Le centre-ville de Tallinn. Crédit Camille Simonet.

Is Estonia an avant-garde country on gender equality

TRANSLATED BY SERVANE JARDIN-BLICQ AND THOMAS SHACKLOCK

Estonia is apparently a very modern country concerning gender equality. But some professional and social inequality is still topical.

Last March 8th we celebrated International Women’s Rights Day. In Estonia, one can think that this struggle has no place. “It’s true that in Estonia I don’t have the impression that it’s something into which we need to enter when it’s the case in many other countries”, says Liis Kuuli, an Estonian first-year student at the University of Tallinn. “I haven’t noticed any particular inequality in the everyday life. But sometimes in a professional field, it happens that men look down on you because you are a woman, but it’s far from being common”, she explains.

According to another young student at the University of Tallinn Kristjan Taal, this particularity could have a link with the history of Estonia. “When Estonia was under the influence of the USSR, women had to do a lot of things without men because they were sometimes mobilized by Russia. They worked in their place and took important decisions. So now, when a man allows himself to make a sexist joke about women – which is in fact rather rare – everyone gives him a funny look”.

Street harassment is not something common

Street harassment, which is more denigrated in Western Europe, seems not so present. “I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to go to France many times. I noticed that street harassment was a big problem there. But it’s not the case here because Estonian men are shyer”, says Liis Kuli to answer this question. It’s the same for Ingrid Hinojosa who is in charge of the international relations: “It doesn’t happen that often in Estonia. It is not really the mentality of Estonian men. They are, quite the contrary, withdrawn, except when they are drunk. But in any case, it never goes very far and is nothing never out of place.”

Chloé Magdelaine, a young French student who just arrived in Tallinn at the end of January, quickly noticed the difference. “In Paris, it’s daily remarks. I have already been followed on my way home and insulted when I refused their advances. Some people don’t hesitate to whistle at you, to make you horrible remarks. But since I arrived in Tallinn, I have been coming back home late quite often and I’ve never been harassed on the street. When I’m in the street, no one ever follows me or gives me creepy looks”.

Domestic violence is a controversial subject in Estonia

During his first speech of independence as president of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid spoke quickly about the problem of domestic violence. “I promise to continue to talk about that as long as there is no change in everyone’s attitude. If people are protected in their home, we are also better protected from road violence and unjustified violence in public areas. I hope that in five years, ignoring such incidents will be unthinkable”.

This speech was deliver in an important day for the history of Estonia, responding to the bill which comes from the Russian Parliament and wants to decriminalize domestic violence in Russia. So, a symbolic moment that signs the engagement of the Estonian President against domestic violence, whose position is still unclear. “There is no real law that makes domestic violence illegal in Estonia. It’s just included in another law about violence against people, with restraining order, temporary or not, as kind of sentence. In fact, by and large, everything that happens in a house is not surveyed. And this lack of clarity from the law doesn’t really help to settle the situation”, confirms Ingrid Hinojosa.

Inequalities are still topical

Equality between men and women has a long way to go. Inequality affects not only the family home, but also the world of work. Estonian women would have a salary 30 to 40% less than a man for the same work.

For Ingrid Hinojosa, the most visible aspect is not the wage gap. “A difference in wages between men and women who have the same work is not necessary, it is just that women tend to get jobs that are paid less than those that men get”. It’s a peculiarity she has observed in her workplace, which is in education. “There are more women than men in the world of education. Now the salary of a professor is quite low”. Estonia still has to make efforts before having effective gender equality.

Banner photo: city center of Tallin. Credit Camille Simonet.

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