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Times for immigrant women only can be reserved at swimming baths

Prohibition on discrimination does not prevent positive measures to promote real equality

23.6.2009

Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt points out that the prohibition on discrimination does not prevent separate times for immigrant women being reserved at swimming baths. Real equality can be promoted through positive special measures when discriminatory treatment has an acceptable purpose and is correctly proportionate to the desired goal.

The Deputy-Ombudsman has examined five complaints in which the practice in Helsinki, Vantaa, Turku and Tampere of arranging periods for which swimming baths are reserved for the use of immigrant women is criticised as discriminatory.

Both the Constitution and the Equality Act prohibit discrimination on the ground of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, health, disability or other reason that concerns the person. Several of the international human rights conventions that are binding on Finland likewise prohibit discrimination.

The prohibition on discrimination that international conventions and Finnish legislation impose does not by any means prevent so-called positive special measures, the intention with which is to promote also equality that is real and implementable in practice rather than formal equality only. The intention with the constitutional provisions is to promote specifically real equality. Real equality may presuppose, e.g., that a group which is socially, economically and otherwise disadvantaged is given better treatment than others. Thus treating certain groups of people differently does not constitute prohibited discrimination in all situations.

According to a report received by the Deputy-Ombudsman, there is a special need to arrange times reserved for immigrant women at swimming baths. This ensures that they can receive swimming lessons and promotes their integration. Nor have the reserved times been disproportionate to the total amount of time that swimming baths are open for all users.

The Deputy-Ombudsman stresses that positive discrimination is permissible only as long as it is needed to redress observed shortcomings.

Case no. 208/4/08

Additional information will be provided by Legal Adviser Jari Pirjola, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3361.