A platform for young feminists from Europe

January is for… women and the economy

This month we continue our thematic articles. Still following the Beijing Platform for Action themes, we are talking about women and the economy.

The place and role of women in the economy is probably the most commonly known feminist topic addressed. And for a good reason: there is still a lot to say about gendered economic differences. While there are many ways to approach the topic, I propose that we think about something many of you have probably heard about: the wage gap.

What is the wage gap?

The wage gap is a good illustration of the economic inequality between the sexes. According to the EU, the wage gap is:

“…the difference between the gross hourly earnings of all working men and those of all working women.”

In concrete terms, it means that women earn over 16% less than men per hour in the EU. This is an average, as the wage gap is more important in some countries than others.

When we compare their salaries over the course of the year, the wage gap means that women work for free for 2 month each year – as if they stopped working on 9 November.

Another way to put it is: for every 1€ a man earns, a woman earns 84 cents.

Why is the wage gap such a controversial subject?

These numbers may be appalling but they are not undebated. Google summarises pretty well the state of the debate on the wage gap.

Screenshot from google.com, 19 January 2016

Screenshot from google.com, 19 January 2016

While these google search results can be pretty confusing, in fact the divide can easily be explained.

The most common reasons for people to oppose the idea of the wage gap are the following:

  • Worked hours: women tend to work part-time, and men tend to work overtime
  • Education: women tend to follow an education that leads to traditionally lower-paying jobs
  • Family: women tend to take more careers breaks – especially to have and raise children

However, those who talk about the “myth” of the wage gap actually do not oppose its existence, but rather believe that there are explanations for it. These explanations tell us a lot about the role and place of women in society, and the work that is still left to do – especially for us feminists.

It’s not (just) about the money

Just because there is an explanation for the wage gap does not mean we have to be ok with it.

If anything, the wage gap opens the way to a discussion about the gendered division of labour. The three common arguments against the wage gap actually reveal clearly that today, the fact that women are more often expected to take care of others: in the home, by taking on part-time work or taking a career break to raise children, or in their job (in low-paid professions occupied by a majority of women, such as administration, psychology or nursing for example).

Of course, women make their own choices. However, when faced with large-scale phenomena such as the wage gap, we need to tackle the structural reasons behind them.

Why not incite men to take on part-time work to take care of their relatives, or offer paid parental leave to the partners of women who gave birth (some countries already do)? Why not question stereotypes in education and offer wider career prospects to young people, irrespective of their gender?

These questions are as important as questioning the validity of the wage gap – if not more.

This month’s articles:

  • The decision to have a child while pursuing a career in the UK
  • Combining work and family in Poland
  • The high rate of women in leading positions in Latvia – and why our author thinks that it might not be the best benchmark for feminism
  • Women’s Participation in Hungarian trade unions
  • Women and the job market: A picture of today’s Europe

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