The Estonian Constitution § 12 states: “Everyone is equal before the law. No one may be discriminated against on the basis of nationality, race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other views, property or social status, or on other grounds.”
In Estonia, there is an independent public official: the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner. The Commissioner provides advice and assistance to people that feel discriminated on the basis of their gender, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or other beliefs, age, disability, sexual orientation, domestic responsibilities, family-related duties, belonging to a trade union or duty to serve in defence. Moreover, the Commissioner actively advocates for equal opportunities and possibilities as well as monitors compliance with the Equal Treatment Act and the Gender Equality Act both in public and private sector.
The Equal Treatment Act entered into force on 1st January 2009 and specifies eight characteristics, discrimination on the grounds of which is regarded as unlawful. These are: nationality (ethnic origin), race, colour, religion or other beliefs, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender.
The purpose of the Gender Equality Act is to ensure equal treatment of men and women as provided for in the Constitution and to promote equality of men and women as a fundamental human right and for the public good in all areas of social life. The Act applies to all areas of social life. It provides for:
- the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of gender in the private and public sectors;
- the obligation of state and local government authorities, educational and research institutions and employers to promote equality between men and women; and
- the right to claim compensation for damage.
The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for the coordination of equal treatment (concerning gender, sexual orientation, age, disability) and the preparation of the respective draft legislation. Gender equality means that equal rights, obligations, opportunities and responsibilities are ensured for men and women to participate in all aspects of social life. The prevention of violence against women is an important prerequisite for achieving equality. The Ministry of Social Affairs designs the appropriate policy for the achievement of gender equality and implements policies that directly promote gender equality.
Since January 2016, the Registered Partnership Act entered into force. A registered partnership contract may be entered into between two natural persons (regardless of their gender), of whom at least one resides in Estonia. However, the Parliament has not passed any implementing legislation, i.e. provisions that specify the implementation of the Registered Partnership Act in everyday life. The NGO Estonian Human Rights Centre helps to ensure the implementation of the Registered Partnership Act. They aremonitoring the overall human rights situation in Estonia and publish bi-annual independent reports. The Centre also coordinates the Estonian Diversity Charter – a voluntary agreement by which a company, NGO or public organisation confirms that they respect human diversity and value the principle of equal treatment among their employees, partners, as well as clients.