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Gender inequality in Europe continues to exist in all areas

10 March 2012 / 14:03:15  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova


This year's International Women's Day 8th March turns 101. Within this century, women were able to gain all the rights they didn’t have in the past. Nevertheless, gender equality is not yet a reality and stereotypes to the detriment of women continue to dominate even in the most advanced European countries.

The issue was discussed at an open discussion on "Equal pay for equal work", which was organized by the Delegation of the European Parliament in Athens.

"It should be clear that this process is irreversible. Women have earned their place in society and it is totally unacceptable for someone to think that the crisis could turn things back to their previous state", said the European Commissioner Maria Damanaki. She stressed that the problems of women in European countries may be similar, but the European Union should forget the uniform strategies for all countries. "We need to find real solutions for each country according to its specific characteristics and needs. We need closer cooperation between the national and European institutions in all directions", she said.

In Europe there is still a gap between men and women in respect to their participation in the labour market. According to Eurostat 75 percent of men and 62 percent of women participate in it. However, this is the average rate for all countries, which represents mostly the situation in Northern Europe. The situation in the countries to the south is quite different, as employment among women is the lowest in Malta and Cyprus. In Greece it is 51.7 percent.

At the same time women earn 18 percent lower wages than their colleagues who are men for the same work. I.e. women in Europe have to work two months longer to be able to earn the salaries of men. And this is happening despite the fact that 60 per cent of women are university graduates and in many universities the larger number of students are representatives of the so-called "fair sex".

In practice, however, their skills are underestimated, and as a result they are under-represented in politics and economics. Only 33 per cent of the managers and 29 percent of the scientists and engineers in Europe are women. Only 1 in 7 members of the boards of directors of listed companies are women. Only 3.2 of them have managed to occupy key leading positions.

According to the EU Commissioner in the countries of the North it is easier for women to engage in public life because they have available social services that are helping them to do so. "Along with this, men there are involved in family responsibilities and childcare in a much larger percentage. I can realize this looking at the requests for parental leave by the employees in our office. I can say that the ratio between men and women is almost equal", said Maria Damanaki.

Another disturbing fact is that between 20-25 percent of women in Europe have been victims of violence at least once in their life and the economic crisis discourages many of them to complain about sexual harassment because they are afraid that you may lose their jobs.

So far the crisis has not affected women very much, mostly because it has affected very strongly the construction industry, where most workers are men. "This does not mean that the deepening crisis won’t seriously affect women as well. In this sense, we should pay particular attention to the fact that when a job position for a woman has been lost, it can be several times harder for it to be reopened in the case of men."

"If we continue at this pace we will need 40 years to match the participation of women and men in political and economic life. We should, however note that the rate of women's participation in the European Parliament is 24 percent", said its Vice-President Annie Podimata.

Maria Stratigaki official from the General Secretariat for Gender Equality presented data from studies which show that women's participation has increased economic performance. "Research shows that women's participation in boards of directors of companies helps to more effectively solve problems. It has been estimated that GDP can increase by 20-30 units, if women are fully involved in the job market". She said that the European Union is preparing a directive to increase the rate of participation of women in public life and emphasized the negative role of the media when they impose stereotypes for the occupations.

A guest of honour at the discussion was the Bulgarian, Kostadinka Kouneva, who was splashed with acid in December 2008 by two men unknown to this day. According to the court case she was attacked because of her union activity against the owners of cleaning companies, caused by their poor behaviour towards the office workers. In her presentation she drew attention to another kind of violence, as she named it.

"Aside from the assault the greatest violence that I have felt in my life was the moment when I had to leave my child to go to work. Children need their mothers at least until the age of 3 years. Since this can be done in countries like Bulgaria, Germany and others I do not see why it can not happen here as well. Ultimately, if all employers and employees pay their taxes regularly funds will be sufficient to enable children not to be deprived of the care of their mothers. Because when they are separated from them children feel fear and uncertainty, and ultimately we cannot create a healthy society in this way."

Kostadinka Kouneva referred also to the crisis in Greece and said that "we should not allow salaries to be reduced so much. Moreover, for several years in Europe there has been a tendency to remove the unions. We must not allow this because we will lose many of the rights that were acquired with great effort over many years."

There was then a lively discussion during which many representatives of women's organizations welcomed Kostadinka for her courage and for the fact that motherhood should be more tolerated, but not to the detriment of the women’s career.

Tags: society gender equality European parliament inequality of payment Maria Damanki Kostadinka Kouneva
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