6. Chasing out traditional gender norms, in educational settings and beyond in Estonia

In many ways, the work-life balance and pay transparency policies described in Chapters 4 and 5 come too late – they seek to remedy gender gaps in the labour market after years of social interactions that largely endorse traditional gender roles. For a structural shift towards gender equality, this ex-post approach should be complemented by efforts to chase out social norms that view men and women as fundamentally different and unequal.

Ensuring that men and women living in Estonia take ownership of the imperative to redress gender inequalities appears as a particularly critical goal. EU-wide, Estonia has the lowest share of respondents to survey questions who recognise gender disparities as an issue: only a small majority (54%) report that promoting gender equality is important for them personally, as opposed to 81% on average in many other European OECD countries (Figure 6.1). Levels of agreement of Estonian respondents with the statement that “promoting equality is important to ensure a fair and democratic society” or that it is important “for companies and the economy” are higher. Still these levels are again the lowest of surveyed OECD countries. These levels also reveal that, if the significance of gender equality as an ethical issue is well understood by Estonian citizens, many of them are still not convinced by the idea that levelling the playing field for men and women pays. The economic case for gender equality is made in Chapter 7.

Education is a powerful tool for changing social norms because it contributes to shape the values and attitudes of the next generations (in the case of training carried out in the initial education system), and of the current generations in the case of life-long training. It is therefore critical to mainstream gender equality in educational settings. However, it is also important to engage the public on taking an active role in promoting gender equality outside educational settings, by establishing gender equality as a national priority and embedding it at the core of national policies, an objective that entails embracing gender mainstreaming in both policy making and budgeting (OECD, 2013[2]; OECD, 2015[3]).

The general public should also get better involved in the fight against gender-based violence1 and the norms that fuel it. After exploring options to chase out traditional gender norms in educational settings, this chapter investigates strategies to promote gender equality and trigger social change among Estonian citizens, beyond initial and life-long training.

Although educational settings in OECD countries formally commit to providing equal opportunities for females and males, women are still underrepresented in ICT (information and communication technology) while men are underrepresented in EHW (education, health and welfare), as shown in Chapter 2. There is increasing evidence that these gaps reflect attitudes rather than ability (OECD, 2015[4]), and that the attitudes of students are in turn shaped by deeply ingrained social expectations about the roles of men and women. As an illustration, gender differences in motivation and achievement are nearly non-existent in early childhood and the first school years, but become increasingly apparent afterwards, especially in contexts characterised by high prevalence of traditional gender norms (Evans, Schweingruber and Stevenson, 2002[5]; Hyde, 2005[6]; Bertrand, 2020[7]). Recent research also reveals that girls’ math scores suffer when they grow up in families biased towards sons (Dossi et al., 2021[8]).

The mainstreaming of gender equality in educational settings should transit through ensuring that school staff and instructional materials foster a culture of gender equality. Staff at all levels and in all types of education, including teachers, career counsellors and youth workers, are important starting points for promoting gender equality in education as their attitudes, instructional and counselling practices are known to influence students’ motivation, performance and career choice substantially. Textbooks can also constitute powerful levers of positive social change (OECD, 2015[4]).

However, it seems critical to complement this general approach by a series of more specific actions in schools (from pre-primary education onwards) and life-long training to steer both more women and more men towards EHW and ICT studies and training. Achieving this objective would produce a triple dividend. First, by lessening gender imbalances in EHW and ICT, it would reduce the gender wage gap. Second, greater gender balance in these sectors would also help break down gender stereotypes that consider women as better suited for jobs involving caring, teaching and other socially oriented activities, and men as more suitable for occupations associated with higher-status roles (e.g. science, technology, engineering and mathematics). For instance, as the pre-school years are an age where conceptions of gender roles and stereotypes are often formed (Martin and Ruble, 2004[9]; Martin and Ruble, 2010[10]), rising the share of men among pre-primary teachers well above its current level (less than 4% OECD-wide) would trigger more equal gender norms in the future (OECD, 2019[11]). Third, steering both more females and more males towards EHW and ICT studies and training would allow addressing worrisome labour shortages in these sectors (that are critical for economic and social prosperity). In sum, avoiding that females and males sort into different fields of study and jobs would contribute to create a culture of gender equality while preparing youth and adults for the future of work.

This objective entails training teachers and guidance counsellors on gender equality and reviewing instructional materials to avoid that they perpetuate gender stereotypes.

There is widespread evidence that school staff are gender biased. In particular, the stereotypical view that boys have more developmental resources in mathematics than girls turns out to be pervasive among teachers and guidance counsellors (Lavy and Sand, 2018[12]). This is problematic since research has shown that these beliefs are strongly self-fulfilling (Carlana, 2019[13]). Different channels are at play. One of them is the so-called “stereotype threat” effect by which individuals feel threatened by the possibility that their performance will confirm a negative stereotype about their group abilities (Steele, 1997[14]). By undermining their self-confidence, this perceived threat ultimately does impair their performance. For instance, when asked to study a complex figure and later to reproduce the figure from memory, girls outperform boys if the task is described as testing drawing ability, but they underperform boys if the task is described as testing geometry ability (Huguet, Brunot and Monteil, 2001[15]; Huguet and Régner, 2009[16]). Another channel through with gender stereotypical beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies are through discriminatory teaching practices (Box 6.1). Discrimination in grading has also proven to be widespread and consequential for boys’ and girls’ academic achievements. While girls often score higher than boys on name-blind math tests, primary school teachers award higher scores to boys once presented with recognisable boy and girl names on the same tests (Lavy and Sand, 2018[12]). These biases do not only have short-term consequences. They also impact students’ enrolment in advanced level math courses in high school. Teachers’ biased behaviour at early stage of schooling therefore have long run implications for occupational choices and earnings at adulthood since enrolment in advanced courses in math and science in high school is a prerequisite for post-secondary schooling in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

As in other countries, more needs to be done in Estonia to avoid that the educational system perpetuates traditional gender norms, as reflected by current practice regarding manual training classes in Grades 2 and 3 of primary education. These classes involve two types of activities: traditionally male activities such as woodwork and metalwork, and traditionally female activities such as cooking, sewing and knitting. For practical reasons, this training is organised by dividing the class into two groups of similar size. However, instead of alternating each type of activity across these groups during a similar share of the school year (thereby ensuring that each group is equally exposed to both traditionally male and female activities), the curriculum requires that pupils choose one unique type of activities during the whole school year. This requirement leads to a composition of group by gender, and further entrenchment of gender stereotypes: girls sort into cooking, sewing, and knitting, while boys sort into woodwork and metalwork. The Estonian Commissioner for Gender Equality and Equal Treatment has called for reform of the curriculum that would allow all pupils to attend both types of activities over the course of the school year (Pakosta, 2017[19]) – accordingly, the Ministry of Education and Research is planning to regulate this practice in 2022. Similarly, a recent analysis of educational projects in Estonia financed by the European Structural and Investment Funds revealed that these projects were hardly carried out in a way that promotes gender equality (Sepper, Murasov and Mägi, 2020[20]). As regards career counselling at school for instance, apart from ensuring that boys and girls have equal access to it, implementation of the projects did not focus on avoiding gender-stereotypical counselling. Career counsellors were not encouraged to give both boys and girls a complete overview of potential career choices by, for example, drawing their attention to occupations where their gender is underrepresented.

Despite low awareness on gender equality among university students enrolled in educational and social sciences (Mägi et al., 2016[21]), there is neither pre- nor in-service mandatory training courses on gender equality for Estonian teachers, career counsellors and youth workers. Between 2013 and 2016, two pre-service and one in-service training courses on gender equality were developed, with support from the Mainstreaming Gender Equality and Promoting Work-Life Balance Programme of the Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2009-14 (PRAXIS Center for Policy Studies, 2016[22]). However, due to a lack of subsequent national funding, these courses did not outlive the project’s timeline and thus stopped in 2016.

This situation could be remedied by introducing compulsory pre- and in-service training on gender equality directed at future and incumbent teachers, career counsellors and youth workers. Given that these professionals work with hundreds of pupils in their career, this training should have strong multiplier effects and thus far-reaching positive consequences in terms of propagating a culture of gender equality within society.

Following insights on the type of de-biasing training that works (Chapter 5), this training could inform teachers and career counsellors about:

  • conscious and unconscious bias, notably against girls and women ;

  • the strong self-fulfilling effects of such bias, especially in educational settings;

  • their own bias by means of implicit association tests (IAT).

The latter step appears particularly important. According to recent research, revealing to teachers their stereotypes against a specific group, e.g. immigrants, allows diminishing their propensity to discriminate against pupils stemming from this group when they grade them. Absent this awareness, teachers tend to give lower grades to minority students although they turn out having the same performance as others when participating in standardised blindly-graded tests (Alesina et al., 2018[23]).

On top of equipping teachers, career counsellors and youth workers with the skills to not reproduce and fuel gender stereotypical attitudes and behaviours, the training could also provide guidance on how to embed gender equality throughout the curriculum, as well as on how to more explicitly teach gender equality in the framework of specific school subjects, including sexuality education (OECD, 2020[24]). UNESCO has developed extensive guidelines on how to organise school-based sexuality education so that it not only contributes to reduce unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but also works as a powerful vehicle against gender inequalities, including gender-based violence (UNESCO, 2018[25]). Estonia’s approach to teaching sexuality is often presented as a model (World Health Organization, 2018[26]; Cook, 2019[27]). On top of being the first country of the former Soviet Union to officially introduce school-based sexuality education (it was in 1996), Estonia has also been very successful in averting adolescent pregnancies and STIs, presumably thanks to sexuality education and the concomitant provision of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services throughout the country. Estonia could strengthen its reputation as forerunner in this field by mandating training of teachers in basic and upper secondary education in charge of the subject of personal, social and health education (PSHE) − of which sexuality education is part. This training could follow UNESCO’s international technical guidance and thus induce teachers to put greater emphasis on gender equality through denouncing the many negative effects to individuals, families, and society as a whole, produced by power imbalances in relationships.

UNESCO has repeatedly shown that gender bias is rife in textbooks around the world (UNESCO, 2008[28]; UNESCO, 2015[29]). They represent women as “trapped in the domestic sphere and displaying coquetry, frailty, emotionality and dependence” and portray men as embodying “moral and physical strength, authority and independence” (Brugeilles and Cromer, 2015[30]). As an illustration, in a textbook, a girl is pictured dreaming of her wedding day, while a boy imagines becoming a doctor. In another textbook, students are asked to complete sentences about Mr Thompson, who is in the garage washing his car, and Mrs Thompson, in the kitchen preparing lunch (“she [likes] cooking very much,” they discover).

These accounts are not specific to reading, history, and geography textbooks known to be full of social representations. They also concern mathematics textbooks in which abstract ideas are typically translated into examples drawn from the children’s everyday life in order to make learning easier. As such, mathematics textbooks convey many gender stereotypical representations of society. Gender bias in textbooks is also not specific to developing countries. For instance, a mathematics textbook preparing to the General Certificates of Secondary Education, the main qualifications taken by students at school-leaving age in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, conveyed the belief that women are more likely than men to come up with incorrect answers to mathematics problems (Bloom, 2018[31]). More precisely, on several occasions, pupils were asked in the textbook to identify the answer given to a mathematics problem as incorrect – and to explain why. The incorrect answer appears far more likely to relate to a woman’s name than to a man’s. In the 86 questions where the answer was incorrect, 62% of the incorrect answers were coming from women.

Holding educational publishers responsible for not perpetuating traditional gender norms appears as an important prerequisite towards enhancing girls’ self-confidence and achievements in fields where they are underrepresented, and thus improve their future life chances. In Estonia, Article 20 of the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act deals with the regulation of educational publishers. For their textbooks to be validated and thus join the set of teaching materials among which schools and teachers can freely choose, educational publishers must submit their textbook proposal to the scrutiny of two reviewers. These two reviewers, typically working or retired teachers, are asked by the Ministry of Education and Research to examine whether the textbook’s content complies with a set of requirements detailed in a regulatory document. In particular, the reviewers should confirm that the information contained in the textbook is age appropriate, consistent with the national curriculum, and that it contributes to “the moral, physical and social development of the pupil” (Haridus- ja teadusministeerium, 2016[32]).

However, while avoiding spreading gender stereotypical worldviews is a matter of consideration in the review process of textbook proposals, and the curricula of both basic and upper secondary schools in Estonia define gender equality as a core value, there is no efficient national mechanism to prevent a textbook full of gender stereotypes from reaching children. The review of textbooks could thus be improved by an increased focus on gender equality. To enhance enforcement, the Ministry of Education and Research could publish guidelines to tackle gender bias in instructional materials. In this regard, the guidelines recently issued by Pearson, the British multinational publishing and education company, may serve as a useful source of inspiration (Box 6.2).

EHW is characterised by significant present and upcoming shortfalls in workers. This is especially the case in teaching and long-term care (LTC). OECD-wide, the average age of lower secondary teachers is 44 years old, with more than one-third (35%) being over 50. Combined with an average pension age at 64, these figures imply that education systems will have to renew at least one-third of their teaching workforce in the next 15 years, meaning that governments need to plan ahead to fight against teacher shortages (OECD, 2020[35]). This challenge is particularly acute in Estonia: with a proportion of lower secondary teachers aged 50 or more at 53%, Estonia has one of the fastest ageing teaching workforce (OECD, 2020[36]). Similarly, the LTC workforce, i.e. nurses and personal care workers, is not keeping pace with the growth in the number of older adults who require LTC services (OECD, 2020[37]). The number of LTC workers will need to increase by 60% by 2040 or 13.5 million workers across the OECD to keep the current ratio of carers to elderly people. Estonia is no exception. With 5.5 LTC workers per 100 individuals aged 65 and over in 2016, Estonia performs only slightly better than the OECD average which is characterised by 5 LTC workers per 100 individuals aged 65 over (these figures are expressed in absolute terms, not in full-time equivalents). This is much lower than the ratio that prevails in Finland (8), Sweden (12) or Norway (13).

Labour shortages in teaching and LTC jobs are mainly due to their lack of recognition, and their relatively low wages. In Estonia, the ratio of lower secondary teachers’ actual salaries relative to earnings for tertiary-educated workers is equal to 0.95 (OECD, 2021[38]), which is higher than the OECD average (0.90) but still below 1 and notably lower than the ratio that prevails in Latvia (1.35), Lithuania (1.19) or Finland (0.98). LTC workers also earn much less than those working with similar qualifications in other parts of the health care sector like hospital workers (OECD, 2020[37]). The median hourly wage for LTC workers is one of the lowest in Estonia where it comes close to the minimum wage.

The low status of jobs in teaching and LTC contributes to the gender pay gap in Estonia, in a context where women make up the bulk of teachers and long-term carers. Estonia is one of the three OECD countries with the highest average share of women among teachers in early childhood, primary and secondary education, just behind Lithuania and Latvia (Chapter 2 includes details on OECD PISA scores by boys and girls and educational choices made by young men and women). This average share is equal to nearly 90%, which is 10 percentage points higher than on average in other OECD countries (Panel A of Figure 6.2). The share of women among pre-primary teachers is particularly high (it is the highest of the OECD): only 0.5% of teachers in early childhood education are men. Similarly, while women represent more than 90% of the LTC workforce OECD-wide, this share reaches 100% in Estonia (Panel B of Figure 6.2).

To promote gender equality while addressing present and upcoming labour shortages, it is critical to both retain more females and attract more males in EHW jobs, chief of which by improving the recognition associated to these jobs. Two main policies could help reach this objective.

First, steering more females and more males towards EHW jobs is unlikely to happen without increasing entry wages. Moreover, it is also important to offer better opportunities for career progression through wage structures that reward professional development instead of tenure, for instance through pay rises associated with the successful completion of in-service training offering essential new qualifications. Wage increases exclusively based on tenure may have a demotivating effect since they do not necessarily recognise performance and may even inadvertently advantage weaker staff with fewer employment opportunities elsewhere. Improving teachers’ salaries was one of the goals of the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2014-20 (OECD, 2020[36]). As a result of these efforts, the average teacher salary increased by 59% between 2013 and 2018, which outstripped the national average salary increase. In 2019, the minimum teacher monthly salary was set at EUR 1 250, bringing the average salary to EUR 1 500. The government also provided additional funding to municipalities in order to increase the salaries of teachers in early childhood education and care, which have typically been lower than other teachers’ salaries (OECD, 2019[11]). Consequently, the rise in Estonia in teachers’ satisfaction with the profession between 2013 and 2018 was the highest of OECD countries (OECD, 2020[35]). Despite this significant progress, there is still room for improvement. In 2014, Estonia introduced a new competence-based career structure and teacher certification process. The structure has four career grades – ranging from teacher to master teacher – with each grade based on qualifications, professional competence, and experience. New professional standards for the different grades that focus on inclusive education and digital pedagogy came into effect in 2020. Yet, the overall certification process remains voluntary and does not influence progression on the salary scale, while making it compulsory and consequential for pay would be a prerequisite to enhance the status of jobs in teaching (OECD, 2020[36]). As for advancing pay for long-term care workers, much also remains to be done. It would be critical to increase entry wages for this profession as well, and also better reward skills development, such as the acquisition of more advanced geriatric care and co-ordination care competencies, whose need will keep increasing in the future (OECD, 2020[37]).

Second, attracting and retaining both more females and more males in EHW jobs entails improving working conditions. In Estonia, much progress has been made in this regard in the field of teaching (OECD, 2020[36]). The OECD Education database shows that in 2020, Estonian teachers taught annually for 592 hours at primary level, and 609 hours at lower secondary level, which is significantly below OECD averages (equal to 789 and 713 hours, respectively – https://data.oecd.org/teachers/teaching-hours.htm#indicator-chart). Furthermore, in 2019, teacher-to-student ratios were slightly lower than 13 in Estonia in both primary and secondary school. In contrast, the OECD average was slightly higher than 13 on average: i.e. 13 in secondary education and 14.5 in primary education (https://data.oecd.org/teachers/students-per-teaching-staff.htm#indicator-chart). The heavy workload conducive to physical and mental health risk factors remains an important issue for LTC workers (OECD, 2020[37]). In this context, it seems important to foster greater use of technologies that have enormous potential to support LTC workers, particularly when it comes to improving communication with and monitoring of elderly people in need of care. For instance, in Estonia, the government funded a personal alarm button service that allows elderly people to feel safer at home (it takes an average of 30 minutes for a professional to arrive at a person’s home when needed). But the range of innovative technologies could be further enriched and generalised in the field, from simple and easy to access technologies, such as smartphones, sensors and GPS monitors, to more complex devices such as surveillance and companionship robots or comprehensive technologies such as self-sufficient smart homes (OECD, 2020[37]).

Of course, it is critical to widely communicate on the aforementioned efforts to improve the recognition attached to EHW jobs. It is also essential to do so with a gender lens to give men the extra motivation many need to join these jobs, for instance through the involvement of engaging male role models.2 Different options are possible to implement this communication strategy:

  • A first step is to use media and campaigns directed at the general public. In Estonia, the “Study to Become a Teacher” campaign featured videos of celebrities recalling their memories of school and of teachers explaining why they enjoy their jobs. Advertisement campaigns to change the poor image of LTC have also been implemented in several countries. These campaigns aim to present a positive side of ageing, promote the good aspects of LTC careers and emphasise LTC workers’ key contribution to their society’s well-being.

  • These general awareness raising activities should be complemented by more explicit recruitment campaigns, such as “The Best Job in the World is Vacant” campaign that was conducted between 2012 and 2014 in Norway to bring new workers into ECEC pre-service training (OECD, 2019[40]). These campaigns should pay particular attention to reaching out to potential new recruits, such as newly unemployed individuals and individuals weakly attached to the labour market, since this approach would allow widening the pool of female and male applicants. For instance, Japan introduced basic LTC training courses targeting middle-aged and older workers to prepare themselves to return to work after a long break, and provided support for beginners to take LTC training courses. With this policy, Japan managed to increase the number of LTC workers by 20% between 2011 and 2015 (OECD, 2020[37]).

For these outreach initiatives to be successful, they require strong co-ordination between several stakeholders: governments providing funding for training (which may include financial incentives for targets to enrol), training providers, public employment services, etc. Involving schools at early stages of the curriculum seems equally important, so that pupils can start thinking about their career early on, with full knowledge and thus without misjudging EHW jobs and discarding them from their set of potential career choices. In the United Kingdom, the “Proud to Care” initiative sought to improve the sector’s image by organising networks of Care Ambassadors who visited schools, on top of job centres, to talk about their jobs in a way that contributed to raise these jobs’ profile and elevate the status of workers doing them (OECD, 2020[37]).

Like EHW, ICT is characterised by significant labour shortages. A majority (55%) of EU enterprises that recruited or tried to recruit ICT specialists3 in 2019 had difficulties in filling their vacancies, including in Estonia where this share reaches 60% (Eurostat, 2021[41]). Against this backdrop, it is critical that educational settings intensify their efforts to foster greater interest in ICT careers, notably among women. Indeed, consistent with the observation that women are underrepresented among ICT graduates (Chapter 2), the vast majority of persons employed as ICT specialists are men: men account for about 8 out of every 10 ICT specialists in a majority of EU countries, including Estonia. This objective of steering more boys and more girls towards ICT is all the more important since the demand for ICT specialists should continue to grow: these workers are instrumental in helping employers adapt to the increasingly digital and data-intensive business environment. As an illustration, the number of ICT specialists in the EU grew by more than 50% from 2011 to 2020, over 9 times as high as the increase (5.5%) for total employment (Eurostat, 2021[41]). Estonia is no exception, with ICT being the fastest-growing sector of the country (Lind, 2018[42]).

Teaching digital skills has been considered a national priority in Estonia since the launch of the Tiger Leap programme in 1996 (Box 6.3). This goal was notably embedded in a path breaking initiative called “ProgeTiger” (Box 6.4) that started in 2012, and inspired the Lifelong Learning Strategy 2014-20. Since the mid-2010s, an impressive set of policies have been implemented to fully mainstream the theoretical and applied learning of basic and more advanced digital skills in the Estonian education system, leading the share of primary and lower secondary schools with an elective subject focusing on ICT to reach 77% in 2020/2021, up from 50% in 2015/2016 (Leppik, Haaristo and Mägi, 2017[44]). These policies include:

  • The intensification of pre- and in-service training to help teachers develop their digital skills (OECD, 2020[36]). Against the backdrop of the Education strategy 2021-35, a comprehensive digital competence portal was created (https://digipadevus.ee/). This portal allows informing Estonian teachers about the digital skills they are expected to equip their students with, at different stages of the school curriculum, but also assisting them in acquiring and mastering those skills, notably thanks to 15 teacher training packages devised by the Estonian Education and Youth Board (Harno).

  • Increased funding for ICT equipment in basic and upper-secondary education to help teachers engage with their pupils in computer programming, robotics and 3D graphics.4 Based on EU and government funding, nearly 11 million Euros are being invested over the period 2015-23, in the framework of two programmes: “Klass+” to ensure the dissemination of modern and innovative learning resources and “Smart learning” (Nutikas Õppimine), to ensure high-quality education with digital learning resources. Moreover, in 2021, the Ministry of Education and Research supported schools by distributing a total of 2 800 computers to students in need, via an allocation of 900 000 Euros to the Estonian Union of Child Welfare.

  • A continued effort to develop digital competences from kindergarten onwards (Box 6.4). In the new pre-primary education curriculum issued in 2022, digital skills training is explicitly presented as compulsory, noting that almost all Estonian kindergartens already familiarise children with ICT, including in the framework of device-free children’s games (https://harno.ee/progetiigri-programm). For instance, to teach children the “if…, then…, else…” algorithmic thinking, simple tasks are typically proposed by pre-primary teachers, such as this one: “When I show a red balloon, you clap twice; When I show a yellow balloon, shake your head; When I show you a blue one, jump up twice; Otherwise – raise your hands up”.

To ensure that the improved participation of male and female students in ICT activities translates into more girls choosing ICT careers, one could consider more systematically adopting a gender lens throughout the curriculum, for instance by increasing pupils’ and students’ exposure to female role models working in STEM fields. In France for instance, a one-hour in-school intervention of female scientists in the framework of the L’Oréal Foundation’s programme “For Girls in Science” strongly affected high school students’ perceptions and choice of undergraduate major (Breda et al., 2021[45]). More precisely, the intervention improved students’ understanding of the career paths they can aspire to if they study STEM, helped mitigate some of the stereotypes typically associated with STEM occupations (such as being hard to reconcile with family life), and heightened the perception that these jobs pay better. What is more, the intervention led to a significant increase in the share of girls who enrol in selective and male-dominated STEM undergraduate programs in college. These findings are not specific to France. In Estonia, a recent lab experiment consisted in showing to upper-secondary school students a short video of Kadri-Liis Kusmin, an Estonian software engineer, talking about her struggles to choose a profession when she was graduating (This experiment was conducted in the framework of the partnership between the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs and Kantar Emor referred to in Chapter 5). The results indicate that this brief exposure to the personal story of a female scientist significantly increased girls’ probability to “imagine [themselves] studying or working in ICT”, while it had no impact on boys.

Providing extra attention and support to girls while teaching digital skills in regular curricular instruction would also help increase their currently low participation in ICT hobby groups: while girls were overrepresented among children and youth attending hobby education in “music and art” (71%) during year 2019/2020, they were underrepresented among those enrolled in ICT hobby activities (23%).5

The objective of countering traditional gender norms should go beyond educational settings, through engaging the Estonian public on taking an active role in promoting gender equality, in every aspect of life. Two policies could be implemented in priority to foster this public engagement. First, for the purpose of leading by example, it seems critical to officially establish gender equality as a national priority and thus place it at the core of national policies. This objective implies that Estonia embraces gender mainstreaming in policy making and budgeting by ensuring that, in all areas where gender gaps exist, efforts to close these gaps are exerted by both state and local government authorities and funded in a long-term and sustainable perspective, based on the national budget, rather than exclusively based on external funds aimed at supporting short-term one-off projects. Second, to the extent that violence against women constitutes the most blatant and destructive expression of traditional gender norms, it appears essential to induce every Estonian citizen to stand up against this violence, and thus against the norms that fuel it.

Gender mainstreaming in policy making is currently receiving great attention in Estonia. To improve the ability of the state and local governments to systematically reduce gender inequality at the national and subnational levels, the Ministry of Social Affairs launched in 2022 a project to build institutional capacity for gender mainstreaming, together with the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication. The aim of this initiative is to identify, by 2023, the most efficient (both resource- and outcome-wise) and sustainable approach to co-ordinate, support and implement gender mainstreaming in policy making.

Efforts are also underway to improve gender mainstreaming in budgeting, which involves taking a gender perspective into account in every step of the budgeting process (Box 6.5), and thus achieving equality between women and men by focusing on how public resources are collected and spent (OECD, 2013[2]; OECD, 2015[3]; OECD, 2017[47]; Downes and Nicol, 2020[46]).6 Regarding the way public resources are collected, Estonia took care to design tax policies that provide households’ primary and secondary earner with equal financial incentives to engage in paid work. In particular, Estonia opted for separate rather than joint taxation, which means that the household’s second earner, i.e. the female partner in most cases, does not face disincentives to work. Regarding the way the Estonian national budget is allocated, the switch to activity-based budgeting in 2020 opens the possibility to proceed to this allocation through a gender lens. Indeed, following this reform, the state budget features costs based on the resources needed to implement specific activities and thus achieve specific outcomes, rather than based on a classification of functioning costs, e.g. staff costs − an approach viewed as leading to too strong a disconnect between policy objectives and the budget (Sepper, 2020[48]). More precisely, according to the recent amendments to the State Budget Act (https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/513112019002/consolide) the national budget is now disaggregated into performance areas that are each related to one of Estonia’s strategic development plans. Each performance area is itself divided into one or several “programmes”, i.e. documents that describe the activities, impact assessment and financing scheme targeted at the achievement of a sub-objective of a performance area or of a development plan (Art. 19(5)).

That said, gender budgeting is not yet fully implemented in Estonia. Gender equality is the explicit purpose of only one performance area (and one related “programme”) in the State Budget Strategy (SBF) 2020-23 (Box 6.6). Gender equality is present in some other sections of the SBF, but not in a way that makes it a clear policy goal. For instance, the programme “Children and families” uses the gender gap in employment for parents of young children as one of its indicators. However, the target of closing this gap is not plainly stated, nor are ways and means identified on how to close the gender employment gap among parents.

Estonia could consider transposing the Austrian method to gender budgeting, which is viewed as a best practice example (OECD, 2017[47]). Austria’s Constitution has included gender budgeting as a requirement for all levels of government since 2009. Concretely, this approach entails that each Austrian ministry and supreme state organ defines a maximum of five outcome objectives, including one that aims to achieve gender equality.

Transposing the Austrian method to gender budgeting to the Estonian context could entail enshrining in the State Budget Act the obligation to plan at least one activity explicitly related to tackling a gender gap under each programme included in the budget (an approach that is currently absent) – or to addressing some other inequality in case there are no difference between men and women in the policy area under consideration (Sepper, 2020[48]). This recommendation, made by the Praxis Centre for Policy Studies in the framework of the EU Mutual Learning Programme on Gender Budgeting, would allow giving substance to the guidelines on “horizontal principles” that were issued in 2014 in Estonia. These guidelines require that development plans pay attention to five horizontal themes defined by governmental decree. One of them is the principle of equal opportunities which itself requires equal treatment on four grounds: gender, age, disability and ethnicity. Mandating that each programme in the state budget strategy explicitly sets gender equality as a policy sub-objective (and plans a series of action to achieve it) would ensure that gender equality does not remain an empty concept in Estonia policy making. This legal step could be complemented by advice and support directed at policy makers to ensure enforcement of gender budgeting. For instance, one could widen the responsibilities of the Equality Competence Centre for the Use of the Cohesion Policy Funding (Box 6.7), currently restricted to helping policy makers adopt a gender lens when carrying out European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) programmes and projects, so that these responsibilities also include assistance to policy makers when aiming to mainstream gender in the national budget strategy. Of course, this expansion of responsibilities would necessitate an increase in the resources devoted to the Centre (Sepper, 2020[48]).

Intimate partner violence constitutes one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violation in the world (OECD, 2020[49]; OECD, 2021[50]). More than one in three women worldwide report having experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. And according to UN Women data, 1 in 2 women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family in 2017; while only 1 out of 20 men were killed under similar circumstances (Queisser, 2020[51]).7

Although more needs to be done, progress in combating intimate partner violence has been significant in Estonia (WAVE, 2019[52]; Equal Treatment Network in Estonia, 2021[53]), in each of the three policy areas viewed as critical to remedy and prevent such violence, i.e. victim support, criminalisation of intimate partner violence and its enforcement, and work with perpetrators to avoid recidivism (Queisser, 2020[51]). These achievements have notably been possible thanks to a whole-of-government approach that materialises through the close collaboration of five key stakeholders: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the prosecution authority, and the police.

Yet, awareness of the Estonian public that intimate partner violence is an issue and justifies action against it remains low. While nearly a majority of respondents (59%) in OECD countries that are also part of the EU reported in 2019 being “very willing” or “willing” to intervene when witnessing an incident of intimate partner violence, this was the case of only a small minority of respondents in Estonia (37%) (Figure 6.3). This share that prevails in Estonia is half the one observed in Spain where the government’s mobilisation to avoid that domestic violence be considered a private matter to be resolved within the confines of the home notably translated through more than 1.5 billion Euros spent on the “National Strategy for the Eradication of Violence against Women” during the 2013-16 period (See https://violenciagenero.igualdad.gob.es/planActuacion/estrategiaNacional/docs/Estrategia_Nacional_Ingles.pdf).

Against this backdrop, it appears essential to intensify efforts to induce every Estonian citizen to stand up against gender-based violence (in particular, intimate partner violence), and thus against the norms that fuel it. One way to achieve this objective could be, as it is planned in the violence prevention agreement for years 2021-25, to continue organising yearly awareness-raising events with large media coverage on strategic dates, e.g. on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November). These events should allow not only informing the public about action taken by Estonian authorities to combat gender-based violence, but also clarifying why these policies are undertaken by highlighting their significant returns in terms of social and economic well-being (EIGE, 2014[54]; EIGE, 2021[55]).

It is also important to promote the victim support services and reporting mechanisms at the disposal of the public. This approach would encourage victims, witnesses, as well as (potential) perpetrators to report the violence they undergo, witness, or (intend to) perpetrate, and thus to become a game-changer in the fight against gender-based violence. Estonia meets the Istanbul Convention standards of national women’s helpline service provision (Box 6.8). There is one national women’s helpline in Estonia called Ohvriabi Kriisitelefon (Victim’s Crisis Helpline; tel.: +372 116 006) that the Social Insurance Board Victim’s Support Unit is responsible for running and overseeing. The helpline is free of charge, available 24/7 and provides multilingual support – languages available are Estonian, Russian and English. However, this helpline is not advertised in the framework of regular multilingual awareness-raising campaigns. Moreover, there is no information campaign that regularly reminds (potential) witnesses of the life-saving role they can play by calling emergency numbers whenever they hear or see a person being beaten or violently threatened by a current or former partner. Finally, it is critical to better publicise the hotline maintained by the Social Insurance Board to help (potential) perpetrators of domestic violence avoid (re)taking action (https://sotsiaalkindlustusamet.ee/en/victim-support/support-line).


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← 1. Based on the definitions advanced by the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (OHCHR, 1993[56]) and by the Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe, 2011[57]), gender-based violence includes sexual violence and domestic violence, i.e. violence perpetrated by a current or former partner, or by other family members. Evidence shows that gender-based violence is disproportionately perpetrated against women.

← 2. In some countries, the gender lens has been even more pronounced. In Norway, the Norwegian Men in Health Recruitment Programme was set up to recruit (unemployed) men aged 26-55 to the health and care sector. It entails eight weeks of guided training as health recruits in a regional health institution or health care service. The Programme has been very effective in steering more men towards careers in LTC (OECD, 2020[37]).

← 3. ICT specialists refer to workers who have the ability to develop, operate and maintain ICT systems (and for whom ICT constitute the main part of their job).

← 4. Indeed, according to a survey conducted in Estonia in 2013 among 517 first-year university students in ICT-related curricula, having had concrete (and fun) experience with ICT (through web page design, games and software programming, or computer building) is the “breaking point” most cited by students to explain their interest in ICT. More than one-third (36%) view this direct experience as instrumental, as compared to only 2% who report that “earning a good salary” was the main reason behind their choice (Kori et al., 2015[58]).

← 5. These estimates stem from analysing the entire universe of individuals below 18 who attend public hobby schools, i.e. basic education public schools who offer hobby education after regular curricular instruction as well as local government establishments operating in the area of youth work. See https://www.haridussilm.ee/ee/huviharidus/oppivad-isikud.

← 6. See also the OECD gender budgeting framework (https://www.oecd.org/gov/budgeting/gender-budgeting.htm) and the OECD toolkit for mainstreaming and implementing gender equality (https://www.oecd.org/gender/governance/toolkit/).

← 7. Against this backdrop, the OECD is mobilising against gender-based violence. In February 2020, OECD Ministers and other global leaders joined to discuss how to prevent, address, and eradicate violence against women (OECD, 2020[49]). Moreover, the OECD is undertaking a research project in 2021-22 on: (i) mainstreaming gender-based violence concerns throughout government; (ii) integrated service delivery for survivors; and (iii) improving gender-based violence data collection.

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