The compliance of a ministry-appointed steering group and preparatory working group with the quota rule (TAS 38/2019, issued on 13 March 2019)
The Ombudsman for Equality was asked to investigate whether the compositions of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry-appointed steering group and preparatory working group for wolf population management planning were compliant with the quota rule presented in section 4 a of the Act on Equality between Women and Men (hereinafter the Equality Act).
Section 4 a (1) of the Equality Act requires that all Government committees, advisory boards and other similar administrative bodies have at least 40 per cent of both women and men, unless there are special reasons to the contrary. In established use, the quota rule has also been deemed to apply to bodies appointed by ministries, such as working groups.
According to section 4 a (3), authorities and all parties that are requested to nominate candidates for bodies referred to in the same section of the Act must, wherever possible, propose both a woman and a man for every membership position.
In particular, the Equality Act’s quota rule obligates all authorities preparing the appointment of a body to take various measures to ensure that the composition of said body will include the required number of female and male members. The requirements of the quota rule must be taken into account in the appointment of any bodies. In addition, the authority must be able to demonstrate that, during the preparatory phase, it had taken the necessary steps for the realisation of the quota rule. A simple notice stating that no candidates of the opposite gender were available is not an acceptable reason for deviating from the rule.
According to the appointment decision, the preparatory working group and steering group are working groups appointed by the ministry, and thus subject to the quota rule presented in section 4 a (1) of the Equality Act.
In the case of its appointment requests, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry had complied with the Equality Act when it asked several different parties to present both a female and male candidate and to present a justification if this was not possible. However, the Ombudsman for Equality noted that a majority of the parties that provided appointment proposals had not presented any special reasons for proposing only male candidates.
The final composition of the steering group, two women and four men, did not meet the obligation set by the quota rule, i.e. 40%. In addition, the composition of the preparatory working group, one woman and eleven men, did not meet the quota rule’s 40% obligation. The appointment decision did, however, include the quota rule and the justifications for not meeting the obligation presented in the rule.
According to the justifications included in the appointment decision, of the parties invited to the working group, some could only nominate male candidates, as they could not nominate any female candidates who possessed the expertise required by a preparatory organ. The justifications also noted that hunting and wildlife management are still mostly male-dominated fields, which is reflected in the fairly small number of female experts in said fields. In addition, according to the report submitted by the ministry, in two cases the ministry justified its decisions to select a male candidate over female candidates to the preparatory working group on the basis of the male candidates’ better expertise and special skills. The report also stated that the experts in both groups were selected on the basis of their expertise.
A special reason for deviating from the quota rule that is compliant with the Equality Act can be a candidate’s expertise in a specific and narrow field. The Ombudsman for Equality noted, however, that the appendices provided in connection with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s report showed that one of the parties that presented an appointment proposal had nominated a female candidate as a deputy member to the steering group, but that she was not selected as a member. The report submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry did not present any detailed justifications for this decision and the report also failed to indicate whether the ministry had, for example, negotiated on the selection of the person nominated as a deputy member to the steering group. If the woman in question had been selected to the steering group, the group would have fulfilled the 40% requirement presented in section 4 a (1) of the Equality Act.
On the basis of the report submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, after receiving the member appointment proposals, the ministry did not engage in any measures to ensure that its choices complied with the quota rule before announcing its appointment decision. The ministry’s appointment decision included a reference that specified that some of the invited parties could only nominate male candidates, as they could not nominate any female candidates who possessed the necessary expertise for serving in a preparatory organ. However, the majority of the parties that provided an appointment proposal did not justify their nominations in any way. The report submitted to the Ombudsman for Equality did not indicate how the ministry evaluated the aforementioned appointment decision reference. According to the report, the ministry also did not contact the parties in question to investigate the matter.
Due to the aforementioned reasons, the Ombudsman for Equality deemed that, during the preparation process, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry had not engaged in the appropriate measures to ensure the realisation of the quota rule. In his statement, the Ombudsman for Equality emphasised that compliance with the quota rule of the Equality Act constitutes an official duty and recommended that, in the future, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry pay closer attention to the requirements presented in section 4 a of the Equality Act when appointing any bodies referred to in the rule.