19 March is Minna Canth Day, also known as Equality Day

Will they ever come true in this wretched world?

“Freedom for woman! Freedom of action, freedom of thought! Our spiritual strength is disheartened by the weight of old, stiffened shapes and customs. The impediment of free competition in different fields of society is forcing us to linger in material misery. In this way woman becomes a machine and loses her naturalness, existing only as a mere monkey of others. Life and a meaning of life appear in front of her as a book locked with seven seals.”

THIS is how Finnish writer, journalist and women’s rights advocate Minna Canth (1844–1897) described the social status of women in her article Of Women’s Issue in 1884. Her works, which scandalised contemporaries, are credited with turning the tide against some unfair laws and raising the question of equal rights.

Canth was an enthusiastic spokesman for the improvement of women’s social status, and one of the first women in Finland to have access to education – though she abandoned her studies for marriage. But she passed well beyond the bounds of her status as a woman to become an independent entrepreneur after her husband’s death. She was instrumental in promoting public education and schooling for girls in particular. With her utterance “The women’s issue isn’t just about women, it’s about all mankind,” Canth is a precursor to Hillary Clinton, whose statement from 15 years ago, “Women’s rights are human rights,” still holds true.

Women’s rights were Canth’s pet social issue, but she also strove for the criminalisation of sex buyers, euthanasia, equal pay and poverty reduction. These might sound like the talking points from the last general election, but all were dealt with in Canth’s works. She supported the ideal of equal humanity between men and women as well as between the poor and the rich or the sick and the healthy.

A lot has changed in Finnish society since Minna Canth’s times. Finland is now touted as a beacon of egalitarian social policies. But one thing remains certain: Whether it’s the equality between men and women, straight and gay or “natives” and immigrants, the struggle is not over yet.

“Chanel is for me a symbol of strong women who are not afraid to change the world,” explains Gav. “I see that strength very much in Finnish women. Here women are independent and courageous enough to challenge established concepts of arts and behaviour. I also consider myself a strong woman and I want to be as open-minded as possible. I want to change the world around me and make it more attractive for women,” she continues.

Immediately after her graduation from the Department of Economics at Donetsk University, Gav secretly flew to Moscow. “My parents, who are both academics and have strong personalities, wanted me to work within my career in economics, so I told them I was going to visit my sister in Moscow. Instead, I opened up my first business, a dressmaking atelier. Very soon I was making and designing clothes for fashion events, singers and theatres. It was a very challenging time.”

Gav’s road led her to Eastern Finland by marrying a Finn and settling down in Joensuu. After struggling with language, culture and eventually a divorce, Gav opened her showroom in Helsinki Fashion House.

“I was three years old when I started making dresses for my dolls, when I was 12 I was selling my jewellery to friends at school and family. Now my dream is to design good mass- produced quality bead jewellery that is modern in style and easy to wear. And of course I would also like Anna Gav jewellery to be as well known as Chanel!” Gav concludes with a smile.

Minna Kaattari