EU launches gender gap awareness campaign
By Honor Mahony
Women earn an average of 17.4 percent less than men across the EU's 27 member states, with the greatest gender pay difference seen in Estonia, EU statistics released ahead of international women's day show.
Part of a campaign to raise awareness of a situation that has changed little in recent years, EU studies show the discrepancy is largely due to an undervaluation of women's work, stereotyping and problems with balancing work and private life.
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The situation is most acute in Estonia, where men on average earn almost a third (30.3%) more, followed by Austria, Slovakia, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Germany.
At the other end of the scale, the pay gap is lowest in Italy (4.4%), Malta (5.2%) and Poland (7.5%). However, these countries also show relatively low participation of women in the workforce.
"Tackling [the situation] requires action at all levels and a commitment from everyone concerned, from employers and trade unions to national authorities and every citizen," said EU social affairs commissioner Vladimir Spidla.
The pay gap means that women are at greater risk of poverty in later life with less accrued pension over the years they have worked. Some 21 percent of women aged over 65 risk poverty. This compares to 16 percent of men in a similar situation.
Fighting the recession
Pointing to the current economic crisis, the commissioner indicated that while women are most likely to be affected by the global downturn and occupying most of the part-time and lower-paid jobs, by engaging more women, the workplace could help the EU emerge from the recession more quickly.
"Discrimination produces inefficiency," said Mr Spidla adding "It is precisely during times of crises that we should be most active."
The commissioner pointed to a study of 15,000 small and medium-sized companies in Finland that found that those run by women were up to 10 percent more efficient than those run by men. A recent French study indicated that companies with more women on their boards tended to perform better on the stock exchange.
But despite these findings, big companies and banks tend to remain largely male territories when it comes to the top jobs. National central banks in the member states are all headed by a male governor, while women only make up 17 percent of the key decision-making bodies. In big businesses, women's participation is even lower, with men accounting for almost 90 percent of board members.
As International Women's Day arrives on 8 March, the latest EU statistics also show that women are also much less represented in politics, clocking in a 31 percent of the European Parliament's deputies and 24 percent of national law-makers. In national governments, they make up around a quarter of ministers.