1. Introduction

The Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä (JYY) has its own equality guide, which defines the general guidelines for promoting equality in JYY’s activities. Due to the compulsory membership and the heterogeneity of its members, the Student Union has a significant responsibility in promoting equality. There are dozens of different associations operating within JYY that have their own rules and policies that are separate from JYY, even though the operating environment is the same. Recognizing the established habits that prevent equality is crucial to overcoming them. True equality lies in small deeds through which something greater is achieved.

The subject associations, council and hobby groups operating within JYY have a significant role to play in the realisation of an equal student union. For this reason, JYY has compiled a guide for the associations that focuses on concrete issues. The associations can use the guide in their own operations and within their own rules and policies. The guide is not all-inclusive, and it is not the only basis for promoting equality, but it is one of the tools that the associations operating within JYY can use to promote equality.

This guide has been compiled by Karoliina Vainikainen, JYY’s social secretary in 2011, and revised in 2012 by a working group led by Elvi Juvonen to update JYY’s equality plan.

2. Equality

The concept of equality is used quite widely. The term is also often used when talking about equality between people regardless of physical traits. In this guide, the concept of equality is based on legislation and covers only gender equality.

2.1. Equality Act

The objectives of the Equality Act (609/1986) are to prevent discrimination based on gender and to promote equality between women and men. The Equality Act generally applies to all societal activities and all areas of life. The Act does not apply to relationships between family members, other private relationships or activities relating to religious practice. As defined in the Equality Act, if a body, agency or institution exercising public authority has an administrative body, this must comprise an equitable proportion of both women and men. JYY ensures that women and men have equal opportunities, and also takes this principle into account when proposing student representatives to the University’s decision-making bodies. Direct and undirect discrimination based on gender is also prohibited under the Equality Act.

JYY strives to achieve equal opportunities for women and men in the Student Union, at the decision-making, participation and operational levels, both for members and staff.
– JYY’s equality plan 2012

3. Non-discrimination

Non-discrimination laws are rooted in principles of equality, specifically, that individuals should not be treated differently due to personal characteristics. In this guide, non-discrimination is a broader concept than equality, which covers only gender equality.

3.1. Non-discrimination Act

The purpose of the Non-discrimination Act is to promote equality and prevent discrimination. No one may be discriminated against on the basis of age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. The prohibition of discrimination laid down in the Non-discrimination Act is thus wider than in the Equality Act. The Non-discrimination Act applies to JYY particularly as a provider of housing and as a public authority.

JYY strives to create structures for all of its activities so that no personal characteristic will stop individuals from operating within the Student Union, from using the services of the Student Union or from participating in the activities organised by the Student Union.
– JYY’s equality plan 2012

4. Promoting equality in associations

4.1. Current situation

What is the state of equality in your association? It is a good idea to discuss the issue annually, for example, at board meetings, and at the same time map out the situation in the association and determine the corrective actions, if needed. Every association has its own unique characteristics that can contribute significantly to the promotion of equality. One of the cornerstones of a successful association is knowing its members. An equal student community is built on this knowledge, as the needs of different students can be better taken into account in the association. Increasing the number of active members will benefit everyone! Here is some food for thought:

  • What is the gender distribution in your association? What about the board?
  • What kind of members do you have in your association? How are different members taken into account? For example, are students with family, foreign students, persons with reduced mobility, people with different attitudes to alcohol use, or people of different financial backgrounds considered?
  • Have issues related to equality been raised in your association in recent years?
  • How has equality issues been addressed in your association? Who is responsible for them?

Sometimes it may be appropriate to create a survey for members about the state of equality within your association. You can create the survey, for example, in Korppi. Often, surveys provide statistics and figures that do not tell you the whole truth, but help to illustrate the situation and the need for improvement.

Tips for conducting the survey:

4.2. Setting the goals

It is essential that at least active members of an association know what kind of student members the association has, and how different members can feel welcome to the association. Recommendations for action include, for example, planning and conducting meetings and events, selecting representatives, and advertising and information sharing.

Active members should reflect on the specific characteristics of their association’s members and form clear guidelines on how to take into account, for example, people of different ages, gender, sexual and gender minorities, foreigners, students with family, beliefs, special diets, absolutists, socioeconomic backgrounds, disabled persons and health conditions. It is good to know that while an association may not always be able to organise everything for everyone, yet, for example, communication should always respect people from different backgrounds.

A subject association or other association may, like the Student Union, make an equality plan, a policy paper or a statement on equality issues. The most important thing is that the document extends to all operations of the association. The principles of equality should be reflected in all actions. It is also worth remembering that one document does not make the association equal. Its purpose is to highlight certain specific features of the association and thereby support the work of the association in the field of equality.

An example:

Declare your association “free of discrimination”:

4.3. Equal operating and meeting culture

Operating culture

Many of the factors that undermine equality are invisible, indirect and established, and therefore need to be actively addressed. The chairperson of the association has the greatest responsibility for the atmosphere of the association and for the equality and democracy of its operations. In addition to this chapter, it is important for the chairperson and other active members to read carefully JYY’s equality plan.

The division of work and power must be actively addressed. In non-profit organisations, often the person with power does the most work – and if they know how to do something, they will do it. People need to be given opportunities to learn and do new things together. As a result, knowledge and skills are passed on, the association continues to exist, and people gain experience. Active members will also do better if the workload is shared. If necessary, the distribution of work can be monitored and recorded, making it easier to identify problem areas.

The association may choose an equality officer from among its members to ensure that decision-making and operations are equal. The status of equality officer makes it easier to deal with problematic situations.

If the chairperson or, for example, the equality officer discovers that someone is being discriminated against or bullied, it is a good idea to talk about the situation with the persons involved. Even if the discussion feels embarrassing, it usually is worth it. People do not always understand the effects of their own actions, and even small changes can make things easier.

Meeting culture

Team bonding is important for an equal meeting culture. It can be difficult for a person to become involved if others have formed a clique. In addition to bonding, it is important to familiarise people with the association so that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate. In order to participate in decision-making, people need to know how and when.

The purpose of conference technology is to enable democratic and transparent decision-making, which is why it is important to familiarise all active members with the principles of good meeting culture. The chairperson is responsible for the fluency of the discussion: everyone must have the right to speak, everyone must be listened to, people should not talk over each other, people should respect the thoughts of others, no one should be insulted, and indecent language or inside jokes should not be told. A formal meeting is a strange place for many, and people may be scared to speak in the meeting. If free discussion does not work and participants, for example, start talking over each other or only older active members talk, speaking turns must be shared.

When a new person comes to the meeting, you have to be extra careful. It is a good idea for older active members to welcome the newcomer to the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, members will introduce themselves and people are reminded that they can and should always ask if they do not understand something. The chairperson should explain the backgrounds of issues. Other participants may ask speakers to explain things more thoroughly if they suspect that not everyone knows what they are talking about. It is better to explain even the things that seem obvious than to overestimate the participants’ knowledge. A lack of understanding may make people feel like an outsider and it is more difficult to ask questions afterwards. It is a good idea to offer newcomers tasks immediately as it will inspire and engage. After the meeting, newcomers will be thanked for their arrival and welcomed to other events too.

4.4. The diversity of event organising

The principles of equality are visible in the subject association’s events. Events are often targeted to a specific group of people, which may mean that certain groups are pushed outside the event. Of course, it is sometimes justifiable to organise events with a limited audience, but many concrete steps can be taken to make an event more accessible. The whole thing matters. For example, you might want to look at your association’s annual reports and consider whether the association has been successful in organising events on a large scale in recent years. Common and accessible events increase the sense of community and create an atmosphere where it is easier to ask for help when needed.

Tips for organising diverse events

It is advisable to organise events in accessible spaces so that the event is accessible also for persons with reduced mobility. From University’s pages you can find general information about accessibility for students with special needs: https://www.jyu.fi/en/university/accessibility

Attention should also be paid to the nature of the event and to the catering. Not everyone drinks alcohol or eats meat. For example, a non-alcoholic and vegetarian option should always be available when arranging sits. Where appropriate, different ethnic and religious diets should also be considered. Remember to offer non-alcoholics something more than just water.

It is also worth organising events that respect multiculturalism. It is also advisable to communicate about the event in English. Remember, however, that if you promote an event in English, the event itself may not be entirely in Finnish.

It is a good idea to organise different kind of events, as some people do not like parties, others do not like board games, and others would like to attend a child-friendly event. Remember, the whole thing matters! Everything for everyone within resources. Consider the specifics of your own association and find out about the wishes and needs of your members regarding the organisation of events.

Through the Elämäntapaliitto’s HissunKissu project, you will find lots of tips for organising non-alcoholic events. The site also has recipes for non-alcoholic punches.

4.5. Non-discrimination in communication

Many associations have their own mailing lists with the majority of the members, including those who may not be most actively involved in the operations of the association. The messages sent to the mailing list go to them, too, so it is important to consider how things are expressed in the messages so that the association is seen an equal, accessible and inclusive operator. Communication may make things appear different than what they really are. For example, if an association organises a sitsfest offering a non-alcoholic option but forgets to mention it, then the event will not appear as it was intended to be.

Tips for communication

When communicating, it is worth noting that you will not offend another religion, belief, conviction or opinion, on any other characteristic. There are many different opinions within the university community, and one can disagree with them, but one’s right to one’s own opinion should nevertheless be respected. When expressing an opinion, you should concentrate on justifying your own opinion and position, not concentrate on belittling another’s opinion. So, no toilet writing culture for communication!

There are subject associations within the university community whose members tend to be mostly either women or men. In such (subject) associations, one of the stumbling blocks in communication may be the excessive stereotyping of sexual norms. You should also consider how the opposite sex sees the message.

Often the line between indecent and decent talk is thin. For example, party ads can be examples of how humorous advertising can go beyond good taste and even be offensive. It is worth remembering that communication can also reach people who were not originally intended to be reached. For this reason, consider how to advertise, for example, events.

Communication should also be versatile, as it suppresses one-sided perceptions. Communicate about different things. Many associations have their own mailing lists, which are moderated by the association. The moderator should ensure that the messages and ads approved to the list are as versatile as possible. Use a variety of communication channels and remember that not everyone is on Facebook.

Consider carefully what things should be communicated in English, or possibly in other languages. As a guideline, the bigger the issue, and the more foreign members are concerned, the more important it is to translate the message into English.

Websites should also be accessible to everyone. The Finnish Information Society Development Centre (TIEKE) has a guide to accessibility of websites.

4.6. Early intervention

Early intervention means identifying and providing effective support as early, openly and in the best possible cooperation as possible. Early intervention means taking early responsibility of one’s own actions in order to support others. Simply put, early intervention means caring and helping. It is important to remember this principle in associations, especially to those in responsible positions.

In its worst form, neglecting early intervention can even lead to a negative change in the operating culture, making the situation socially acceptable in the community. For example, if an association becomes aware of potential bullying, appropriate measures must be taken immediately to stop the bullying. Otherwise, over time, bullying may even become socially acceptable within the community. Instructions for dealing with bullying can be found in the following chapter.

5. Harassment contact person operations

The Student Union has two harassment contact persons who can help and support students when they encounter sexual harassment or other inappropriate behaviour, such as bullying. If you feel that you have been harassed, bullied, discriminated or otherwise unequally treated, you may wish to contact the harassment contact persons and ask for advice or assistance. The sooner you contact them, the better the chances of tackling the problem.

All discussions with the harassment contact persons are strictly confidential. No action can be taken without the consent of the student in question. The persons’ duty is to advice and support the student in a situation where they may not have the strength or resources to find a solution themselves.

Students’ primary harassment contact persons are JYY’s harassment contact persons. Contact information can be found on JYY’s website. You can also contact your department’s staff, Head of Faculty Administration, Dean or Finnish Student Health Services if you wish.

Harassment contact persons:

More information:

5.1. What is harassment?

Often harassment as a word brings to mind sexual harassment, but in this context, it has expanded to mean any treatment that feels distressing or unwanted. Bullying, discrimination, isolation, belittling or mocking are also harassment. Harassment is a subjective experience linked to a specific context and personal history, and should not be belittled or denied by others. In Finland, both the Equality Act and the Non-discrimination Act prohibit discrimination. Hence, harassment is illegal and should therefore be taken seriously by addressing any harassment situation.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment includes, for example, physical contact, suggestive gestures or expressions, indecent talk, puns and comments. However, harassment is always context and experience related. There is no need to put up with the slightest distressing physical touch. Physical touching may be natural in some situations, but unnatural and distressing in others. Dirty jokes are not for everyone. You should never be ashamed of your own feelings! Often those who have been harassed initially try to downplay their own feelings and explain to themselves that the situation is nothing special, and that they are imaging it worse than it really is. This feeling is natural in itself, but it is worthwhile to confess to yourself that the situation feels uncomfortable. Only then it is possible to move forward.


Unfortunately, bullying can and does happen in universities too. Studies show that bullying is more common in universities than what was thought. According to a higher education student health survey, a quarter of students had been bullied during their studies. Bullying takes many forms, including discrimination, isolation and exclusion. It can also be name-calling, mocking, degrading or belittling the other, or even spreading untrue gossip. Bullying is always bad for both the victim and the society.

In order to address bullying, it is essential to pay attention to the continuity of bullying experiences. According to Maili Pörhölä, up to 20% of higher education students have experienced bullying during their school week. Pörhölä claims that those who are bullied at school are much more likely to come to university than one would expect. Thus, long-term bullying experiences are unfortunately familiar to many. About 50% of those bullied in university had already been bullied at school. Bullying should therefore be addressed so that bullying experiences do not follow to working life.

According to Katja Björklund’s doctoral dissertation, experiences of violence are also more common among university students than what was thought. Up to half of university students have experienced violence. The students reported exposure to multiple forms of violence ranging from mild violence to serious acts of violence and intimidation. Furthermore, experiences of violence had a significant main effect on specific symptoms, for example, alcohol consumption and mental health symptoms. Being exposed to violence is always a very serious matter. In most cases, these situations require both contact with the police and crises support. Violence is not only a personal matter, it must also be addressed by an outsider actor, even if there was a mere suspicion of the use of violence. Ignoring violence is the same as accepting it.

5.2. Consequences of harassment

All kind of harassment is serious. Especially in the long term, harassment affects both the victim and the perpetrator as well as the community where the harassment takes place.

For the victim of harassment, bullying can, for example, cause mental health problems, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, fatigue, internet addiction, lack of social support and the resulting feeling of loneliness, and avoidance behaviour. In the long run, bullying can even change the victim’s self-image so that they begin to build their identity as a victim of harassment. According to Pörhölä, the bully can also experience mental health problems, gambling addiction, alcohol abuse, drug dependency, and have a hard time attaching to student groups.

5.3. Procedure for the person who has been harassed

1. Try to tell the perpetrator clearly and strongly, but politely, that you feel the situation undesirable and uncomfortable, and ask them not to do the same again.

Because harassment is a subjective experience, whether you are the one being harassed or the one harassing. For example, things that you have intended as a compliment can be highly awkward or unwanted by the recipient. By standing up to harassment you can encourage open discussion about what is and what is not acceptable behaviour.

The request to stop harassment should be made clearly but politely and without provocation, like this: “I do not like indecent jokes, please, stop telling them.” If, after the first remark, the perpetrator does not understand they are harassing you, you should repeat the request to ensure that the perpetrator understands that they are behaving inappropriately.

2. If the harassment continues, document everything. Write down every word, message and action you feel harassing. Write down the dates, times, places and other people present. Keep these notes! Also, try to ignore any contact the perpetrator may take.

Because it is easier to deal with cases of harassment when you are able to cite specific events and the time and place. Seeing the situation in writing can also help the perpetrator to handle the incident better.

Write down every disturbing act that has happened. Write down the feelings that the disturbing behaviour caused. Ignore the perpetrator if they try to contact you in any way. Disconnecting during a call can, in some cases, only encourage the perpetrator.

3. Speak to the Student Union’s harassment contact person. You can also contact the Dean of your own department, other university staff or the Finnish Student Health Services.

Because only then your situation can be resolved. Harassment situations can be very burdensome, and the one who has been harassed may not have the resources or strength to act alone. Even if you contact your facility’s staff for support and assistance, it is important that you also inform the Student Union harassment contact persons. It helps us to develop our operations. All discussions with the harassment contact persons are strictly confidential!

It is always worthwhile to investigate harassment situations, as they are bad not only for the victim, but also for the community in which the harassment occurs. Different student communities, such as subject associations, should make clear through their operations that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Remember that you have the right to study without being harassed and discriminated against.

Send an email, call or visit us at Ilokivi. We will most likely be present from 10am to 2pm (except for lunch from 12:00 to 12:30pm).

You can also contact:

5.4. Steps and goals of the harassment contact persons

Investigation of harassment situations is always individual, depending on the nature of the situation and the needs and wishes of the person who has been harassed. However, this is how the procedure generally goes:

  1. The victim of harassment informs the harassment contact persons about harassment.
  2. In most cases, an appointment is made to get a whole picture of the situation. It may also take several appointments to wholly understand the situation.
  3. The focus of the meetings is on the stories and discussions of the victim of harassment. Often just talking about the situation can be helpful. As many appointments can be arranged as needed.
  4. The harassment contact persons offer various options for action. The victim of harassment has the power to decide how to proceed with the situation.

The purpose of JYY’s harassment contact person operations is not to condemn or prosecute anyone. In addition, the Student Union does not have the legal authority to punish, for example, a student who has harassed another student. The responsibility lies with the educational institution, i.e. the University. However, the institution has an obligation to take action to stop the harassment only after becoming aware of the matter. Through JYY’s harassment contact persons, it is possible to cooperate with the University as needed.

The person who has been harassed does not always feel the need to report the harassment. In such cases, the harassment contact persons usually just discuss with the victim. Just talking about the harassment often helps. Providing support through discussions is therefore an important goal in JYY’s harassment contact person operations. However, it should be remembered that the persons are not professionals, and, in serious situations, you should seek help from the Finnish Student Health Services.

6. Sources and links

Björklund K.: Stalking and violence victimization among Finnish university students. Väitöskirja. Helsinki: University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Studies in Psychology 65:2010.

Jyväskylän yliopiston tasa-arvo- ja yhdenvertaisuussuunnitelma vuosille 2010–2012.

Kunttu K., Huttunen, T.: Korkeakouluopiskelijoiden terveystutkimus 2008. Ylioppilaiden terveydenhoitosäätiön tutkimuksia 45, 2009.

Equality Act 8.8.1986/609.

Pörhölä, M. (tulossa). Kiusaaminen opiskeluyhteisössä, ehkäisy ja puuttuminen. Teoksessa Kunttu, K., Komulainen, A., Makkonen, K., & Pynnönen, P. (toim.), Opiskeluterveys ja opiskeluterveydenhuolto. Helsinki: Duodecim.

Vaahtera, Elina. Häirintäyhdyshenkilö opas: Suomen Ylioppilaskuntien Liitto, 2008.

Non-discrimination Act 20.1.2004/21.

JYYn opiskelijan oikeudet (viitattu 8.9.2011) http://jyy.fi/opiskelijanoikeudet

Sisäasianministeriön oikeusyksikön sivusto (viitattu 12.10.2011) http://www.yhdenvertaisuus.fi/

Varpu eli Varhaisen puuttumisen valtakunnallinen hanke (viitattu 12.10.2011) http://groups.stakes.fi/VERK/FI/Varpu/index.htm

Esteetön opiskelu korkea-asteen oppilaitoksissa — ESOK-hanke 2006–2011 http://esok.jyu.fi

Tasa-arvon tietokeskus Minna http://www.minna.fi

Tasa-arvovaltuutettu http://www.tasa-arvo.fi/

Tasa-arvoasiain neuvottelukunta http://www.tane.fi/

Sisäasiainministeriön yhdenvertaisuussivusto http://www.yhdenvertaisuus.fi/