Gender equality commissioner finally appointed
In October 2005, about one and half a year after the ratification of the Gender Equality Act, Minister of Social Affairs finally appointed the gender equality commissioner to the post. The main task of the commissioner is to monitor if the provisions of the Gender Equality Act are followed.
In April 2004, the Estonian parliament ratified a Gender Equality Act, which aims to reduce gender-based discrimination in all areas of life, including the labour market, workplace, education, social security and other spheres (EE0405101N, EE0401103F). Though, according to this act, the institution of the Gender Equality Commissioner should have been created very shortly, this institution was established only on October 2005. The process of establishing this institution was dragged, as it was decided shortly before the final reading of the draft act, that the commissioner should be appointed unilaterally by the Ministry of Social Affairs instead of the social partners’ tripartite agreement. This provision had to be entrained into the Public Service Act and in the State Public Servants’ Official Titles and Salary Scale Act. It took almost a year to ratify the statutes of the institution of Gender Equality Commissioner. After that, it took still half a year to find suitable person for this job.
At the beginning of October the new gender equality commissioner, Margit Sarv, was finally appointed to the post up to five years by the Minister of Social Affairs. The main tasks of the commissioner are:
- to monitor if the provisions of the Gender Equality Act are followed,
- to implement measures to enhance gender equality,
- to express opinion on probable discrimination cases based on personal petitions,
- to analyse the influence of legal environment on men’s and women’s positions in the society and
- to advise the government and local municipalities on the issues of implementing the Gender Equality Act.
Before the commissioner was appointed, the mainstreaming of gender equality was the task of the Ministry of Social Affairs and according to the legislation; the Ministry is responsible for coordinating the activities targeted at eliminating gender inequalities, composing legislation and promoting gender equality. In 1996, the Bureau of Gender Equality was formed at the Ministry (EE0312102F). According to the head of the bureau, Kadi Viik, the majority of the people in Estonia do not approve the discrimination by nationality, but they are used with the gender discrimination.
There have been intensive discussions among the public regarding inequality in the labour market. According to statistics, a woman earns approximately 75% of what their male counterparts earn. There is also a lack of female managers (4% female versus 96% of male managers) and high-ranking government officials. Many employees see the hiring of (young) females as a risky activity, since they might go to the maternity leave. In addition, women do almost all of the housework. Studies show that two-third of women active in the labour market perform all of the homework and only 22% of women share the homework equally with their partner.
However, there are also examples, what contradict to the Gender Equality Act. According to the Parental Benefits Act, only mother can receive parental benefits during the first six months from childbirth. Father can stay at home with child, but he is not eligible to receive benefits.
In the activities of Ministry of Social Affairs the main stress is still on training and raising public awareness in the field of gender equality. The following bigger projects are being launched by the Ministry:
- Supporting women upon making decisions related to the economy.
- The role of the mass media in establishing power relations.
- Training national officials in integrating the gender aspect into activity plans.
- Developing the methodology of assessment of the gender effect.
In August and September 2005, a training of the public sector officials took place. These trainings were carried through in cooperation of the Ministry of Social Affairs and a German state Sachen-Anhalt and their purpose was to raise officials’ knowledge on gender equality issues. Altogether about 300 officials participated in these two-day courses.
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