EU to tackle gender pay inequality

March 8, 2010

By Sangeeta Shastry

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding

Men are still paid more than women in Europe but the European Union is promising to narrow the gap.

The executive European Commission set out its plans to address the pay gap between men and women at a news conference to coincide with International Women’s Day, saying women were on average earning only 82 percent of male rates in the EU.

European Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Commissioner Viviane Reding said the Commission would work with member states to raise awareness and did not rule out using legislative measures to promote wage equality.

“We will all work together to make sure the gender dimension is visible and integrated in all policies which come out of this house,” Reding said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said these plans were the EU’s “calling card” on gender equality for the next five years, and that they would be at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy, a 10-year plan to boost economic growth and create jobs.

Will the EU’s new plans really make a difference for women?

EU leaders have good political reasons to succeed — opinion polls suggest Europeans want the pay gap narrowed. A 2009 survey conducted on behalf of the European Commission showed a large majority of Europeans want action to combat gender inequality and almost two-thirds said it was widespread in their country.

Polls also suggest the 27-country EU has good economic reasons to improve matters. A study completed in the first half of last year showed the elimination of employment discrepancies based on gender could increase the EU’s gross domestic product by 15 to 45 percent.

There are also signs that the EU is committed to improving matters for women. Spain has made women’s issues, and particularly preventing violence against women, central to its six-month presidency of the bloc. Barroso appealed to member states repeatedly last year to nominate women to be part of his 27-person Commission, which has strong policy-making, regulatory and legislative powers.

Even so, only nine of the new team are women — just one-third of its members. The same imbalance remains in the European Parliament, where just over one-third of the 736 members are women.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the most powerful people in Europe but there are few other female heads of state or government in the EU. Others include Finnish President Tarja Halonen, Irish President Mary McAleese and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

Just two women are among the finance ministers who represent their countries at the regular meetings of the 16-country euro zone.

There are clearly still many obstacles to overcome and some countries have more work to do than others. The EU’s gender pay gap has changed little over the last 15 years and data released in 2008 by the Eurostat statistics office also showed pay gaps also still vary widely across the EU — from Italy’s 4.9 percent discrepancy to Estonia’s 30 percent difference between men and women’s salaries.

Please check out the Reuters Women in Focus page and for stories, pictures and information. Join the discussion about International Women’s Day on our live blog

One comment

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These sentiments are very noble, but we’ve heard them all before. HOW is the pay gap going to be decreased? Are we to ban men from discussing business at the golf course or in the Free Masons’ hall? Are girls to be given lessons in aligning their personalities to their male managers’? How do we prevent the assumption that a female employee has caring responsibilities? Or the assumption that she is a “Young Lady” who doesn’t need the money? And if she does have caring responsibilities, how are they to be tackled? Should they be tackled?

Everyone wants more women in the workplace, but few people will ban their daughters from playing with Barbie, or tolerate their own wife or daughter working long hours in an unglamorous “man’s job.”

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