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)
Listen to article

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

EU turns to legal migrants to fill labour shortages

The EU has unveiled a "toolkit" based on migration, parents, youth and older people, after EU states raised concerns about the impact of an ageing population on public finances — but what does it contain?


EU countries' tax-and-benefit systems penalise women

In Lithuania, Denmark, Slovenia, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Romania, the design of national tax systems leads to an 'inactivity trap' among second-payers (mostly women) above 40 percent.


Hits and misses of EU workplace and jobs legislation

Ahead of the 2024 elections, EUobserver talked to the Socialists & Democrats spokesperson for employment, Dutch MEP Agnes Jongerius, about past 'successes' on the minimum wage and platform workers, and future challenges on quality traineeships and AI in the workplace.

'Outdated' rules bar MEP from entering plenary with child

During a plenary session in Strasbourg, an MEP was denied access to the chamber because he was carrying his young child, due to unforeseen circumstances. The episode shows parliament's rules need to be updated, several MEPs told EUobserver.


The six-hour U-turn that saw the EU vote for austerity

The EU's own analysis has made it clear this is economic self-sabotage, and it's politically foolish three months from European elections where the far-right are predicted to increase support, writes the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.


Why are the banking lobby afraid of a digital euro?

Europeans deserve a digital euro that transcends the narrow interests of the banking lobby and embodies the promise of a fairer and more competitive monetary and financial landscape.

Latest News

  1. EU must overhaul Africa trade offer to parry China, warns MEP
  2. EU watchdog faults European Commission over Libya
  3. Hungary's Ukrainian refugees in two minds as relations sour
  4. The six-hour U-turn that saw the EU vote for austerity
  5. Defence, von der Leyen, women's rights, in focus This WEEK
  6. The farming lobby vs Europe's wolves
  7. EU socialists fight battle on two fronts in election campaign
  8. EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us