Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tarja Halonen

Tarja Kaarina Halonen (born 24 December 1943) is the incumbent President of Finland. The first female to hold the office, Halonen had previously been a member of the parliament from 1979 to 2000 when she resigned after her election to the presidency. In addition to her political career she had a long and extensive career in trade unions and different non-governmental organizations.

Halonen is a graduate of the University of Helsinki, where she studied law from 1963 to 1968. She was active in student politics and served as the Social Affairs Secretary and Organization Secretary of the National Union of Students from 1969 to 1970. In 1971 she joined the Social Democratic Party and worked as a lawyer in the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions until she was elected to parliament in 1979.

Halonen served in the parliament of Finland for six terms, from 1979 to 2000, representing the constituency of Helsinki. She also had a long career in the city council of Helsinki, serving there from 1977 to 1996. She started her campaign for the presidency at the beginning of 1999 after President Martti Ahtisaari announced that he would not stand for a second term in the office. She easily won her party's nomination, and eventually got 40% of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections, and 51.6% in the second, thus defeating the Centre Party's Esko Aho and becoming the 11th president of Finland.

During the time of her presidency she has been extremely popular among Finns: her approval ratings rose and reached a peak of 88% in December 2003. Even though her ratings were so good, she was not re-elected in the first round in the next presidential elections in 2006. She beat National Coalition Party candidate Sauli Niinistö in the second round by 51.8% against 48.2%.

Halonen is widely known for her interest in human rights issues. In 1980–81 Halonen served as the chairman of SETA, the main LGBT rights organization in Finland. During her presidency, she has participated actively in discussion of women's rights and problems of globalization. In 2006, she was mentioned by many sources as a potential candidate for the United Nations Secretary-General selection, but later she stated that she wanted to finish her term as president before thinking about other career options. Halonen is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an International network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development. In 2009, Forbes named her among the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world.

Early Life and Career
Tarja Halonen was born on 24 December 1943 in the district of Kallio which is a traditional working-class area in central Helsinki. Her mother Lyyli Elina Loimola was a set-dresser and her father Vieno Olavi Halonen worked as a welder. Halonen's parents married each other at the beginning of World War II and Tarja was born a few years later. Vieno Halonen was at the frontline and Lyyli Halonen was working in a shoe factory when their daughter was born. After the war the couple decided to get a divorce, and in 1950 Lyyli Halonen married her new husband Thure Forss, who worked as an electrician and was very active in the working-class community.

Both Halonen's mother and her stepfather influenced her world view extensively. Halonen later said that her mother was a true survivor, always an extremely active and resilient person who valued good, honest and modest hardworking people. When she entered politics, Halonen stated that these are also the qualities and attributes she respects in people.

In 1950 she began her studies in Kallio Elementary school from where she later moved to Kallio Gymnasium and finally finished her matriculation examination in 1962. She began to study Art History in the University of Helsinki in 1962 but in autumn 1963 she changed her studies to law, and obtained her Master of Laws degree in 1968 specializing in criminal law.

She began to work as a lawyer, already before obtaining her degree, in a credit surveillance company Luotonvalvonta oy in 1967. After working there for a few years, she was hired by the National Union of University Students in Finland to work as a Social Affairs and General Secretary from 1969 to 1970. Her work in the Union spurred her interest in politics, and in 1970 she obtained a post as a lawyer in the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, being the first female ever to work as a lawyer in the Union.

Personal Life
President Halonen says her interests include art history, the theatre and swimming. Halonen had two cats as of 2005. She says she speaks Finnish, Swedish, and English, and is studying Estonian.

On 26 August 2000, President Halonen married her longtime partner, Dr. Pentti Arajärvi, in a civil ceremony at her official residence, Mäntyniemi, after a relationship of more than fifteen years. Halonen's adult daughter Anna, and Arajärvi's adult son Esko, acted as witnesses.[citation needed] Both children are from previous relationships.

In the 1960s, she left the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, to which the majority of Finns belong, to protest against its policy of taxing church members and its stance against female priests. Today, the church accepts women as priests and Halonen has stated that she has no personal reason not to return to the church but refrains from doing so in order not to give a signal that might be misinterpreted. In the 1990s, Halonen acted as the chairman of Suomen setlementtiliitto, a Christian social work organization.

In 1980–1981 Halonen served as the chairman of SETA (Seksuaalinen Tasavertaisuus RY, Sexual Equality), the main LGBT rights organization in Finland. When she became Minister for Justice in 1990, there were high hopes among SETA members that she would stand up for gay rights. In 2003, a widely publicised incident occurred when member of parliament Tony Halme referred to Tarja Halonen as a lesbian. In a radio interview, Halme referred to his background of growing up "in the streets" and said: "We have a lesbian as president and me as parliamentarian. Everything seems possible." Although Halme intended to refer to social mobility with his comment, it was interpreted as an insult by much of the media. Halonen herself made no comment. Halme later apologized saying he had been misunderstood.

According to her authorized biography published in 2005, Halonen is critical of some unnamed members of the Finnish civil service for being gay or lesbian and not coming out and campaigning for sexual equality. She accused these closeted homosexuals of reaping the benefits of other people's work for sexual equality without contributing themselves.

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