GENEVA (15 May 2020) – Italy violated the right of a woman to become a permanent firefighter by imposing an unnecessary and unreasonable height requirement, the UN Human Rights Committee has found.
The findings by the Committee, which is composed of 18 independent experts, came after considering a complaint by the woman, E.G., who is 161cm tall.
In 1999, she 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 165cm height requirement for permanent firefighters, which 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 constituted indirect discrimination against women, since the average height of women in Italy is 161cm and the average height of Italian men is 175cm. She also argued that there was no justification for the different height requirements for permanent and voluntary firefighters despite performing the same functions.
After she had lost her case at the regional level, E.G. appealed to Italy’s State Council and after all her appeals were rejected, she took her complaint to the Human Rights Committee in 2016. By that time she had been a voluntary firefighter for 17 years.
“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 165cm, well above the female average, the State party effectively excluded many women candidates from firefighting posts. Such a situation raises concerns of indirect discrimination, which the State should have disproved,” said Committee member Yuval Shany.
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 added.
In its decision, the Committee requested that Italy compensate E.G. and evaluate the possibility of admitting her as a permanent firefighter if she so wishes. The State party is requested to report back within 180 days detailing the measures taken to remedy the situation.
The full decision by the Committee is now available online.