Unequal Opportunity for Women

By Elza Goffaux and Eren Isiktas

Unequal opportunities for women are chronical and illustrate wider and structural inequalities between genders. Also, inequalities in the access to jobs or in political representation is a channel for the reproduction of those systemic inequalities. Even though there are some current attempts to prohibit these channels, there is still a need for more stringent measures against inequality that would lead to a change in mentalities and a structural change in society. 

The gender gap in the labor market

Women’s presence in labour market is a historical process and their insertion became  particularly massive in the second half of the XXth century. Women employment is key to their independence from men’s influence, autonomy and empowerment. However, labour market also reflects structural inequalities between men and women and the dynamics of domination of men over women. 

A first indicator of gender inequalities in the labour market is the pay gap. In 2017, on average women’s wage per hour was 16% lower than men’s in Europe and 19.5% lower in the USA in 2017. To highlight those inequalities in salary, the french organisation Les Glorieuses calculated that from the 5th of november 2019 at 4:47 pm, french employed women would work for free until the end of the year. One explanation can be linked to maternity and to the fact that in many countries still today, women are the ones that are expected to take maternity leave and this impacts their career as a whole. This also pictures that in the society as a whole, women are primarily seen as mothers and main pillars of family structures. Moreover, this inequality in wage can be explained in regard to the value that is attributed to women’s work and skills. For example, fields in which the majority of the workforce is feminine are less valorised and wages are lower than in fields mainly masculine and the leadership positions in women-dominant areas are also occupied by men. Furthermore, the number of high responsibility positions that are held by women is considerably fewer than their male counterparts, as only 34% of leadership position are fulfilled by women. This is particularly paradoxical young women have, on average higher qualifications: 43% of european women between 30 and 34 years old graduated from higher education whereas 34% of young european men graduated. This phenomenon can be explained by a mechanism called the glass ceiling, an interiorised informal barrier that prevents from access highly valued jobs or higher revenues.

Inequalities in the labour market can also be seen through the place of women in the labour market. Firstly, even if the unemployment rate does not radically differ between men and women in europe, the access to the labour market is harder for female than male. In Europe, 77% of men were employed whereas only 65% of women have a declared job. Women are also more likely to have unstable careers because of the maternity leave that makes reinsertion in labor market hard. Furthermore, women are more likely to be employed for a limited time or in a state of continuous underemployment, as for example, 30% of french women had a part time job in 2017 whereas 8% of men were in that situation. The important instability of the jobs added to lower wages, higher pressure on their responsibilities in the family and the amount of money spent on menstrual products makes women more vulnerable to poverty and exclusion. Their retirement is also more unstable as pensions are lower for women than men after having earned less during their lives. 

Unequal Representation of Women in Political Life

The very same situation is existent in the equal representation of the women in political life as well. The numbers of female Parliament Members who are the voice of the women in the policy-making process are not at an adequate level. Considering the fact that government policy is one of the main solutions for gender inequality, under-representation of the women in government branches stimulates worsening circumstances for the equality between genders. The reason for insufficient representation is generated from gender norms. The beliefs such as the women should have different priorities like family rather than politics or they can be affected by men while electing and after being elected are considerable prejudices obstructing female political participation. Moreover, male-dominant political life is a heritage that is also influencing our society and prohibiting equal representation. Since future politicians are determined by the androcentric political parties, the women are disincentivized and have a lower motivation to take part in the political arena. According to Inter-parliamentary Union data, this situation can be observed in all over the world except four countries where the female representation rate is more than 50 % (Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba and United Arab Emirates) Two examples for the rest of the world can be Greece and Turkey. The female Member of Parliament number for Greece is 56 out of 300 which means only 18% of the whole parliament is constituted by women. The same percentage for Turkey is just 17% with 102 female representatives out of 589. These statistics disclose an embarrassing reality of our community, the missing voice of women. The essential steps must be taken such as quota implementation to political parties in order to achieve one of the fundamentals of gender equality. We should start filling the gender gap from the political field which will ease the process for all other areas.

Deficient Current Measures

Keeping in mind the previously mentioned inequalities, it should also be acknowledged that there are many existing measures to prevent the current situation. The main and the most inclusive agreement on gender equality is the “Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women” (CEDAW) which is an international treaty of the United Nations signed in 1979. Article 5 of the Convention reflects the core idea of it; “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures: to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary”. Both social and cultural norms constituting unequal conditions for the genders are rejected and targeted to be changed. However, the actuality of the situation demonstrates that the treaty could not reach its target yet; we still have a gap to mind and fill. According to the data of the International Labour Organization which is a UN agency, the women still have a 16% lower share in the labor market globally, even though 187 countries have ratified CEDAW. Although the articles of the treaty urge the necessity of decreasing this number to zero, the countries still did not implement the required measures that they already agreed. 

In addition to a worldwide agreement, the European Union has many conventions and articles on equal opportunity for genders. The Article 157 of Treaty of Functioning of the EU, is the most explicit mention of the equality obligation in economic field: “Each Member State shall ensure that the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work”. The article intends to create a basis for an egalitarian society; nevertheless, the pay gap between male and female workers does not allow this ambition. In terms of the gross hourly earnings, the women in the EU are earning 16% less than their male counterparts. All these examples show that today, there are many attempts to form a fair framework for the women. However, the efficacy and adaptability of these initiatives are under a cloud of suspicion regarding the aforementioned statistics revealing gender inequality. 

Necessary future actions

Actions that aim the end of inequalities in opportunities for women have to focus on a change in mentalities that will bring a change in the structure that permit those inequalities to exist. Focusing on the labour market, policies can force equal pay, as Iceland did in 2017. This would take place through the intervention of legislative bodies. Equal pay would imply an equal recognition of skills and value of work for women and men. Moreover, enterprises should put in place transparency in the salaries so that women have more elements to support their bargain when they ask for augmentations. Also this would permit an easier negotiation within the trade unions and a better representation of women’s interests. Furthermore, shared parental leave should be put in place to prevent enterprises from legitimately paying women less. Public child care should also be put in place. This would bring a structural change, as women would not be seen a mother at first anymore and would be able to fully control their professional career. These future actions should not be seen as discrimination between genders as it is mentioned in CEDAW: “Adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination”. These are the required steps for a better future for our society.

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