The Equality Act in a nutshell
The purpose of the Act on Equality between Women and Men is to prevent gender-based discrimination and promote equality between women and men, as well as to improve the standing of women especially in the workplace. The aim of the Act is to prevent discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression.
The Equality Act generally applies to all societal activities and all areas of life. The Act does not apply to relationships between family members, other private relationships or activities relating to religious practice.
There are three types of regulations in the Equality Act: regulations promoting equality, prohibitions on discrimination and regulations on legal protection and monitoring.
- Regulations promoting equality apply to government authorities, education providers and other communities providing education or teaching, and employers. Government authorities need to assess all their activities from different genders' point of view and create new practices for promoting equality. Equality is also promoted through the use of quotas. At educational institutions and in working life equality is promoted via equality plans, among other things.
- The general prohibition of discrimination defines and prohibits direct and indirect discrimination based on gender. Such discrimination also includes sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, and any orders or instructions to discriminate. Countermeasures, i.e. weakening someone's position because they have invoked their rights, constitute discrimination. The reason for discrimination may also be connected to an individual close to the person, or discrimination may be based on assumption.
Special prohibitions define discriminative actions in working life, at educational institutions, in interest groups and regarding provision of goods and services. The contravening of these bans may demand compensation. The employer and educational institution has the responsibility, when requested, to give a written account of their actions to anyone suspecting that discrimination has taken place.
- Compliance with the Equality Act is overseen by the Ombudsman for Equality and the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal. Among other things, the Ombudsman for Equality provides guidance and advice on applying the Equality Act, such as prohibitions of discrimination and equality planning. The Tribunal can prohibit discriminatory conduct on pain of a fine, and on recommendation of the Ombudsman for Equality it can oblige parties to prepare an equality plan within a set period.
In the last resort, the person suspecting discrimination may bring legal action in the district court. In line with the principle of shared burden of proof, the one suspecting discrimination has a lesser burden of proof. The Criminal Code contains regulations on discriminatory crime, workplace crime and sexual offences.
The Act on Equality between Women and Men (609/1986), otherwise known as the Equality Act, came into force on 1.1.1987, and since then a number of changes to it have been made. The Act was most recently updated in connection with the passing of the new Non-Discrimination Act at the beginning of 2015. At this point, the following changes were made: prohibitions of discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression were added to the Act as well as the responsibility to prevent this kind of discrimination, the gender equality plan requirement was extended to comprehensive schools, regulations regarding employer's gender equality plans and pay survey were made more precise, regulations regarding the independent position of the Ombudsman for Equality were strengthened, and the new National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal was established.
In the Equality Act, the phrase 'gender identity' refers to an individual's experience of their own gender. The phrase 'gender expression' refers to expressing one's gender through clothing, behaviour, or by other means. The anti-discrimination regulations of the Equality Act also apply to discrimination based on the fact that an individual's physical gender-defining characteristics are not unambiguously female or male.