Sunday

19th Sep 2021

EU commission to finally combat gender pay gap

  • Commission vice-president Vera Jourova (l) and equality commissioner Helena Dalli announcing the new strategy for the next five years (Photo: European Commission)

The EU Commission aims to combat gender pay gap by asking countries to implement pay transparency measures in a strategy rolled out on Thursday (5 March).

The commission is planning to put forward "binding measures on pay transparency" later this year, after a consultation with employers, employees, and EU member states.

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Even though more women graduate from universities, they earn on average 16 percent less than men do and only eight percent of CEOs of the EU's largest companies are women, the commission pointed out in its gender strategy.

Women also receive 30 percent less pension then men, while 75 percent of unpaid care and domestic work is done by women.

"You cannot compare salaries unless you know what people are getting paid," equality commissioner Helena Dalli said, saying transparency is necessary to be able to move on to close the gender pay gap.

Thirteen EU countries have no pay transparency measures. Others have different tools, for instance in Germany there is the right to information in companies with at least 200 workers.

The commission will also give a new push to a legislation put forward first in 2012 aimed to bring more women to corporate boards to at least 40 percent.

The legislation has since been stuck because of opposition of some member states.

"Nothing has changed," commission vice-president Vera Jourova quipped when asked about the progress since then, emphasising the need for a renewed push.

"We have to use quotas because otherwise we have to wait another 100 years for things to change by themselves," Dalli said.

100-year wait

The EU executive also wants to tackle violence against women by getting all EU member states to ratify the 2014 Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating gender-based violence.

One-in-three women in Europe was subject to physical and, or sexual violence, and 22 percent of women in the EU have experienced violence by an intimate partner. 55 percent of women in the EU have been sexually harassed.

So far Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania, which is home of the EU's agency for gender equality, have not ratified the convention.

Hungary's justice minister Judit Varga last year described the Istanbul convention as a "political tantrum", and government officials speak of gender as an ideology.

Dalli admitted to a group of journalists on Wednesday that it will be "very, very difficult" to convince countries like Hungary to ratify the convention.

If it does not succeed, the commission plans to propose in 2021 measures to achieve the same objectives as the convention.

"Violence is not normal and not tolerable, violence against women, it's a crime," said Jourova.

"Do not be scared to do and report the violence," she added in a message to victims, saying "only 25 percent of rape and brutal violence" are reported.

"Nobody can be free under the threat of violence," Dalli said.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), an EU agency, found that despite 21 countries having ratified the convention, some of them are not fulfilling the minimum levels of support, such as national hotlines.

"Hope these countries look at the text and that they realise the only goal is to combat violence against women and domestic violence," Carlien Scheele, director of EIGE told EUobserver, adding that "opposition to the convention has become more vocal".

According to a study cited by EIGE almost half of women parliamentarians in Europe had received death threats, or threats of beating or rape.

Cyber violence can also discourage women from speaking out: around four in 10 journalists have reported self-censorship following online abuse, according to Scheele.

Stereotypes and AI algorithm

The commission also intends to combat stereotypes that feed into the gender inequality.

Jourova said she is worried about potential regress in equality, as for instance AI can amplify existing stereotypes.

The commission wants to boost the number of women working in information and communications technology which is now at 17 percent.

But the gender aspect should become an integral part of policy-making in the EU, argued Scheele to EUobserver, for instance in the Green Deal, as the ones most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change tend to be women.

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