Legislative and policy framework
Prior to 2004, the European Union (EU) accession process played an essential role in promoting gender mainstreaming in Latvia, with the EU Equality Directives being transposed into national law and the principles enshrined in the fundamental EU Treaties being applied in national legislation and policymaking.
Article 91, applied to the 1922 Latvian Constitution via an amendment in 1998, states that ’All human beings in Latvia shall be equal before the law and the courts. Human rights shall be realised without discrimination of any kind’. The prevention of discrimination on the grounds of sex is legislated under various laws. Initially, gender equality principles were integrated into the area of labour relations. Over the years, gender equality has developed further and has been embedded in policy areas such as social protection, social insurance, employment, education and healthcare, as well as the provision of goods and services in both the public and private sectors.
At present, the gender equality strategy is embedded within a sectoral strategy: Sociālās aizsardzības un darba tirgus politikas pamatnostādnes 2021.-2027, and gadam (Social Protection and Labour Market Policy Guidelines 2021-2027). Despite being located within a sectoral strategy, gender equality is addressed as a horizontal issue that cuts across all of the guidelines. Although the title of the strategy relates to the labour market, it sets wider goals beyond the labour market (e.g., it sets the goal of Latvia attaining a higher position in EIGE’s Gender Equality Index).
While there is a similar lack of a legal basis for gender mainstreaming, Latvia’s commitment is evident in its strategic documents and, more recently, in a de facto binding regulation. The first Concept Paper on Gender Equality Implementation (2001) established gender mainstreaming as an approach for developing, implementing and sustaining gender equality. This concept paper was used as the basis for the development of further action plans and documents. In 2021, a de facto binding decision was adopted in ‘Ministru kabineta noteikumi Nr. 617 ‘Tiesību akta projekta sākotnējās ietekmes izvērtēšanas kārtība’ (Regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 617 ‘Procedure for Initial Impact Assessment of a Draft Legislative Act’). Point 9, paragraph 9.9, states: ‘In assessing the initial impact, the impact of the project on gender equality shall be assessed’.
In terms of policy, Latvia has a national action plan on gender equality: The Plāns sieviešu un vīriešu vienlīdzīgu tiesību un iespēju veicināšanai 2021-2023. gadam (Plan for the Promotion of Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men 2021-2023). This replaced the Plan for the Promotion of Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men for 2018-2020, which aimed to promote integrated, purposeful and efficient implementation of sectoral policies. Of note, prior to 2018, the action plan was called the ‘Gender Equality Action Plan’, which was changed to avoid the controversies related to the term ‘gender’. The current action plan has been partly costed for the period covered by the action plan. Monitoring of the plan’s implementation occurs every three years and it sets out four specific targets to be achieved.
Governmental equality bodies
Although there is no national legislation (laws or regulations) that serves as a legal basis to assign gender equality responsibilities to a specific government body/public institution, the Ministry of Welfare has been responsible for planning, implementing and coordinating gender equality policy in the government since 1999. In December 2009, gender equality became part of the policy field of the Equal Opportunities Division, together with equal opportunities for people with disabilities and social inclusion policy. Since 2012, the Gender Equality Unit has been integrated into the Department of Social Policy Planning and Development (Sociālās politikas plānošanas un attīstības departaments) within the Ministry of Welfare.
The remit of the Department of Social Policy Planning and Development is not exclusively gender equality, but rather gender equality combined with other equality-related functions. However, two civil servants (out of seven total employees) deal exclusively with gender equality. The specific responsibilities of the Department of Social Policy Planning and Development focus on the coordination of the gender equality policy, the monitoring and assessment of the programmes and projects for the promotion of gender equality, and the monitoring of the situation from a gender equality perspective.
The Department of Social Policy Planning and Development Functions
- Drafts gender equality policy for the government
- Conducts a gender-sensitive analysis of policies and legislation
- Coordinates/implements government decisions on gender equality
- Coordinates/implements gender mainstreaming processes and methodologies
- Monitors progress in achieving gender equality
- Publishes and disseminates gender equality-related information and training
There is no established procedure for the Department of Social Policy Planning and Development to report to parliament on progress related to gender equality and gender mainstreaming. However, reporting can be done on request, and any commission (on human rights, social work, European affairs etc.) may invite the department to report on issues of interest relating to gender equality.
The Department of Social Policy Planning and Development reports that it is rarely consulted by other departments or ministries about new or existing policies, laws, or programmes (in policy fields other than gender equality). There is no internal mechanism for this consultation to take place, with only ad-hoc consultation possible should another body conduct a gender impact assessment (see below).
Regarding relevant resources, there are no separate budget programmes in Latvia specifically available for ensuring gender equality policy. Rather, gender policy is supported by various other budgets. This is similar to many other measures that indirectly affect gender equality in the welfare sector, without explicitly specifying that such action was designed to exclusively promote gender equality. Further, the government can provide funding for gender equality measures from the State Programme for Improving the Situation of Children and Families (a budget programme of the Ministry of Welfare).
Another relevant governmental mechanism for gender equality is the Committee of Gender Equality. Its focus is to provide expertise to policymakers by providing its opinion on legislative proposals and policy developments. It has no direct policymaking or legislative function and, of note, does not provide any coordination on gender mainstreaming across the government. The Committee of Gender Equality was established within the Ministry of Welfare by Ministerial Order in 2010 and replaced the Gender Equality Council, which had been operating since 2002. It meets three times a year on average.
The Committee of Gender Equality includes representatives from ministries, the State Chancellery, the Office of the Latvian Representative to International Human Rights Institutions, social partners, seven NGOs, and the Office of the Nordic Council of Ministers in Latvia. A representative of the Ombudsperson's Office also participates in the meetings of the Committee of Gender Equality as an independent observer. The work of the committee is chaired by the State Secretary of the Ministry of Welfare. As such, it is the main means of consultation with civil society.
Independent equality body
The Latvijas Republikas Tiesībsargs (Ombudsperson's Office of Latvia) is the independent body for the promotion of gender equality. Its mandate includes gender equality along with human rights and non-discrimination more broadly.
The Latvijas Republikas Tiesībsargs (Ombudsperson's Office of Latvia) Functions
- To promote the protection of the human rights of individuals
- To promote equal treatment and non-discrimination
- To evaluate and promote the observance of the principle of good governance in public administration
- To identify gaps in legislation and its application to human rights and good governance and contribute to addressing these gaps
- To promote public awareness and understanding of human rights, the mechanisms for the protection of these rights and the work of the Ombudsperson
The Ombudsperson has little work or resources dedicated to gender equality specifically. The Ombudsperson’s office has 51 employees, but there are no employees specifically responsible for gender equality issues. A representative of the Ombudsperson's Office however participates in the Gender Equality Committee within the Ministry of Welfare (see below). The representative has the status of an independent observer without voting rights. However, the representative can participate in the discussion and make proposals.
The Ombudsperson's Office reports being consulted by departments or ministries for some policies, laws, or programmes developed (25-50 %) with these leading to relevant adjustments in some cases (25-50 %).
There is no specific representative elected body focused on gender equality in the Parliament of Latvia. Traditionally, gender equality issues fall under the competence of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Public Affairs. The involvement of this committee with gender issues, however, is minimal.
Methods and tools
Gender impact assessment
Latvia has a legal obligation to undertake an ex-ante gender impact assessment when drafting laws or policies: Ministru kabineta noteikumi Nr. 617 ‘Tiesību akta projekta sākotnējās ietekmes izvērtēšanas kārtība’ (Regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 617 ‘Procedure for Initial Impact Assessment of a Draft Legislative Act’). It mandates that, for draft legislative acts, the impact of the project on gender equality shall be assessed.
There is a legal obligation to conduct gender budgeting: Cabinet of Ministers Instruction No. 2, ‘Instruction on the analysis of the state budget execution’. Paragraph 18, subparagraph 18.11 states that ministries shall indicate and explain the results of the state budget and their performance indicators in the reporting period (12 months). Performance indicators are broken down by gender if the information is available in internal records. Although there is instruction on providing gender-disaggregated data in budgeting processes, there are little or no indicators that this information is analysed and used as a gender mainstreaming tool.
As there is no regulation/instruction to integrate gender equality concerns into evaluation objectives, evaluation is not formally used as a method for gender mainstreaming. However, there are several areas (e.g., public health and education) in which evaluation has been established as a practice.
Training and awareness-raising
Similarly, there have not been any awareness-raising initiatives among ministries and other governmental bodies in the last three years. There is no specific legal basis for compulsory gender equality training; however, the Plan for the Promotion of Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men 2021-2023 includes a section on ‘Education and information of state and local government employees on gender mainstreaming and non-discrimination in policy planning, implementation and evaluation’. This includes training seminars, a digital handbook, and information and discussion events.
There is no legal obligation for the Central Statistical Bureau or other public institutions to collect data disaggregated by sex.
In practice, however, gender statistics are available. The Central Statistical Bureau presents data disaggregated by gender (e.g. the Statistical Yearbook) and the national statistical office website has a section on gender statistics, which includes a thematic breakdown of the statistics it covers. The website provides direct access to relevant datasets that can be both viewed online and downloaded.
The complete information on sex-disaggregated data is summarised regularly (once every three years) in the publication, ‘Women and Men in Latvia’. This collection of statistics aims to provide statistical information on the status of women and men in society. It includes the number of women and men, age, ethnicity, the number of marriages and divorces, fertility,mortality, morbidity, employment, unemployment, wages and salaries, income, at-risk-of-poverty rate, social protection, education, tourism, use of information technology, gender of victims and perpetrators of crime, and representation in legislative and executive institutions.
 The term ‘sex’ is used in Latvian for gender equality. In Latvian the term ‘gender equality’ is translated as sex equality. Accordingly, the law prohibits discrimination based on sex.
 Social Protection and Labour Market Policy Guidelines 2021-2027 (Sociālās aizsardzības un darba tirgus politikas pamatnostādnes 2021.-2027. gadam) https://likumi.lv/ta/id/325828-par-socialas-aizsardzibas-un-darba-tirgus-politikas-pamatnostadnem-2021-2027-gadam
 Regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 617 (2021). Procedure for Initial Impact Assessment of a Draft Legislative Act, point 9, paragraph 9.9 https://likumi.lv/ta/id/325945-tiesibu-akta-projekta-sakotnejas-ietekmes-izvertesanas-kartiba
 Plan for the Promotion of Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men 2021-2023 (Plāns sieviešu un vīriešu vienlīdzīgu tiesību un iespēju veicināšanai 2021.-2023.gadam) https://likumi.lv/ta/id/325509-par-planu-sieviesu-un-viriesu-vienlidzigu-tiesibu-un-iespeju-veicinasanai-20212023-gadam
 Plan for the Promotion of Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men for 2018-2020 https://likumi.lv/ta/en/en/id/300170-plan-for-the-promotion-of-equal-rights-and-opportunities-for-women-and-men-for-20182020
 The functions and competences of the Ministry of Welfare are set out in the By-law of the Ministry of Welfare, Cabinet Regulation No. 49 (2004) https://likumi.lv/doc.php?id=83758
 Department of Social Planning and Development (n.d.)
Agnese Gaile is stated as Vecākā eksperte dzimumu līdztiesības jautājumos (Senior Expert on Gender Equality) https://www.lm.gov.lv/lv/strukturvieniba/socialas-politikas-planosanas-un-attistibas-departaments
 Euro-Mediterranean Women’s Foundation (2015). Latvia Ministry of Welfare Department of Planning and Development of Social Policy. https://www.euromedwomen.foundation/pg/en/resources/view/4382/latvia-ministry-of-welfare-department-of-planning-and-development-of-social-policy
 Committee on Gender Equality (2022) https://www.lm.gov.lv/lv/dzimumu-lidztiesibas-komiteja
 Ombudsman's Office of Latvia (n.d.) https://www.tiesibsargs.lv/lv/pages/par-mums/tiesibsarga-institucija
 Law on the Ombudsman (2006) https://www.tiesibsargs.lv/lv/pages/tiesibu-akti/tiesibsarga-likums
 Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Public Affairs (n.d.) https://titania.saeima.lv/personal/deputati/saeima13_depweb_public.nsf/structureview?readform&type=3&lang=EN&show=Human%20Rights%20and%20Public%20Affairs%20Committee
 Plan for the Promotion of Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men 2021-2023 https://likumi.lv/ta/id/325509-par-planu-sieviesu-un-viriesu-vienlidzigu-tiesibu-un-iespeju-veicinasanai-20212023-gadam
 Official statistics portal (n.d.) Gender equality Website in English: https://stat.gov.lv/en/statistics-themes/indicators-well-being-and-equality/gender-equality-0 Website in Latvian: https://stat.gov.lv/lv/statistikas-temas/labklajibas-un-vienlidzibas-rad...
 Women and Men in Latvia 2016 https://stat.gov.lv/en/statistics-themes/indicators-well-being-and-equality/gender-equality/publications-and-4