The director of one of the "elite" secondary schools in Tallinn has set off a furor by posting an ad for a male head cook and railing against ill-tempered lunch ladies.
Gender equality advocates have denounced the ad posted by the director of Tallinn's Gustav Adolf Gymnasium, Hendrik Agur, which announced a hiring round for the school's cook that was advertised as only open to male chefs.
But the country's education minister threw his own weight behind Agur, suggesting he may have had a secondary intention to make a policy statement in a showy way.
The position was advertised as open to "young, bold and ambitious men who have been awarded the profession of chef and wish to become head chef/developer at Estonia's oldest school."
Agur told uudised.err.ee after the scandal broke: "We want specifically a male chef, who carries out a change in the dietary culture in cooperation with the school. Forms a team, crafts a menu, communicates with the school staff and gets direct feedback and makes the requisite changes." He called the ideal candidate a "Jamie Oliver-type" figure. "Getting a thousand children to eat more healthfully is an investment into children's health and knowledge," he said.
Agur later added fuel to the fire in comments he made to the Õhtuleht newspaper about the ad. "The cook should be a natural, respected part of the school's staff, not some cross and indifferent underpaid woman with a ladle in some kitchen," he said.
The Estonian Human Rights Center's Kadi Viik said it was not just gender discrimination but age discrimination.
Kadi Viik told uudised.err.ee: "This is outright age discrimination - a young person is sought for a position where age is not important. It violates the Constitution, the Gender Equality Act and Equal Treatment Act."
Viik drew attention to the fact that the laws allow temporary special measures if an underrepresented gender had to be represented.
"His explanations do point to the fact that there are too few men working at the school. This is true and his concern is understandable. Unfortunately the special measures are not suited to resolving the problem," she said. In short, the solution cannot be to bar candidates of a specific gender from applying for a position.
Viik also added that the effort was launched at the profession of head cook, where men as a whole are not underrepresented.
Gender Equality Commissioner Mari-Liis Sepper concurred, issuing a statement that also declared the school's ad discriminatory.
But Minister of Education Jaak Aaviksoo found there was a publicity motive as well. "I believe that Gustav Adolf is the kind of energetic and enterprising upper preparatory school and its director is a true persona for him to draw attention to the school's food culture and cook in such an attention-getting way." He said he saw no discrimination: "This is not a place where anyone is being repressed."