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Finns Elect First Female President

Tarja Halonen was elected President of Finland in early February. She will become Finland's first female head of state.

"In 2005, Finns will celebrate 100 years of women's voting rights, and I think it's great and fitting that then we'll have a woman president," Halonen said. Finland was one of the first countries in the world where women won the right to vote.

Halonen, a former trade union lawyer, is known for her down-to-earth style and her keen sense of justice. She served as foreign minister since 1995, and was a member of the Helsinki City Council for 20 years.

Some pundits predicted that Halonen's left-wing tendencies and untraditional lifestyle would work against her, but they were wrong. She is divorced and lives with her longtime boyfriend, who will be moving with her to the presidential residence. Currently she lives in the worker's part of Helsinki where she grew up.

Other departures with tradition: Halonen left the Evangelical Lutheran Church to which 85% of Finns belong in part to protest its negative stand against female priests. She supports minority rights groups and has headed Finland's Gay Association. She begins her six-year term on March 1. (The Independent, Feb 6)

Female Prison Population Doubles

The female prison population has doubled in the US during the '90s, growing far faster than the male prison population, according to a study commissioned by Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

The study found that most female prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, that most are mothers who are kept far from their children, and that female prisoners are more likely to suffer from HIV infection and mental illness than male prisoners. Sexual assault and rape by prison staff against female prisoners continues unabated, the study confirmed.

Incarceration of females for violent crimes in state prisons has decreased from 49% to 28% from 1979 to 1997. Property crimes decreased from 37% to 27% during the same period. Most women in prison are there for nonviolent drug-related crimes, because of their drug addiction or because they sold drugs.

Norton said at a news conference that the female prison population has long and unfairly stood in the shadow of the growing male prison population. She plans to introduce three bills to improve conditions for women prisoners, including one bill that would allow sentencing alternatives in the federal system. (Washington Post, Feb 1)

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