Council of Europe: Estonia must do more to protect women and older people

“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.

Mrs Mijatović’s comments follow the publication of a Council of Europe report looking at the Baltic state.

While noting the adoption of legislation and policies, as well as significant progress in the field of gender equality, the commissioner highlighted the need for more efforts 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,” she said, adding that comprehensive measures need to be taken to tackle the range of factors causing the 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 (the 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.

“I am particularly concerned about the very high rate of poverty among older persons in Estonia,” said Mrs Mijatović. “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.”

Given Estonia’s strong focus on digitalisation, new technologies and artificial intelligence (AI), the commissioner urged 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.