Gender pay gap: follow Iceland’s path
Pay discrimination based on gender is considered illegal in many countries. However, statistics show that there is no equal pay for equal work in the world. At the same time, there is much more than that if we look at the job opportunities between genders. Closing or at least shrinking the gender salary gap should be a top priority on the political agenda of the decision makers. When men and women will earn equal salaries for equal jobs, the ties between families will be strengthened, job opportunities will be the same for both genders and eradicating poverty will be accelerated with the inclusion of more women in the markets.
A considerable percentage of women nowadays have higher education and exceptional university results. However, they do not have the same job opportunities as men with the same educational record and experience, would have. That is because women are being considered by societies as the caregivers and the ones that should be responsible for raising children. Therefore, at the peak of her career, a woman who decides to have a child, in most cases, needs a period to go through pregnancy, spend time with her baby the first months and then, go back to work. During that period, a man could have a promotion or a raise in his salary.
The debate here is whether men and women have equal opportunities after they become parents. During the first years of a child’s life, it is important for parents and kids to spend time together. The norm is that women have the “responsibility” and the “sensitivity” to be with their children and take care of them. But is that true? Who says that a father should not spend time with his children? And who decides whether a father could be equally as good as a mother would be in raising them? However, the trend is that women should stay home, and men – with the role of the provider – should be the ones to continue working, having more job opportunities and perhaps getting promoted, at the time that the woman would reject proposals and refuse to travel.
Based on that idea, one would think that a reduced maternity leave would serve the cause of shrinking wage gaps. But that has been proved wrong if one checks the results of countries that reduced the maternity leave period. Reducing maternity leave was considered by some policymakers as a one-way road to tackling discrimination against women in the job market. The idea was that employers would not have second thoughts in hiring women if the maternity leave period would not affect their businesses. But again, such a policy would affect family ties and be proved ineffective. The truth is that a mother needs and wants to spend time with her children and that should be ok. Children also need their parents, especially during the first months of their lives.
To satisfy both, tackling wage gap and keeping close family ties, Iceland seems to be the country with the most progressive results by regulating obligational paternity leave for mothers and fathers. The guaranteed paternity leave voted in 2000 in Iceland has had remarkable results in the job market and at home. In 2004, a woman would get paid $0.81 at the time that a man would receive $1, while today she would make $0.90. There is still much more to be done, but the results are promising.
In Cyprus, there is a 14.8% wage gap between men and women. Women’s associations and NGOs demand serious political measures that would change the results and would set women in a better place in the job market. But having a look at the representation of women in political life of the island, one would expect the above results. The Council of Ministers is composed of 11 ministers, of which only two are women, while only ten members of the Parliament are women, out of the total of 56 MPs.
In Cyprus, women are expected to be the caregivers and they are expected to be the ones to stop looking towards their career and look after their children. According to a 2017 publication of the European Institute for Gender Equality, 50.1 % of the women in Cyprus were responsible for caring and educating their children or looking after elderly people, when the corresponding percentage for Cypriot men was 34.1%. Additionally, only 9.7% of working women would spend time for sport, doing cultural or leisure activities outside of their home, and 21.7% is the corresponding percentage for men.
Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement in the case of Cyprus. Women’s level of representation should be improved and there should be much better policies to have equal pay for equal jobs. To tackle discrimination in the labour market, I would consider guaranteed paternity leave as a priority.
Alexia Sakadaki is a sociologist, and member of the Political Committee of Cyprus Greens – Citizens’ Cooperation www.cyprusgreens.org