Tuesday

5th Mar 2024

EU labour market as 'gender-segregated as a decade ago'

  • Women's Day Off, 2010. Women in Iceland were on a one-day national strike to protest against inequality in the workplace and gender-based violence (Photo: The Women's History Archives)
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On Tuesday (24 October) in Iceland, tens of thousands of women and non-binary people held a a one-day national strike to protest against inequality in the workplace and gender-based violence.

Strike organisers called for all work to be stopped, including housework and childcare. "For this one day, we expect husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles to take on the responsibilities related to family and home," the organisers said on their website.

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The strike, also known as the Women's Day Off [Kvennafrí], is nothing new for Icelanders, although this is their biggest effort since the first one, back in 1975. Then, 25,000 people gathered in the capital, Reykjavík, to highlight the important contribution women make to the economy.

Now, even prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir took the day off and joined the strike — expecting her female cabinet colleagues to do the same, she told local media.

Iceland is considered the best country in the world for gender equality. It has been ranked number one by the World Economic Forum (WEF) for 14 years in a row, but the country is still not equal.

The gender pay gap in Iceland is 21 percent in certain professions, and more than 40 percent of women have experienced gender-based or sexual violence.

Iceland's example shows that there is no room for complacency, as there is still work to be done and progress to be maintained.

This is also reflected in the latest Gender Equality Index of the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), which serves as a marker for the status quo of gender equality in the EU.

"Over the years, the EU has made progress towards gender equality. But we are also aware that it is not enough, and gains are fragile," Carlien Scheele, EIGE's director, said.

In 2023, the index recorded the biggest jump in its overall score ever. The score is 70.2 out of 100, but there are major nuances behind it.

The first one is that the labour market remains as segregated as 10 years ago, despite the increased women's employment participation.

"Women continue to occupy jobs in sectors with lower remuneration levels, fewer career prospects, and fewer options for upskilling", according to EIGE's report.

Their earnings are less than 70 percent of men's, with the biggest gaps among couples with children, the highly-educated, and those aged 50-64.

Women are still under-represented in sectors such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which will be in greater demand in the coming decades due to the twin transitions Europe is facing.

In fact, the green transition could exacerbate gender inequalities if a gender perspective is not taken into account, as most green jobs are expected to be created or demanded in male-dominated sectors, the EIGE notes.

Secondly, there is a mixed picture of the presence of women in power. On the one hand, the number of women on boards has increased over the past decade, helped by legal quotas in eight member states and boosted by last year's directive on gender balance on company boards.

But while there are more women at the top of EU companies, the picture does not show the same level of progress in national parliaments — a worrying issue ahead of the 2024 EU elections.

Today, for the first time in a decade, the number of women in parliaments and women on boards has converged at 33 percent.

(Photo: EIGE)

Thirdly, unpaid care work is not shared equally between women and men, which undermines women's ability to enter or remain in the labour market.

However, there have been some improvements in this respect and women are less involved in caring activities. However, this is not because men are more involved, but because of assistive technologies, home delivery services and increased female employment.

Romania, Hungary and Czech Republic lag behind

In 2023, 16 member states are below the index average and only one is above 80 points, Sweden, which itself represents just over two percent of the EU population.

The Nordic country is followed by the Netherlands, Denmark, and Spain, and remains at the top of the Index, although it is one of the few countries to show a decline from one year to the next.

In contrast, Romania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are the EU countries that are struggling the most to make progress on gender equality.

"People will land on Mars before we reach full gender equality in the European Union," Polish MEP and chair of the FEMM committee Robert Biedron (S&D) commented on the report.

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