Why wage inequality must be banned

Vincent-Immanuel Herr (left) and Martin Speer Phil Dera

Gender inequality is still a depressing European reality. Although the goal of equal pay between women and men was laid down in Article 119 of the founding treaty of the European Economic Community (EEC) as early as 1957, it is only progressing at a snail’s pace.

Millions of times women still experience unequal treatment and monetary underestimation of their work. On average, women in the EU earn around 14.1 percent (unadjusted gender pay gap) less per hour than their male colleagues. The front runners in terms of inequality are Estonia and Latvia with around 21 percent, Austria with 20 and Germany with 19 percent, while Italy with around five percent, Bulgaria with three and Luxembourg with around one percent show the smallest differences.

Diverse factors such as the part-time rate, (paid or unpaid) time off for children or the strong representation of women in social professions influence this inequality. But that’s not all. In addition to gainful employment, women in the EU devote around 22 hours a week (men nine hours) to unpaid care work, for example in the household, bringing up or caring for relatives. In other words, jobs that are often taken for granted by society (and especially by us men) and too often overlooked.

The inequality between the sexes is a testament to poverty

Structural inequality not only slows down millions of women in the EU with their qualities and skills, but also weakens our societies as a whole. The continent is making insufficient use of the potential of over 50 percent of the population. How many innovations and ideas are falling by the wayside, how many talents and solutions go undetected?

This is by no means just an economic question, it is first and foremost a question of justice and principles. The daily disregard for the European objective of equal pay, which has been part of the European DNA since the founding days, is a sign of poverty. As a result, non-action against gender injustice cannot be part of a serious European stance.

With the wage transparency measures presented in March 2021, the EU Commission is taking the next steps in this direction, but not yet far enough. After 60 years of efforts, the most varied of EU directives and voluntary statements that are effective to a limited extent, the EU needs clarity and determination.

Wage inequality must be banned

We propose that unequal pay between women and men for equal work be banned within the EU and that Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome be implemented. A look at Iceland shows why this works and why it is necessary to “do something radical”, as Icelandic Minister of Social Affairs Þorsteinn Víglundsson put it. On January 1, 2018, the island became the first state in the world to legally prohibit gender-based wage discrimination and sanction any violation. Companies and authorities with more than 25 employees must be certified that they pay the same wages for both (all) genders. Those who do not risk penalties.

One year after the introduction, half of the companies had already certified themselves. The new law is flanked by a number of other measures that Iceland had already introduced a few years earlier. For example, from a quota of women of 40 percent in management positions, the inclusion of this topic in school curricula or the creation of a ministry for equality.

We propose to learn from the Icelandic success and to consistently ban gender-specific wage discrimination in the EU through a separate regulation, which is to be implemented in full by the member states. The nation states should also create structures at their regional and federal levels that regularly check compliance in companies and institutions and punish violations.

Europe as the first continent with equal pay

In this way, Europe can become the first continent in the world where equal pay is finally a reality. In doing so, we are not only keeping a central promise from the EU’s founding treaties, we are also unleashing new potential a thousand times over. In addition, the consistency in dealing with the wage issue can lead to more ambition in addressing further gender equality gaps.

From retirement to care work to the representation of women in the media, companies and politics. We want to live on a continent where gender doesn’t determine what we deserve, who we care about or how much influence we have. We want to live on a continent where women, men and everyone else can participate equally in economic, social and political life. Everything else is simply un-European!

Vincent-Immanuel Lord (32) and Martin Speer (34) are authors, feminists and consultants from Berlin. Together, as the HERR & SPEER team, they stand up for a gender-equitable society and a united Europe. For their commitment they have been awarded the Jean Monnet Prize for European Integration. The guest contribution is an adapted excerpt from her book “Europe For Future – 95 Theses That Save Europe”, which was published on August 2nd by Droemer-Verlag.


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