Set to be Prime Minister for a Day in Girls’ Takeover

Katariina Räikkönen, 16, will work alongside Prime Minister Juha Sipilä in this year’s celebration of the International Day of the Girl. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

How do you feel about filling Prime Minister Sipilä’s shoes for the day?

“It’s a very important job and an amazing opportunity. I think I’ll learn a lot and see lots of places, but I also hope that he will learn something from me and that we will learn from each other. He’ll get a better idea of what young people want and what girls want in the world,” says Katariina Räikkönen, 16, from the town of Raisio in south-western Finland.

Katariina takes a sip of her tea. She appears calm and smiles a lot. It’s an early Thursday morning at the end of September, and the cozy café at Hietalahdentori in Helsinki has just opened its doors.  In about two weeks, on October 11, Katariina will be working alongside Prime Minister Juha Sipilä. She’s one of the 13 candidates appointed by Plan International Finland from their children’s board to take up leading positions in organizations, including companies like Finlayson, Kotipizza, Orion and Supercell – and, yes, the Government Palace.

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October 11th will mark seven years since the United Nations adopted International Day of the Girl, first proposed by independent development and humanitarian organization for children’s rights Plan International as part of their “Because I’m a Girl” campaign. It is a day dedicated to promoting girls’ rights and raising awareness about the ongoing societal pressures and expectations that hinder girls from reaching their full potential; whether that be restricted access to education, being discouraged from pursuing high-responsibility career positions, or simply being excluded from decision-making in their wider community and coerced into fixed gender-roles.


“It’s clear that something is wrong because boys are not performing as well as girls in school.”

Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The schedule for Katariina’s takeover is currently being planned but giving speeches is one thing that will be required of her for certain. Katariina, as it happens, is no novice when it comes to speech-making, she was chosen for the role in light of the good impression she made delivering one her speeches. [s[swpm_protected format_protected_msg=”1"]I was giving a speech at an equality event for Suomi 100 [Fin[Finland’s centenary celebrations]front of a few hundred people and one of the employees at Plan had the idea to challenge PM Sipilä to the Girls’ Takeover and he accepted the challenge there and then. We hadn’t decided that it would be me working with him but when he gave his speech, he announced it was going to be me.” Katariina shows her humble Finnish nature by adding that “I think anybody else on the board would have been equally suitable for the job but he’d just seen me give the speech so he decided it would be me.”[/sw[/swpm_protected]

“I think anybody else on the board would have been equally suitable for the job but he’d just seen me give the speech so he decided it would be me.”

[swp[swpm_protected format_protected_msg=”1"]s clear from her refreshing self-belief and driven optimism that Katariina is a good fit for the position. “I really want to work in human rights and children’s rights and make the world a better place,” she says. “But I don’t know yet if I’ll work in politics or for NGOs, I’ll decide later, but maybe! If I can make the best possible change through politics, then I’ll do it.”

When asked to elaborate on what practical things could be done to get closer to accomplishing a more egalitarian society — which might be considered a taxing question for even a fully-fledged politician to answer frankly — she responded with effortless conviction: “All the countries and people in the world should be co-operating more, we should understand that we are equally different from each other all around the world. We need to co-operate more as individuals and as countries. Individuals can make a difference by setting an example for others, it’s really important that adults set a good example for young people through treating everybody with respect, like not being racist etc.”

Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

To many outsiders, Finland is considered a world-renowned haven for commendable levels of gender equality but Katariina does not overlook enduring instances of inequality in her home-country. “I think there’s still a lot to be done. It’s clear that something is wrong because boys are not performing as well as girls in school, I think that’s something that we should be focusing on, like what kind of support we can offer boys to encourage them to do better in school and have more motivation.”

What’s more, she demonstrates an astute awareness and understanding of current affairs beyond the issues that involve her peer group: “It’s also a big problem that we have ‘ministers’ and then we have ‘women ministers’ so if you’re a girl or a woman it surprises people whereas no one says anything if you’re a male minister. The gender pay-gap is another issue. Professions that have more women often pay lower wages and women are still sometimes paid less than men for doing the same job.”

To conclude our interview, I asked Katariina what her personal goals are for this project. “I want to reach as many people as possible, especially girls around the world, I want to make them see that they have the power to make a change. I want to speak for all the girls who are not listened to, that’s maybe my biggest goal.”[/swpm[/swpm_protected]p>Girls’ Takeover is one project (which successfully piloted last year) that has been organised in accordance with this year’s  International Day of the Girl celebrations, where over five hundred girls across sixty countries will be assuming the roles of various leaders including; presidents, head teachers, mayors, business CEOs and more, in an “emphatic statement of their power and potential”.

The event will serve as a mutual mentorship, where the participants can exchange their ideas and knowledge as well as collaboratively work towards making their given field – whether it be public policy, media, business or technology – more porous and accessible to aspiring young women.

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