On November 3rd, according to the European Commission, European women symbolically stopped getting paid, while there is still 16% of the year left. That 16% symbolizes the pay gap between men and women. Even though gender equality is enshrined in Article 23 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, income disparities between women and men are still a reality in the majority of member states, reflecting not only in inferior salaries nowadays, but in lower retirement pensions in an uncertain future.
Equal pay for equal work is one of the founding values of the European Union, being in the Fundamental Social Rights Charter of Workers since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. On November 20th of 2017, the European Commission released the EU Action Plan 2017-2019 named “Tackling the gender pay gap”, which consists of measures that should be ensured by the European Union to help close the gap. However, we are in the middle of the plan and according to the Commissions press release, there is still a long path ahead of us.
The Action Plan is an initiative by the European Commission to tackle the main causes of the gender pay gap in the EU, it consists of 24 action points, divided under 8 main strands of action:
- Improving the application of the equal pay principle;
- Combatting segregation in occupations and sectors;
- Breaking the glass ceiling: addressing vertical segregation;
- Tackling the care penalty;
- Better valorizing women’s skills, efforts and responsibilities,
- Uncovering inequalities and stereotypes;
- Alerting and informing about the gender pay gap
- Enhancing partnerships to tackle the gender pay gap.
After the end of the Cold War, the concept of “meritocracy” gained recognition and until today is encouraged by political campaigns, books, TV shows and social media. However, the war’s winner ideology in which we live comprehends equality as the right of receiving the same treatment, while we come from different backgrounds. Treating everyone the same way does not lead to fairness, but promotes privileges. We cannot pretend that every single individual, in a globalized world, has the same opportunities. This is why when talking about the gender pay gap, we must not assume that because equality between men and women is one of the founding principles of the European Union, it is applied to reality or that the answer to it is simple: to pay women the same as men. The discussion goes beyond equal salaries for the same work, but concerns equity of treatment.
The European Commission’s research regarding gender stereotypes shows that 44% of Europeans believe that the most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family, while 43% think the most important role of a man is to earn money. Therefore, as data shows: women are still submitted to the old social constructs of gender roles, thus, are expected to take care of the children, the house and the husband. While men, on the other hand, are expected to provide.
Another publication by the Commission reports that most European workers have colleagues mainly of the same sex, revealing a segregation of sectors and occupations. While sectors which women are clustered often receive lower salaries, those with a male majority have higher earnings. As well as women comprise only 5% of the CEO’s in the European Union. In almost all the sectors researched, males are more often promoted to supervisory or management roles. When addressing these conceptions, it becomes easier to analyze why treating everyone the same way does not reflect in each person achieving their goals.
This allows us to think about a social paradox: even in duties which women are encouraged to pursue during their upbringing, males are considered the role models in those tasks.
- In the majority of western nations, women are encouraged to learn how to cook, a socially constructed gender role built over the development of society. Meanwhile, the most famous “Chefs” are men.
- Nowadays not as often as in the past, but women are still associated with sewing and being a seamstress. While the most prestigious fashion designers are men.
Meanwhile, as we look forward to an egalitarian society where each individual is able to achieve their dreams without anything in their way, we need to encourage legal and political measures that address not only the big picture, but which could change the lives of every type of family: with a mother and a father, with only one parent and with same-sex parents, as well as any other conception of family that could be given. Hence, in order to assist women to not leave their jobs to take care of children, elderly or disabled members of the family, legal measures should be taken by each member state of the EU to help them balance work-life and personal obligations with their partners.
Unfortunately, it is not enough that the European Commission takes these measures into consideration, makes researches, spend millions on projects to help to close the gap, if we do not let go of preconceptions of “gender role”. Politics and law are reflections of society, if we do not act, everything stays the same. The gap will never close and gender equality won’t be anything more than another “fancy intellectual concept”.
On the 23rd of May 2019, the elections of the European Parliament will be held, and will elect representatives of over 500 million Europeans in 28 state members. Nowadays, 271 chairs in the Parliament belong to women, while 480 to men. It is our duty, as aware European citizens, to vote for candidates who support initiatives to close the gap. As well as to vote in our countries’ elections with the same purpose. Our future is in our hands, let’s not stand still.
1 – Gender Pay Gap Statement. Retrieved from:
2 – Press release European Commission. Retrieved from:
3 – European Union founding values. Retrieved from:
4 – The Pay Gap Situation In The European Union. Retrieved from:
5 – European Parliament Chairs. Retrieved from:
6 – Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers (9 December 1989) Article 16. Retrieved from:
7 – Gender stereotypes in the European Union:
1 – Equal Pay Day 2018 Campaign:
The video was produced by a Dutch NGO which fights against gender inequity. It makes us wonder about the effect of unequal pay in a long term period, affecting women’s pensions.
2 – European Commission Gender Pay Gap – Italy
This research shows how the gender pay gap affects Italy, which is the 2nd country with less differences of income between men and women. However, still having a long way to go regarding unequal retirement pensions.