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25th Aug 2019

Men must help end gender pay gap, Commission says

The European Commission is calling on Europe's menfolk to help out more at home as a first step to improving women's career prospects and ending the gender pay gap across the bloc.

Women still earn 15 percent less than men with "no sign of improving" – compared to 17 percent ten years ago – despite 60 percent of European graduates being women, according to the EU executive.

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  • Just 18 out of a total of 139 commissioners since 1958 have been women (Photo: European Commission)

"There is this fundamental imbalance between professional life and personal obligation," EU employment commissioner Vladimír Spidla said, addressing a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday (18 July). He continued that, "women tend to bear the brunt and this obviously has an effect on their career and on their wage levels."

"It is not possible to reduce the gender pay gap if we do not help out more at home," he added.

According to the EU executive, men contribute to seven hours of unpaid work each week – such as taking care of households as well as children and other dependents. Women in part-time positions on an average spend 35 hours per week while women in full-time positions spend 24 hours of such unpaid work per week.

He explained the that the Commission wants to relieve the social pressure in Europe that often obliges women to choose raising a family over their professional lives when instead, they should have both.

The gender pay gap extends well beyond the question of equal pay for equal work, according to the EU executive. One of the main causes is the way women's competences are valued compared to men's. Jobs requiring similar qualifications or experience tend to be less paid when they are dominated by women.

Commission report

Mr Spidla's comments came in connection with a Commission communication on tackling the pay gap between men and women adopted by the 27 commissioners on Wednesday.

In the communication the Commission sets out ways in which the EU can bridge the gender pay gap. It wants the 27 member states to set objectives and deadlines to eradicate the gap, and will also push for equal pay to be made a condition for winning public contracts.

The EU executive wants to make fighting the pay gap an integral part of member states' employment policies, to promote equal pay among employers, support exchange of good practices across the bloc and ensure that EU capitals have implemented existing rules well.

Danish socialist MEP Britta Thomsen is pleased about the new commission move. "The big pay gap between men and women is completely unfair. Especially when considering that women today extend their studies and are often better educated than their male colleagues," she said.

"We have in the [European] Parliament several times made suggestions to how we can improve women's situation and it is therefore great that the Commission is now also pushing the member states on this issue," said Ms Thomsen, who is in the Parliament's women's rights and gender equality committee.

However, the pay gap is not everything, she told EUobserver. She would also like to see more women in the decision-making jobs across Europe.

Women in power

In Brussels itself, only 18 out of the total 139 commissioners since 1958 have been women while all of the 12 Commission presidents have been men.

Across Europe, only 23,81% of ministers in the 27 EU national governments are women. While Finland tops with 60% – 12 out of 20 ministers are women – Cyprus is rock bottom with 0%, according to figures from the Robert Schuman Foundation.

There is an average 23,69% of women in the national parliaments where Sweden is on top with 52,15% and Malta at the opposite end with 9,23%.

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