Estonia should adopt more human rights oriented policies to improve the protection of women and the inclusion of older persons

“To build a more cohesive society, the Estonian authorities should strengthen the protection of women from violence, close the gender pay gap and uphold the rights of older people”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, while releasing today the report on her visit to Estonia in June.

While noting the adoption of legislation and policies, as well as significant progress in the field of gender equality, the Commissioner underscores that more efforts are needed to address persistent gender stereotypes and prejudices about the traditional roles of women and men in society. “The authorities should strengthen efforts to raise awareness about the negative impact of structural inequality between men and women, and support an education system able to promote gender equality throughout the country”, the Commissioner said. The Commissioner further encourages the authorities to take comprehensive measures to tackle the range of factors causing the rather wide gender pay gap.

Violence against women remains a pervasive human rights violation in Estonia. While welcoming Estonia’s adherence to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), the Commissioner recommends pursuing public campaigns against gender based violence and domestic violence and ensuring an effective response from the law enforcement and judicial system. In this regard, the Commissioner recommends continuing to train law enforcement and judicial officials, strengthening legal assistance to victims, and advises establishing teams of specialised prosecutors and judges to handle cases of gender based violence.

Estonia also faces the urgent task of addressing the societal and economic challenges arising from a rapidly aging population, in a way that fully protects the human rights of older persons. The Commissioner encourages the authorities to develop a comprehensive strategy on older persons. In particular, she recommends adopting a stronger legal framework to combat discrimination in all fields of life, ensuring that older persons are aware of their human rights so that they can claim them, and conducting public awareness campaigns to combat prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes about older persons. “I am particularly concerned about the very high rate of poverty among older persons in Estonia. The authorities must ensure that older persons can live in dignity and enjoy their human rights to health, food and an adequate standard of living, including by raising social protection floors, which are currently inadequate”, said the Commissioner.

The Commissioner is also concerned with regard to the availability, organisation, cost and quality of long-term care services for older persons. In order to ensure the autonomy and well-being of these persons, the Commissioner invites the authorities to integrate in their upcoming Action Plan on long-term care a de-institutionalisation approach, which involves increasing home-based services and relocating residents in smaller community-based living arrangements. She further recommends increasing support to informal carers to ensure that their human rights are also respected.

Given Estonia’s strong focus on digitalisation, new technologies and artificial intelligence (AI), the Commissioner urges the authorities to support and empower older persons in the use of information and communications technology, so that they can fully exercise their right to participate in social and public life. As the Estonian authorities move forward with drafting a strategy and legislation on artificial intelligence, careful consideration must be given to the ethical, legal and human rights implications of using robots and AI in the care of older persons.

Lastly, stressing the important contribution of national human rights structures in protecting the rights of citizens, the Commissioner recommends strengthening the independence of the Commissioner for Gender Equality and Equal Treatment and providing that office with sufficient and sustainable resources so that it can effectively fulfil its mandate. She welcomes the recent decision to designate the Chancellor of Justice as the National Human Rights Institution.