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Estonian Human Rights Center slams politicians for overlooking equal treatment

Marianne Meiorg PHOTO: Eesti Inimõiguste Keskus

Despite some positive developments that have taken place in the field of equal treatment in Estonia over the past year, politicians' readiness to deal with the topic remains low, the Estonian Human Rights Center said on Tuesday.

Marianne Meiorg, head of the program for equal treatment at the Estonian Human Rights Center, said during the presentation of the Estonian Human Rights Center's annual report for 2012 on Tuesday that the topic of equal treatment remained high on the agenda in 2012 in the eyes of both the public as well as politicians just like in 2011.

"I can bring the example of women's rights and violence against women, which has a quite high priority in the action plans of the Justice Ministry, for instance, as well as that topics of gender equality were talked about a lot last year, like the topic of gender quotas, under-representation of women in politics, the wage gap -- probably to a big degree thanks to cases handled by the commissioner [on gender equality and equal treatment]," said Meiorg. As examples, she named the case of the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA), where workers returning from parental leave started to get a 10 percent lower salary, and a case at the Foreign Ministry, where the ministry required a higher proficiency level in Estonian from a native Russian-speaking candidate than formally set out in the requirements for the job in question.

Meiorg highlighted as positive the discussion over the cohabitation law that took place last year.

What we aren't seeing more of compared with past years is political will, however, said Meiorg. "One did various things, but they often stopped halfway," she added, naming the halting of progress on the cohabitation law as an example of the latter.

The gender wage gap also received a lot of talk and things even came to the point where an action plan was drawn up for narrowing the gap between the wages of different sexes. "But if we examine that action plan closer, the only measures that we find are soft measures such as analyses and informing, but what we don't find there is measures that perhaps are a bit more radical and have a stronger effect," said Meiorg.

The public meanwhile, according to Meiorg, is ready for greater progress as far as equal treatment goes already for a long time. "In November last year TNS Emor conducted a survey that showed 48 percent of those interviewed as seeing wage gap as a very big problem, which means that residents actually are ready to deal with it and have already acknowledged that it's a problem," she said.

"Just the same, when we speak about Cohabitation Act, a survey by Turu-Uuringute and TTU in September brought out that 46 percent of residents find that same sex couples should be offered the possibility to register [cohabitation] and already 34 percent believed that marriage could be expanded to cover same sex couples," Meiorg said. "As a matter of fact, society has started to move in the direction where one's more open to new developments, but for some reason it hasn't reached the level of top politicians, top officials yet," Meiorg said.

Meiorg described as important sufficient financing of the institution of the commissioner on gender equality and equal treatment. "For [the commissioner] to be able to do her work properly, a bit of extra funding has been received for her from Norwegian monies, which is an extremely fine development from the viewpoint of gender equality," Meiorg said. "The state hasn't increased financing and probably will not increase it in the near future either," she added.

Besides the Estonian Human Rights Center finds the decision of the Ministry of Justice to stop translating Estonian laws into Russian language to be bad from the viewpoint of equal treatment. "It's an extremely deplorable development considering that Russian-speaking population makes up one-third of the whole population and laws are so specific that it's difficult even for Estonians to understand Estonian-language laws," said Meiorg.