Argentinian Supreme Court rules transit companies must fulfill positive obligations of non-discrimination to ensure women are permitted to work as bus drivers, rejecting transit company’s stereotypical comment that their hands should be “cherished not calloused” and used to showcase their “culinary art skills.” The Supreme Court’s decision has been nominated for a Gavel Award for promoting the rights of women and girls in the 2015 Gender Justice Uncovered Awards.
Now in their seventh edition, the annual Gender Justice Uncovered Awards (GJUA) organized by Women’s Link Worldwide, have spotlighted hundreds of judicial decisions that have impacted the lives of women and girls through Gavel nominations for those cases that advance their rights, and Bludgeon nominations for those that set them back. As significant gender-related cases make their way through the judicial system, the Awards are a way of monitoring their progression, sometimes highlighting a case more than once. Such is the case of Mirtha Sisnero, whose case began in the Awards as an important low-level employment discrimination case five years ago and growing into a powerful judicial decision by the Supreme Court.
Several years ago, qualified, hardworking Mirtha Sisnero sought out work as a bus driver in Salta, Argentina, applying to several transportation companies. After she was denied employment from each one of them, despite meeting the qualifications, she filed a complaint against the state motor transport authority SAETA, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (AMT) and the seven operating of public transportation companies of passengers from the city of Salta asserting they had not hired her because she is a woman. Along with Ms. Sisnero’s individual complaint, the NGO Fundación Entre Mujeres (Foundation Among Women) filed on behalf of other women who suffered from the transportation company’s same overt discrimination and systematic refusal to hire them, in violation of their constitutional and international rights to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender. Fundación’s complaint demanded the transportation companies address the glaring absence of female employees in their companies.
After analyzing Sisnero and Fundación’s complaint, the Civil and Commercial Chamber of Appeal of Salt acknowledged that the companies were employing discriminatory stereotypes and refusing to hire women. As a result, it ordered the transportation companies to contract female employees “until thirty percent of the drivers” were women as a way eliminating the obvious gender discrimination existent in the application process and allowing women access to the profession.
This lower court decision was nominated for a Gavel Award in the 2010 Gender Justice Uncovered Awards because the Court ordered the companies to take positive measures when hiring future personnel to eliminate barriers for women in order to enter the profession.
Following Sisnero and Fundación’s victory for gender justice, the transportation companies appealed and the court of appeals reneged, ruling in favor of the companies. The decision held that Mirtha Sisnero and the Fundación failed to demonstrate there had been discrimination against female applicants. Ms. Sisnero appealed this decision, which was brought before the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation.
In hearing this case, the Supreme Court examines whether Salta public transportation companies violated Sisnero’s and other female applicant’s constitutional rights to choose their profession free from discrimination. The Court recognizes the difficulties of proving discrimination, appreciating that it rarely manifests itself openly. As such, the Court discusses the importance of looking at “discriminatory symptoms in society” which in this case explain the absence of women employed as public bus drivers. The Court cites a comment made by a transportation company representative explaining the refusal to hire women as bus drivers. Women “ought to demonstrate their culinary art skills,” the representative had said laughingly. He continued, “their hands are to be cherished, not calloused.”
Ultimately the Supreme Court rejects the previous appeal, finding there had been sufficient evidence presented to argue a case for discrimination. As a result, the Supreme Court sends the case back to the original court in order for the discrimination claim to be heard.
In response to the GJUA nomination, Mirtha Sisnero commented, “[It] is very important; the nomination emboldens me to keep fighting because visibilizing cases of gender discrimination in the workforce and other areas strengthens all of society.”
Sisnero’s case demonstrates the critical role courts play in upholding the rights to equality and non-discrimination for women and girls. It is also women like Mirtha Sisneros, with her years of unyielding persistence and determination, who inspire us to ensure that courts serve as a tool to guarantee human rights. This social contract requires a public that shows Judges that we are watching. This is why we invite you to participate in the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards. Nominations remain open until April 30, 2015. We then invite you to vote between May 11 and May 31st to choose which of the cases you believe has had the most impact on gender equality over the past year.