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First European Equal Pay Day must be followed by concrete targets and multidimensional strategy, says European Women’s Lobby

[Brussels, 04 March 2011] The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) today welcomed the launch of the first ever European Equal Pay Day that will in 2011 fall on Saturday 05 March, an initiative that already existed in many Member States and that is supported by women’s organisations. The concept of Equal Pay Day aims to illustrate the gap between women’s and men’s wages in Europe which stands currently at 17,5% : the average European woman would have to work until 5 March 2011 to earn the same income as her male counterpart in 2010. ‘Equal pay for equal work was supposedly guaranteed by the 1957 founding Treaty of the EU. It is about time that the EU finally takes action to effectively fulfill this commitment’ says Alexandra Jachanova Dolezelova, Vice-President of the EWL. ‘Awareness-raising and symbolic actions can only be a first step however’, she added; ‘To truly make a difference we need a multidimensional strategy which tackles the gender inequalities that are behind the pay gap.’

The EWL is calling for concrete actions and targets to complement the information campaign on equal pay that the Commission has been running for the last few years. ‘A European equal pay target, to reduce the pay gap by 10 percentage points in each country by 2020 for instance, would send Member States the message that the EU is serious and force them to take concrete measures to bridge the gap between women’s and men’s incomes and the consequent gender gap in pensions’, suggests Ms. Jachanova Dolezelova.

To reach such a target, the EU Member States would need to address the multiple and complex root causes of the gender pay gap, such as inequalities in paid and unpaid work and the gender segregation of the labour market. For this, women’s rights organisations say that there are a number of important mechanisms already in place or in the pipe-line at the EU-level, and that the EU Institutions need to demonstrate political will in putting them to use without delay.

One such measure is the so-called ‘Maternity Leave Directive’, the adoption of which is still pending after the a European Parliament proposal to provide 20 weeks maternity leave and two weeks paternity leave, both fully paid. ‘Equal pay will not become a reality until the costs of having children are shared more equally between parents and across society,’ says Ms. Jachanova Dolezelova. Women’s over-representation in unpaid work and their work patterns that include part-time and flexible work arrangements and care-related career breaks are important factors contributing to the gender pay gap. Fully-paid care leave that enables women to retain their economic independence while having children, leave arrangements for men to encourage them to take up their share of care work, and publicly provided affordable childcare facilities are key.

The EWL also warmly welcomed Commissioner Viviane Reding’s announcement earlier this week that she will consider legal action to get more women into boardrooms if companies do not rapidly improve gender balance. ‘One of the major reasons behind the gender pay gap is the serious under-representation of women in decision-making at all levels and in all sectors’, comments Cécile Gréboval, Programme Director at the EWL. ‘When 60% of university graduates are women and yet they predominate in lower valued and lower paid occupations, there is clearly something wrong.’ According to the European Commission, the share of female board members in the EU has increased by just over half a percentage point per year over the last seven years, and stands at 12% today. At this rate, unless action is taken, it will take another 50 years before there is a reasonable balance (40% of each sex) on company boards. ‘Self-regulation has evidently not worked,’ concludes Ms. Gréboval. ‘We need a binding measure at EU-level, with appropriate sanctions, to make the equal representation of men and women in political and economic decision-making a reality.’

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ewl press release equal pay day 03 mar 2011 1

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