Kelly Grossthal

This chapter gives an overview of general developments in equal treatment in Estonia and takes the principles set in the Constitution of Republic of Estonia and the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, according to which no one should be discriminated against because of attributes given or for belonging to a group, as its basis. As the situation of national minorities, LGBTI persons, refugees and asylum seekers as well as protection of rights of children and persons with disabilities in Estonia are discussed more closely in other chapters, this chapter focuses in more detail on gender equality (among other topics).

Political and institutional developments

The period under focus included elections as well as forming of coalitions. In March of 2014 the Social Democratic Party and the Reform Party formed the government. Five women belonged in the composition of the government, with Jürgen Ligi resigning Maris Lauri became the new Minister of Finance – which resulted in a record number of women in the government – six; while there were seven male ministers in the government. The government’s coalition agreement contained several promises in gender equality, for example, the aim of moving towards gender equality in governance of social life, taking steps for reducing the gender wage gap and signing the Istanbul Convention. On 2 December 2014 the then Minister of Justice Andres Anvelt signed the so-called Istanbul Convention or the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence for Estonia. Even though the convention has to be ratified at the Riigikogu, it is an important step towards a more equal society, as it is the most extensive international agreement in this matter.

The parliamentary election took place on 1 March 2015 and 236 women ran as candidates, forming 27% of all candidates. The experts at Estonian Human Rights Centre analysed the parties’ election programmes in the light of human rights’ protection. The topic of promoting tolerance or avoiding discrimination was brought up in one wording or another in election programmes of several parties, but the plans of the Estonian Centre Party, the Reform Party and the Social Democratic Party stood out with the widest discussion on the topic. At the same time the analysis revealed that none of the political parties in Estonia has a comprehensive vision of human rights and promoting a more tolerant society.[1]

24 women were in the Riigikogu after the elections, forming a quarter of members of the parliament. The previous composition of the Riigikogu had 20 women. In April of 2015 the Reform Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica formed government, with only two women belonging to their government. The fact that the coalition agreement contains goals in equal treatment can be considered a positive development. Among the promises there are measures for combining work and family life, there is desire to expand the education and work opportunities for young people with disabilities, there are also plans for creating a “diverse place of work” state recognition badge. In order to reduce the gender pay gap, which is a serious problem in Estonia, the Labour Inspectorate is to be given authority to monitor equal remuneration and wage discrimination.

In late spring of 2015 the public’s attention was drawn to the competition for the office of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner. The equal treatment commissioner is an important institution in human rights’ protection who is and independent and impartial observer of fulfilment of the Equal Treatment Act and the Gender Equality Act. According to the Equal Treatment Act the Commissioner is appointed to office for five years by the minister responsible for the area. In March of 2015 the Ministry of Social Affairs announced a competition for finding the new commissioner. The term of the commissioner was coming to an end at the end of October and Mari-Liis Sepper who had held the office for the past five years decided not to apply for a second term. On 3 July 2015 Margus Tsahkna, the Minister of Social Protection (of the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica) named Liisa-Ly Pakosta from the same political party the commissioner; after which she withdrew from the party. A few days later 13 citizens’ associations sent an address[2] to the Minister of Social Protection, expressing their concern that the competition for the office of the commissioner was not sufficiently transparent and correct.

Electing the commissioner received quite a bit of attention from media. The date of submitting the application to be considered a candidate was focused on, and the absence of clear rules was criticised. On 3 October 2015 Liisa-Ly Pakosta started work as an equal treatment commissioner. As several of the commissioner’s activities in the past few years and the payment cost for the employees hired to carry them out are covered by the Norwegian support, which is about to run out, the new commissioner will have to start addressing the issue of underfunding of the institution. Annual human rights reports of previous years have also drawn attention to the problem of underfunding and recommended the funding of the commissioner is brought into concordance with her tasks. The state has so far not allocated additional funds from the state budget for fulfilling the tasks which were added with the Equal Treatment Act in 2009, and the situation has remained the same.[3]

Legislative developments

In July of 2015 the Ministry of Social Affairs sent for the approval of amendment of the Equal Treatment Act’s legislative intent, which contains three topics:

  1. The Ministry plans to unify protection for all bases and areas of life mentioned in the Equal Treatment Act. At the moment the prohibition of discrimination is wider on the basis of gender, nationality, race or skin colour than on age, disability, sexual orientation and creed or beliefs.
  2. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Estonia has the obligation to create a framework which contains an independent mechanism for application of the convention. The legislative intent requires creating such a monitoring mechanism with the office of the equality commissioner.
  3. There are plans to extent the authority of the commissioner so that she can go to court in her own name or in the name of the victim; at the moment the commissioner can only deliver legally not binding opinions. There’s also the plan to give the commissioner the authority to mediate conciliation between parties of discrimination disputes.

The previous annual human rights report recommended the state guarantee application of the equal treatment principle for all bases of discrimination in the same manner, therefore we have to give credit for the state’s plan to amend the Equal Treatment Act. All three planned amendments are vital in equal treatment and improve the opportunities of various groups to stand up for their rights. Yet the Ministry of Justice did not give legislative intent their approval. The ministry points out that the institution of equality commissioner might not fully correspond with the Paris principles (for example, inclusion of the target group, independent funding, etc.). There is also caution about the proposal allowing the commissioner to participate in court proceedings in her own name by presenting the appeal of the discriminated person.[4] Therefore, due to the comments of Ministry of Justice the draft act amending the Equal Treatment Act will have several differences compared to the legislative intent.

Additionally, the Ministry of Social Affairs sent the act amending the Equal Treatment Act, which intends to add EU citizenship as a basis for discrimination, for approval. This amendment primarily wishes to bring the Equal Treatment Act into concordance with the Directive 2014/54/EU of the European Parliament of the Council in regards to measures, which facilitating the exercise of rights conferred on workers in the context of freedom of movement for workers.

Ministry of Social Affairs had not presented any of the aforementioned amendments to acts of law to the government as of 19 October 2015.

An important development that has to be pointed out is the initiation of drafting of the „Social Security, Inclusion and Equal Opportunities Development Plan for 2016–2023“. The two previous annual human rights reports (in 2012 and 2013) have claimed that Estonia needs to adopt development plans in various sectors for promotion of gender equality and guaranteeing equal opportunities on other bases. These two topics are discussed in the aforementioned development plan. The sub-goal no. 4 focuses on promotion of gender equality and achieving gender equality. Topics such as inequality on labour market, including the pay gap, unequal representation of women and men on decision-making levels, low level of awareness of institutions and of the public are also mentioned. The sub-goal no. 5 focuses on the topic of promotion of the equal treatment principle and valuing diversity; there is desire to change attitudes and customs towards groups of residents that are based on negative prejudices and stereotypes. Yet, at the moment there is no information about the allocated financial means for achieving the sub-goals, but precisely the real existence of resources is the prerequisite for achieving the sub-goals in reality.

In December of 2014 the government approved the white paper of human resources policy of state as the employer,[5] which, for the first time, implements nation-wide personnel management. Equal treatment and promotion of gender equality and diversifying of the employees have an important place in the goals of the paper. One part of image creation for state as an employer is the desire to create interest to work in the public sector for residents whose first language is Russian or another language other than Estonian. In order to achieve that, there are plans to better inform the target groups that are less represented, so that representation of various national groups among employees in the public sector is greater. This is an important advancement in the public sector, especially in the situation where ethnic minorities have been under represented, and the state structures do not mirror the composition of the residents.[6]

Discrimination disputes

A positive fact that is worth mentioning is that the people in Estonia are increasingly more ready to stand up for themselves. The number of labour disputes in jurisdiction of the Labour Inspectorate related to unequal treatment has increased in comparison to the previous years.[7] The applications submitted in 2014 had to do with various bases for discrimination, however, the largest number of applications asked to identify discrimination based on becoming or being a parent.

There were also more applications on discrimination of pregnant women among applications to the equality commissioner. Altogether there were 192 applications to the commissioner in 2014, which was 76 application more than the year before (65% more). The office of the commissioner has also achieved an important breakthrough in ordering payment of discrimination compensation in labour dispute committees and agreements between employers and employees. If in 2013 the compensation payments remained between 1000 and 2000 euros, then in 2014 the lowest compensation payment was 1000 euros and the highest 23,000 euros.[8]

There were few court decisions in the period under observation and there were no important changes to interpreting acts of law. Ordering a larger discrimination compensation payment than the usual practice took place in administrative case no. 3-14-164/38, where Tartu Administrative Court ordered Estonian National Social Insurance Board pay the specialist made redundant from the social insurance board for his age a discrimination compensation in the sum of 8200 euros based on the Equal Treatment Act. The applicant worked at the National Social Insurance Board as a specialist. In November of 2013 the immediate manager of the applicant carried out an evaluation with him and valued the employer’s competence in cooperation to be below expectation. Seven days later a Minister of Social Affairs directive was drawn up eliminating the applicant’s position from the unit of structure. In mid-December 2013 the applicant received a notice of dismissal from his employer and by directive dated in the middle of the same month the applicant was released from employment as of December 31st for redundancy. The court found, among other things, that the National Social Insurance Board discriminated against the applicant by ignoring the provisions of the Equal Treatment Act. In notifying the then 65 year old applicant of the upcoming dismissal, his immediate superior sent him an e-mail, which, among other things, says: “criteria to do with age are certainly not the only basis for the decision, however, they are the main basis for it.” The court detected illegal removal from post. The court also ordered the National Social Insurance Board make a payment in favour of the applicant for three months’ average wages in the sum of 1830 euros and 8200 euros for compensation for non-patrimonial damage. The National Social Insurance Board is to also pay for the 486 euros for the applicant’s procedure expense.[9] This is a remarkable sum for compensation for non-patrimonial damage in a discrimination dispute.

Statistics and surveys

Several surveys were published in the period under observation to do with equal treatment in one way or another. It can generally be concluded that the situation in Estonia in equal treatment has not changed noticeably. There are continuing problems with the pay gap, gender stereotypes and tolerance. The main conclusions of the following surveys have only been brought up to mark more important tendencies in the area.

According to the Social Progress Index Estonia was in the 19th place in the world, and in the 23rd place in 2015. The sequence consisting of 133 states is an alternative to various others to measure development of states and progress mainly based on economic figures. Estonia was in the second place in the category of political freedom in terms of opportunities, however, intolerance of the society is holding back from getting a better result. For example, on a scale measuring tolerance for immigrants, Estonia placed 123rd among 133 states.[10]

Bertlesmann Foundation’s Sustainable Governance Indicators brings out the largest gender pay gap among the OECD countries as Estonia’s weakness. The average income for women is only 62% of the men’s average income, although the level of education is higher for women.[11] In September of 2014 the Ministry of Social Affairs published the gender equality monitoring. One of the biggest positive changes in comparison to the previous, 2009 monitoring is the support to women’s participation in politics by the women. Even though women are welcome in politics, and the support for female leaders has risen, in raising girls it is still expected that they mainly develop skills in cleaning, cooking and looking after themselves. According to the monitoring, 35 percent of men believe that women and men are equal in society; only 15 percent of women think so.[12]

Good practices and noteworthy public discussions

At a time when surveys show a standstill in gender equality in Estonia, a positive trend of women’s activity in raising the topic in social debate can be noted as a positive trend. One visible point of weakness has long been the male-centricity of discussion programmes. Producers of programmes have claimed that in certain areas there are few female opinion leaders. Several acknowledged experts in their field have therefore, as civil initiative, decided to put together a list of expert women, which could be of help to producers if they can’t think of who to invite or places to find suitable female experts.[13]

After a long break Estonia’s 6th Congress of Women gathered on 7 March 2015, which adopted a manifest with five political demands. The manifest demands that as of 2015 the political parties have the obligation to submit so-called striped lists for elections, where male and female candidates are presented intermittently. It was also demanded that both men and women are represented at collegial bodies (neither less than 40%). The congress expects the government of the republic to draw up a gender equality strategic development plan. It was also stated that wage systems should be made transparent to guarantee equal pay for equal work. The manifest of the congress also proposes to legitimize the fathers’ individual right to take parental leave covered by parental benefit.

In the beginning of 2015 the feminist portal www.feministeerium.ee, which values equality, started up. Several opinion pieces and analyses that have appeared there have also been published in several other media publications, thus taking the feminist message to the entire society. The election of the chauvinist of the year initiated by Feministeerium, where the explanations to the nominations for candidates are analysed by the editors and the winner is decided by the public vote at the end of the year, received a lot of attention.

Several undertakings essential to the development of equality were initiated with the equality commissioner. On 28 September 2015 the advisory committee for gender equality assembled for the first time, which aims to advise the commissioner and give council at drawing up of strategic documents of the office of the commissioner.[14] A competence centre was also created with the commissioner in 2015 in order to guarantee promotion of equality of genders and equal treatment with the use of instruments of the European Union Structural Funds. The competence centre provides counselling to ministries, provides information on the topic and offers training in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance for taking gender equality and principles of equal treatment into consideration.[15]

Recommendations 

  • We continue to recommend bringing the funding of the commissioner into concordance with the tasks of the commissioner.
  • Adopt “Social Security, Inclusion and Equal Opportunities Development Plan for 2016–20123” and guarantee that sub-goals no. 4 and 5 are actually implemented by allocating sufficient funds for that end.
  • Adopt amendments to the Equal Treatment Act covered in the annual report, and most importantly unify protection against discrimination on all bases.

[1] Valimisprogrammid inimõiguste valguses [Election programmes in the light of human rights]. Estonian Human Rights Centre. 5.02.2015. Available at: https://humanrights/2015/02/valimisprogrammid-inimoiguste-valguses/.

[2] 13 organisatsiooni ühispöördumine sotsiaalkaitseministri poole [Appeal of 13 organizations to the Minister of Social Protection]. 7.07.2015. Available at: https://humanrights/2015/07/13-organisatsiooni-uhispoordumine-sotsiaalkaitseministri-poole/.

[3] Võrdõigusvoliniku 2014. aasta tegevusaruanne [The 2014 annual report of equality commissioner]. Available at: http://www.vordoigusvolinik.ee/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/SVV-Aastaaruanne-2014.pdf.

[4] Väljatöötamiskavatsuse mittekooskõlastamine [Non-approval of legislative intent]. Ministry of Justice. 3.08.2015 Available at: http://eelnoud.valitsus.ee/main#qgERr2Pa.

[5] Riigi kui tööandja personalipoliitika valge raamat [White Paper on human resourse’s policy of state as employer]. Adopted 02.12.2014. Available at: http://eelnoud.valitsus.ee/main#Z3LppPQm.

[6] Read more on under-representation of ethnical minorities for example in Sergei Ivanov and Raivo Vetik’s research „Etniliste vähemuste esindatus ametnikkonnas: Eesti juhtum“ [representation of ethnical minorities in public sector]. Acta Politica Estica 5/2014.

[7] Letter of Labour Inspectorate and an overview of labour disputes solved regarding inequal treatment at labour dispute committees in 2014 for cooperation partners. 13.03.2015 no. 1.4-1/277-2.

[8] Võrdõigusvoliniku 2014. aasta tegevusaruanne [2014 Annual report of equality commissioner]. Available at: http://www.vordoigusvolinik.ee/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/SVV-Aastaaruanne-2014.pdf.

[9] Court decision no. 3-14-164/38. Available at: https://www.riigiteataja.ee/kohtulahendid/detailid.html?id=146828142.

[10] Thorough tables of Social Progress Index available at: http://www.socialprogressimperative.org/.

[11] The survey is available at: http://www.sgi-network.org/2014/.

[12] Soolise võrdõiguslikkuse monitooring 2013 [Gender Equality Monitoring 2013]. Ministry of Social Affairs. Tallinn 2013. Available at: http://www.sm.ee/sites/default/files/content-editors/Ministeerium_kontaktid/Uuringu_ja_analuusid/Sotsiaalvaldkond/soolise_vordoiguslikkuse_monitooring_2013_uuringuraport_ja_ankeet.pdf.

[13] Ühispöördumine Rahvusringhäälingu poole [Common address to Estonian Public Broadcasting]. 8.03.2015. Available at: http://naised.net/2015/03/08/naistepaeva-uhispoordumine-err-noukogu-ja-juhatuse-poole/.

[14] Täna kogunes esimest korda võrdõigusvoliniku nõukoda [The equality commissioner’s advisory committee gathered today for the first time]. 28.09.2015. Available at: http://www.vordoigusvolinik.ee/2015/09/tana-kogunes-esimest-korda-vordoigusvoliniku-noukoda/.

[15] Kompetentsikeskuse koduleht [the competence centre’s website]. Available at: http://www.vordoigusvolinik.ee/kompetentsikeskus/.

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