SuperShe Island’s women-only well-being and accommodation services do not violate the Equality Act (TAS 75/2018, issued on 4 June 2018)
The Ombudsman for Equality was asked to assess whether SuperShe Island discriminates against men in a manner that violates the Equality Act because its well-being and accommodation services are available only for women.
The purpose of the Equality Act is to prevent discrimination based on gender and to promote equality between the genders. According to the Equality Act, the action of a provider of goods or services shall be deemed to constitute discrimination prohibited under the Equality Act if a person is treated less favourably than others on the basis of gender in the provision of goods and services available to the public in the public or private sector.
As a rule, a company cannot choose its customers on the basis of their gender, and companies must offer their services to everyone in an equal manner. According to the Equality Act, unlike companies, associations are allowed to restrict their membership to only women or men if this is based on a specific provision in the rules of said association (e.g. Helsinki Bourse Club, Naisasialiitto Unioni).
However, based on specific preconditions, a company may offer its goods and services exclusively to women or men. The supply of goods and services solely or primarily to representatives of one gender is permissible if it is justified in pursuit of a legitimate objective, and appropriate and necessary means are used in order to achieve that goal.
The legislative materials of the Equality Act state that in the availability and provision of goods and services, considerations based on privacy and decency or the promotion of gender equality can be used to represent a justifiable objective for different treatment.
An established opinion of the Ombudsman for Equality is that, for example, health and fitness centres can refer to the consideration of modesty as a legitimate objective for which they can restrict men's access to the gym during a women-only session. Separate women-only sessions are a suitable and appropriate solution to this. Similarly, a women-only gym or an area of a public gym which is reserved only for women does not contradict the Equality Act.
Statement by the Ombudsman for Equality
The Ombudsman for Equality requested that the owner of SuperShe Island provide an account on the matter. According to the account provided to the Ombudsman for Equality, the objective of SuperShe Island is to promote the status of women in corporate activities also at an international level and create a setting that is conducive for networking and entrepreneurship, business and other career-related brainstorming activities between women.
The facilities on SuperShe Island are very limited, and for example its sauna and dressing room spaces are shared. In addition, the account specifies that the island is used to arrange recreational activities, due to which the guests occasionally wear less clothing and also change their clothes. To make all of these activities on the island available to all people of different religions and cultures, having both female and male guests at the same time is not possible according to the owner of the island.
Based on the account, a significant share of the island’s customers come from such cultures and religious groups that no recreational activities on the island would be possible if any men were present. In addition, the account states that the operating model of the island is to first and foremost encourage people to get to know one another and create a free atmosphere. According to the account, this is why it is so important to create an atmosphere where women can feel relaxed.
The Ombudsman for Equality concluded that, on the basis of the justifications based on privacy and decency as well as the promotion of equality, the activities of SuperShe Island do not contradict the Equality Act’s prohibition of discrimination in the provision of services. In the case of SuperShe Island, the act of providing well-being and accommodation services only to women is justified on the basis of reaching a justified objective, and this objective is being pursued with the appropriate and necessary measures while taking into account the presented justifications for the promotion of equality, privacy and decency, as well as the limitations of the facilities present on the island. Thus, in this case, the provision of a service that is available only to women does not constitute a discriminatory act as is meant by the Equality Act.