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Gender Equality


Gender equality, according to the Gender Equality Act[1], refers to the equal rights, obligations, opportunities and responsibilities of men and women with reference to their professional lives, their acquisition of education and in their participation in other areas of social life.

Gender equality in a general sense refers to a situation in which all members of society are free to develop their capabilities and make choices that are not limited by traditional gender roles and stereotypes, nor the hierarchical relations of power between men and women.

Gender equality in a narrower sense refers to an area of policy that is attempting to balance the social relations (incl. relations of power) between two of the largest social groups – men and women.


Gender equality is a matter of human rights, public welfare and democracy. Under the contemporary concept of human rights, the gendered stratification of society is not only viewed as a hindrance to human development but as a breach of human rights as well. One of the presuppositions of economic and democratic development is that all individuals have to have equal opportunities to function successfully within societies.



Although an equal amount of boys and girls go through preschool and commence their further studies in the public education system, considerable differences appear in their further educational performance: more boys drop out of elementary schools, vocational and professional choices after both elementary and high-schools vary according to gender, and a large gender gap in higher education prevails (to men’s disadvantage). Even though the undereducated part of the population is predominantly made up of men (women are generally better educated), women are still at a disadvantage in the labour market and face many obstacles in attaining leadership positions in addition to economic independence. 

The rigid gender system, low awareness of both the principles of equal treatment and the intentions behind promoting gender equality have contributed to the development of a situation where prejudices along with conservative and gender-stereotyped expectations on what is considered gender-appropriate behaviour, influence the decisions and choices of boys and girls (and men and women alike) not only in the field of education, but lead to differences in their socio-economic status and general well-being in their later lives as well.

As a result of the inability to notice and analyse the gender stratification that prevails in a scientific manner (with reference to social sciences), it is often considered a “natural” outcome of choices. Both pedagogues and leaders in the field of education hold a strong belief that gender, gender differences, social relations between genders, gender roles, and patterns of behaviour are biologically predetermined [3]. The majority of them have not received any training concerning gender equality as part of their education and preparation processes, neither has corresponding special literature been translated into Estonian. While the curriculum for those studying to become teachers does foresee the study of the physical gender-specificities of children and adolescents, none of that includes knowledge on how to recognize various factors that contribute to the development of the gender identity of youngsters and most importantly, how to take those factors into account and critically assess them.

Although gender equality has been referenced as one of the founding principles in forming the education-related policy for elementary and high-schools, it is still widely unrecognized as an analytical category in various studies in the field of education. Studies that have been conducted in Estonia show that stereotypical gender roles are being reproduced and determined not only through the attitudes and expectations of teachers and leaders in the field [4], but by curricula and study-materials along with shadow-curricula [5]

Education and upbringing both influence a person’s identity, values, convictions, attitudes and the understanding of how society functions (incl. how gender roles function within society) which all influence vocational and career choices. These in turn preserve the segregation on the labour market which consecutively impacts the gender pay gap. 

In addition to theoretical approaches in the analysis and resolution of problems surrounding gender inequality, teachers and leaders in education need additional skills and expertise to take notice of the factors that influence the development of students’ gender identities through everyday interactions (incl. knowledge on the structures that produce gender inequality and how to correct them). 

Liberation of the seeming gender neutrality, knowledge on the paradigms of gender studies, integration of various aspects of gender into higher education and other fields (e.g. social sciences, law, economics, public administration) would further support making more knowledge-based decisions among specialists, leaders, policy-shapers and policy employers (both present and future) and would raise general awareness of the importance of gender equality to the society at large.

Professional life [6]

The horizontal segregation of the labour market 

The current situation in the labour market reflects precisely the stereotype-based decisions among members of society. Seeing as men and women are engaged in different fields of activity, we can safely conclude that clear women’s jobs and men’s jobs have developed (horizontal segregation). Women are the majority in fields that are considered important but which are not highly valued (social affairs, healthcare, and education). Men dominate in fields such as construction, energetics, and transport. The negative side of this came into full effect during the economic recession that began in 2008 when the general employment rate started decreasing - more men lost their jobs than women since the recession had the strongest impact on fields in which men were and are overrepresented. 

From the standpoint of gender equality, many other problems are associated with a horizontally segregated labour market. For example, common beliefs on what are women’s jobs and what are men’s jobs limit the self-actualization of men and women alike. This in turn indicates that society is losing a number of talents in various fields because the true potential of its members is not being utilized [7]. The clear understanding of what job a man or a woman should and should not have influences the choices of future generations as well and in addition to limiting their career choices, sets limits on employers in trying to find highly qualified and educated labour. 

The vertical segregation of the labour market

Men and women have not only applied themselves in different fields of activities, but in different occupations and levels as well (vertical segregation). According to data from 2012, 32.7% [8] of executives in Estonia were women. The proportion of women in executive roles in the largest quoted companies was 20% and the proportion of women in highest decision bodies (supervisory boards or board of directors) was a meagre 8% [9]. None of the presidents of either executive boards or highest decision-making bodies were women[10]

Causes for this have to be looked for among general stereotyped attitudes. According to the 2009 Gender Equality Monitoring, only 50% of Estonians agreed with the statement that the inclusion of women to leadership positions would be beneficial to organizations. More than a third of the respondents (38%) completely disagreed with that statement [11]. At the same time, the Monitoring demonstrated that in cases where people had had positive experiences with women in leadership positions, they were much more positively inclined to the notion of including women to leadership positions [12]. We may conclude thatincreasing the number of women among top executives is a crucial step in the gradual improvement of all women’s career opportunities. 

Problems between balancing professional and private lives may also be considered as hindrances to women’s ability to move upward on the career-ladder in addition to achieving a better balance between men and women in decision-making positions. As a result of problems accompanying the balancing of professional and private lives, employers often view women as unsure of themselves and as less dedicated workers. The lack of role models for women and a lack of mentoring programmes (even the lack of experience people have with women in leadership positions) do not influence the opportunities that are being presented to women in the labour market in a positive manner.

Pay gap 

The horizontal and vertical segregation of the labour market is one of the many reasons why the gender pay gap is so high in Estonia (27.7% in 2010, 27.3 in 2011)[13].

An extensive study of the nature, extent and reasons for the gender pay gap was commissioned by the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs in the years 2009-2010 within the framework of the European Social Fund programme “Promotion of Gender Equality 2008-2010”[14]. The study was carried out by two independent research centres, Praxis and CENTAR, who, besides studying the nature of the gender pay gap, made policy recommendations on how and with what means to proceed when attempting to reduce the gender pay gap. The study showed that, taking real wages as the basis, the general gender pay gap between the years 2000 and 2008 was on average 28.6%, with the unexplained wage difference forming approximately 85% of this figure. According to the same survey, between 2000–2008, both the general and the unexplained pay gap increased. 

According to the results of the survey, the Estonian gender pay gap itself is a result of many different problems and numerous interrelated aspects affect it. Such aspects include general prevailing attitudes and stereotypes in society, the level of knowledge of policy makers regarding gender equality and its mainstreaming, women’s career breaks, the possibilities offered to balance work and family life and the gender segregation in the labour market.

Parents’ employment[15] 

Gender disparities manifest themselves in the general employment rate as well – according to Eurostat, the employment rate of men in the age group 20-64 was 73.5% in and that of women was 67.6%. 

There are noteworthy differences in the participation in the labour market between men and women with children under the age of 3 as well. According to Statistics Estonia, the employment rate of women with small children was 45-55% between 2000 and 2009. Only 27% of women (compared to 84% of men) whose household included children under 3 years of age were employed in 2010. The percentage of employment among women was remarkably higher (75%) in households which included children between the ages of 3-6[16]

One of the forms of flexible work arrangements is part-time work. In comparison to men, women work part-time more often and the difference is especially striking in households with children under the age of 2. 54%[17] of women who work part-time have reported the need to participate in some form of care work as the reason for doing so. Additionally, women have cut working hours and taken days off to take care of children remarkably more often than men. 

The described differences are mostly contingent upon the unequal division of care burdens between women and men, partly by shortages of affordable and high-quality childcare possibilities, and partly by inadequate possibilities (offered by the employers) to reconcile work, family, and private life.

The above mentioned problems influence not only employment rates but the opportunities for men and women to take part in society as well as their ability to achieve complete self-fulfilment. Therefore, as a result of perceiving childcare as solely a woman’s job, women experience longer career-breaks which have a negative impact on their future careers opportunities and choices.

Policy formulation and enforcement

According to the Gender Equality Act, all state and local government agencies are required to promote gender equality systematically and purposefully. Their duty is to change the conditions and circumstances that hinder the achievement of gender equality. While planning, implementing and assessing national, regional and institutional strategies, policies, and action plans, these agencies have to take into account the different needs and social statuses of men and women and consider how different measures affect the situation of men and women. 

In December 2012 the Government of Estonia adopted a new methodology for impact analysis which foresees an obligation to officials who are actively involved in formulating policies, developing area-specific development plans, taking officials stances in matters concerning the EU or the adoption of EU laws to perform an impact analysis of draft legislation. The objective of the methodology is to improve and unify the capabilities of various government offices in the process of developing and implementing government policies. The methodology foresees a social and demographic impact-analysis which includes gender equality (potential impact on men and women and the power-relations between the two). 

The low awareness of government officials on the various manifestations and effects of the principles and strategies of the promotion of gender equality as well as a lack of other related competencies, inhibit the efficient enforcement of laws and procedures as well as the full promotion of gender equality. 

To change this, it would be of utmost importance to provide those employed in the public sector as well as those involved with the formulation and enforcement of various laws with much needed additional knowledge and skills, as well as advice, in order to support them in the processes of policy formulation and enforcement.


[1] The Gender Equality Act is available in English at:
[2] Civil society has been the most active in the promotion of gender equality in the Estonian educational system. For examples (in Estonian) refer to activities by the Estonian Women’s Studies and Resource Centre (ENUT):; Activities (in Estonian) by the Estonian Women’s Association Roundtable (EWAR):
[3] Students – or boys and girls? A study into the readiness of Estonian teachers and educationalist for gender sensitive teaching and upbringing (in Estonian). Collection of articles. Edited by Ü.-M. Papp. EWAR. Tallinn 2012. p 111. Downloaded at: (PDF)
[4] Students – or boys and girls? A study into the preparedness of Estonian teachers and educationalist for gender sensitive teaching and upbringing. Collection of articles (in Estonian). Edited by Ü.-M. Papp. EWAR. Tallinn 2012. p 111. Available at: (PDF)
[5] Gender roles in study materials. University of Tartu (2002) (in Estonian). Available at: (PDF) (14.01.2010)
[6] Multiple activities have been conducted to promote gender equality in professional lives. Examples include: “Women to the top”; EU Transition Facility 2006 programme project “Equality between Men and Women - Principle and Goal for Effective and Sustainable Enterprises” (in Estonian); the Estonian ESF programme “Promotion of Gender Equality in 2008–2010” (in Estonian) and the ESF programme “Promotion of Gender Equality 2011-2013”
[7] Järviste, L, “Gender Equality and Inequality: Attitudes and Situation in Estonia in 2009”, Policy analysis series of the Ministry of Social Affairs, 3/2010 ENG, p 5, available at: (PDF)
[8] Statistics Estonia, Estonian Labour Force Survey
[9] Data by the European Commission, available at
[10] The first female president of an executive board will begin her term on May 15, 2013. More information available at:
[11] Järviste, L, “Gender Equality and Inequality: Attitudes and Situation in Estonia in 2009”, Policy analysis series of the Ministry of Social Affairs, 3/2010 ENG, p 8, available at: (PDF)
[12] Ibid, p 10
[13] The average in the European Union in 2011 was 16.2 %. Information available at:
[14] Articles about empirical analysis and policy recommendations parts of this survey are available in English at: (PDF) and (PDF)
[15] We recommend reading the Development plan for Children and Families (in Estonian):
[16] Krusell, S. Reconciling work and family life as a task for women?, in Statistics Estonia publication “Man`s Home is the World, Woman`s World is Her Home”, Tallinn 2011, p 74, available at:
[17] Krusell, S. Reconciling work and family life as a task for women?, in Statistics Estonia publication “Man`s Home is the World, Woman`s World is Her Home”, Tallinn 2011, p 68, available at:
[18] A number of activities have been carried out to promote gender mainstreaming in Estonia. Examples include: a Phare Twinning Project “Development of Administrative Capacity of National Authorities in the Field of Gender Mainstreaming,” implemented in 2004-2005 between German and Estonian partners; “Gender Impact Assessment as a Core Measure for Gender Mainstreaming”; (PDF) “Gender mainstreaming Strategy. A manual” (PDF) “Gender Equality Act. Commented edition” (PDF) “Equality for local development: gender mainstreaming in municipalities”; project “Mainstreaming gender perspective into state budget” and the manual that was published in the same framework “State budget for men and women. Need-based budgeting in the public sector” (PDF)

Viimati uuendatud: 11. Veebruar 2015