Gender Wage Gap in EstoniaAlthough Estonia is known for its technological advancements and commitment to gender equality, the gender wage gap in Estonia is a persistent issue. In 2021, the highest gender pay gap in the EU was recorded in Estonia with the average gross hourly earnings of men being 20.5% higher than those of women.

In 2022, the gender wage gap in Estonia increased to 21.1% and, despite numerous efforts to address the issue, women in Estonia continue to earn less than their male counterparts for equivalent work. As women are 38% more likely to live in poverty than men, addressing the gender wage gap is crucial for fighting poverty. In fact, closing the gender wage gap can cut the poverty rates of working women in half, and this can create a more stable economic environment for Estonian families.

Causes of the Gender Wage Gap

Multiple factors contribute to the gender wage gap in Estonia. One major factor is occupational segregation, with women being more likely to work in lower-paying sectors such as education, health care and social services. The undervaluation of these traditionally female-dominated fields perpetuates the wage disparity. Additionally, women often face challenges in career advancement, encountering barriers such as limited access to higher-ranking positions or being disproportionately affected by breaks in employment due to family obligations.

Societal attitudes and biases also play a role in perpetuating the wage gap. Deep-rooted gender stereotypes and unconscious biases often result in unequal pay negotiations and hinder the recognition of women’s contributions in the workplace. These biases can also influence hiring decisions and career progression opportunities, further exacerbating the wage disparity.

Efforts to Address the Gender Wage Gap

Estonia has implemented various measures to tackle the gender wage gap and promote equal pay. The Estonian Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner’s Office has been instrumental in raising awareness about the issue and advocating for change.

In 2016, Estonia established the Welfare Development Plan for 2016-2023, which strives to assist employers in implementing equal pay policies. The standard provides guidelines for assessing and addressing the economic independence of men and women and pay gaps within organizations, emphasizing the importance of fair compensation based on skills, responsibilities and qualifications rather than gender. The plan intends to implement various measures from raising awareness to legislative initiatives.

Other Measures

Firstly, fostering a culture of pay transparency helps unveil wage disparities and encourages employers to rectify them. Estonia has taken steps to improve pay transparency, with requirements for employers to provide annual reports on the wages of men and women under the 2008 Equal Treatment Act and the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner’s Office. The culture of pay transparency promotes fairness and equity while encouraging accountability for employers’ pay practices.

Promoting women’s representation in leadership positions is another crucial step toward reducing the wage gap. Estonia’s new government has set a milestone for women as the country is one of 10 in the world with a female head of state. Furthermore, women hold 49% of the leadership positions in Estonia, representing the second-highest percentage in the EU. Encouraging gender diversity on corporate boards and implementing policies that support women’s career progression can dismantle the barriers hindering their advancement.

Furthermore, Estonia has one of the most affordable full-time childcare systems that cost less than €20 a week. Investing in affordable childcare and implementing family-friendly policies alleviates the burden on women, enabling them to balance work and family responsibilities more effectively.

Equality for All

Although the government has made strides in addressing the gender wage gap in Estonia, there appears to be room for more efforts. Recognizing and confronting the systemic and cultural factors that contribute to the disparity could play a vital role. And ongoing trends suggest that reforms in pay transparency, promoting women’s leadership and implementing family-friendly policies are some of the measures that pave the way for true pay equity, ensuring that all individuals, regardless of gender, receive fair compensation for their work.

– Valentin Lyazov
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in EstoniaThe small, Northern European nation of Estonia is rarely the focus of widespread media coverage in Europe. However, its advancements in women’s rights deserve attention. In 2015, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik committed to “concentrate on women’s human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women also in development cooperation.”

The Big Picture

Globally, Estonia ranks high on several women’s rights issues. The Global Gender Gap Report (2022) states that Estonian men and women have equal access to financial services, justice and freedom of movement, etc. Estonia also ranks first in all indicators of educational attainment and healthy life expectancy.

In 2016, Estonia’s fifth president Kersti Kaljulaid became the first female leader in the country’s history. Estonia’s first female prime minister Kaja Kallas, elected in 2021, made Estonia the first nation in the world to be entirely run by women.

Data from U.N. Women found that females in Estonia have slightly higher levels of stability compared to their male counterparts. Food insecurity for adult women is slightly lower than for adult men, at 7.7% and 8.0% respectively. There are also fewer female children falling out of primary and lower secondary education at only 1.8% to the male rate of 2.4%.

Keeping young girls in school is a powerful tool to ensure that Estonian women remain educated and prepared to obtain better jobs in the future, lowering their chances of cyclical poverty.


Estonian women are some of the most highly educated in Europe. According to the CIA World Factbook, as of 2021, the literacy rate for Estonian women stood at 99.9%, on par with that of Estonian men. The percentage of Estonian women between 25 and 64 who completed higher education in 2021 was about 53%, well above the 36% average for the European Union.

The relatively low costs of tertiary education in Estonia help make higher education more accessible to women, especially those who are low-income. In 2013, a higher education reform made full-time, tertiary education programs conducted in Estonian free at public institutions. Unfortunately, the reform does not apply to part-time students. By providing free education for part-time students, more women, such as those who are low-income, care for children or have work-related duties, would be able to attain an education.


According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Estonia’s female employment rate was 72% in 2021, significantly higher than the average of 61%. However, part of improving women’s rights in Estonia means making sure women have access to all areas of the workforce. Women are still underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields which remain dominated by men. Instead, many women in Estonia work in low-earning fields such as education and retail.

Based on The Global Gender Gap Report (2022), women make an estimated $28,880 in earned income compared with men at $42,320. With so many women concentrated in low-paying or unpaid fields, there is little opportunity to rise out of poverty.

On February 11, 2021, the University of Tartu celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science for the first time in Estonia. The U.N. established the day to celebrate and encourage women’s involvement in the sciences. Professors at the university recognized that the school’s large proportion of female students was not reflected in science and research roles. In their coverage of the event, Estonian World highlighted seven Estonian female scientists making a difference for women’s rights in Estonia and the world.

The Future of Women’s Rights

Despite all of the progress the Estonian government is making, there is still work to do. Local grassroots organizations are taking on the challenge of furthering women’s rights in Estonia. The Estonian Women’s Union/League (ENL) aims to unite women and safeguard their rights. The organization collaborates with state bodies and other democratic social organizations. ENL encourages women’s involvement in politics and organizes international conferences and training.

In 2008, ENL members participated in presenting the “Estonian Human Development Report 2007” which covered school violence, increase in unemployment, etc. In 2023, the organization continued its naming of “Mother of the Year,” a series meant to shine a light on Estonian mothers and the challenges they may face in supporting their children.

Women’s rights in Estonia have visibly improved in recent years, setting up the country for further success. The Estonian Women’s League is just one of a variety of local initiatives committed to empowering women from all walks of life, ensuring Estonia’s progress continues.

– Yesenia Aguilera
Photo: USAID