What does equal treatment mean?
The principle of equal treatment is based on the concept that all people are equal as regards their rights. The right to equal protection under the law is one of the basic human rights, and this is also affirmed in the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia. The requirement for equal treatment has been introduced to end the restrictions on the rights of historically excluded population groups, and to ensure that everyone has equal rights and opportunities regardless of their identity or origin.
Article 12 of the Constitution states that everyone is equal before the law. No one may be discriminated against on the basis of nationality (ethnic origin), race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other views, property or social status, or on other grounds. The listed characteristics are characteristics of discrimination. A person is protected against discrimination as regards these particular characteristics since it is in association with these characteristics that most discrimination has occurred in society.
The Estonian constitution and laws, and international human rights agreements, determine the characteristics regarding which a person must not be placed in a less favourable situation. Some of these characteristics are those that a person cannot change, such as sex, ethnic origin or disability. Others are those that may change during one’s life, such as views or religion.
In addition to the Constitution, the two most important Estonian laws dealing with the issue of equal treatment are the Gender Equality Act and the Equal Treatment Act.
The Gender Equality Act bans treating a person less favourably due to the fact that he/she is a man/woman. The Act also bans placing persons in less favourable situations due to their being a parent, having family responsibilities or their duty to serve in the defence forces.
The Equal Treatment Act protects persons from unequal treatment due to their nationality (ethnic origin), skin colour, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or views.
The legal protection varies according to the specific characteristic. Whereas discrimination as regards a person’s sex is banned in all aspects of life, then as regards the disabled, for example, the Equal Treatment Act protects a person from unequal treatment only in the workplace and in vocational training.
It is therefore important to understand that the laws on equal treatment do not protect a person from any inequality or injustice that may occur in life.