Italy violated a woman’s right to become a permanent firefighter by imposing an “unnecessary and unreasonable height requirement” on the 161 cm woman (5 ft 3in), the UN Human Rights Committee said Friday.
The committee is composed of 18 independent experts and made its findings after considering a complaint by the woman, named E.G.
“According to the information before the Committee, there is a significant gap between the average height of Italian women and men, and by establishing a minimum height requirement of 165 cm, well above the female average, the State party effectively excluded many women candidates from firefighting posts,” said committee member Yuval Shany.
“Such a situation raises concerns of indirect discrimination, which the State should have disproved.”
In 1999, E.G. started to serve as a volunteer firefighter in Lazio, Italy.
She applied in 2007 for a permanent post in the National Firefighters Corps but was refused because she did not meet the minimum 165 cm (5 ft 5in) height requirement for permanent firefighters.
The height requirement applies both to male and female candidates.
E.G. challenged the disqualification decision before the Lazio Regional Administration Court, arguing that demanding the same height requirement for men and women was indirect discrimination against women.
She argued on the fact that the average height of women in Italy is 161 cm, and the average height of Italian men is 175 cm.
After she had lost her case at the regional level, E.G. appealed to Italy’s State Council, and after those appeals were rejected, she took her complaint to the Geneva-based Human Rights Committee in 2016.
By that time, she had been a volunteer firefighter for 17 years.
The Committee found that although the law was drafted in apparently gender-neutral terms, the imposition of an undifferentiated height requirement for male and female candidates resulted in de facto discrimination against women.
“Italy should make sure that any requirements for public service employment are necessary and proportionate, and that those requirements which appear neutral do not in fact negatively and disproportionately affect in practice women candidates,” Shany noted.
In its decision, the committee requested that Italy compensates E.G. and evaluates the possibility of admitting her as a permanent firefighter if she so wishes. The state party is also requested to report back within 180 days, detailing the measures taken.
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