Cyprus Mail

Exclusion of women and older applicants for army posts was ‘discriminatory’

THE exclusion of women from applying for a job as professional soldiers in the National Guard, but also the imposition of age restrictions was discriminatory, but also not in line with legislation, Ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou said in a report.

The report concerns the announcement last May of the National Guard for applications to fill 3,000 posts of professional soldiers. The move was part of the army’s restructuring scheme, which also entails a reduction in mandatory service for conscripts from 24 to 14 months.

The job announcement excluded women, but had also set as criteria that applicants should not exceed the age of 32.

Following criticism over discrimination against women, the defence ministry said that women were excluded from applying because the law stipulated that only people who have completed their mandatory service are eligible. Army service in Cyprus is mandatory for school-leaving males. Therefore, it added, not only women, but men who were relieved of army  duty were also not eligible to apply.

However, guided by the need for equal opportunity, the ministry had said, it drafted a legislative amendment, which was approved by the cabinet and will be forwarded to parliament.

“The justification of the decision of the ministry, that at the time of publication of the notice Article 6 (3) of the National Guard Law was in force which does not allow it to be addressed also to women, does not legitimise the notice,” the report said.

It added that the exclusion of women from the job announcement was made evident in the phrasing used, “which made clear that such a large number of posts was reserved exclusively for men,” it said. The exclusion of women from these jobs, it said, was not avoided by the ministry, although it was aware of the prohibition of gender discrimination concerning access to employment.

The direct discrimination is not justified, the report said, as the law stipulates that any legal provision applicable at the beginning of its implementation, which is contrary to its provisions is repealed in so far as it directly or indirectly entails gender discrimination. In addition, the report said, the law also provides that “if the discrimination gives advantage to individuals of only one sex, the right or advantage is extended automatically to persons of the other sex”.

Consequently, the ministry should either not proceed with the job announcement, and seek to first amend the law or it should submit the job announcement in a manner that would allow women too to express interest instead of their exclusion.

The fact that the defence ministry tabled the amendment of the National Guard law in parliament 12 days after making the job announcement, does not repeal the direct discrimination against women and violation of the principles of equal treatment and non-discrimination.

“Rather, it confirms that the ministry knew the announcement was problematic and that it intended to exclude women’s access to specific posts and to postpone indefinitely, if and when other such posts will be announced, women’s ability to participate in the process in question,” Savvidou said.

Concerning the age limit set in the selection criteria, Savvidou said that it also raises the issue of age discrimination in access to the advertised job posts according to an EU Directive.

The defence ministry’s justification that the age limit was deemed necessary for the adequate and successful performance of the duties of National Guard members is not enough to be considered as being in line with the directive which stipulates that exceptions may apply.

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