Gen­der pay gap: fol­low Ice­land’s path

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - COMMENT - By Alexia Sakadaki

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

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