Jens Wandel, Deputy Director, UNDP in the region of Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States
Why is today important? If women worked from 1 January 2011 to today – 2 March, 2012 – they would have earned the same salary that men earned in 2011. Women get paid less than men all over the world, and drawing attention to this inequality is why we mark European Equal Pay Day, a day that changes each year depending on the severity of the income gap between men and women.
Across Europe, women earn 17.5 percent less than men during their lifetimes; from 1.9 percent in Poland, to 5.5 percent in Italy, 20.5 percent in Slovakia, or even above 25 percent in Austria and the Czech Republic. (Source: Eurostat).
This disparity reduces the standard of living of women throughout their lives and means lower pensions when they retire. As a result, elderly women are at a higher risk of living in poverty: 22 percent of women over the age of 65 are at risk of poverty, compared to 16 percent of men (Source: Eurostat).
These figures reflect discrimination, inequality and specific life choices in the workforce. Compared to other regions, women are highly educated and their participation in the labour market is the highest in the world. However, job opportunities and entrepreneurship is still lower for women than for men in the region of Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States; Women also end up with the jobs that men don’t want, so quality of employment and career opportunities is yet another dimension of inequality.
It is also more difficult for women to remain in the workforce because they are still expected to balance work and family life. Women often leave their jobs to provide care for their families because of a lack of child care and senior care services.
Addressing income inequality between men and women is critical for sustainable development, especially since our region has experienced the highest increase in socio economic inequality in the world over the last 20 years.
According to UNDP’s Regional Human Development Report (2011), one-third of people surveyed in the region say that they are excluded – from economic life, social services, or participation in society.
A resilient and sustainable society is only possible when everyone can contribute to economic, political and civic life.
Why? Imagine a household that is financially dependent on a man’s income only. That household is at a greater risk of collapsing once the man is no longer earning an income. If the woman in the household has the opportunity to earn a similar income, the household has a better chance of coping.
Studies consistently show that where women and men have equal opportunities, society develops more rapidly. A recent study shows that closing the pay gap between men and women would boost Europe’s gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 13 percent.
The United Nations Development Programme advocates for social and economic policies that address the specific needs of women and girls, and promote equality for all. European Equal Pay Day is an opportunity to advocate for addressing the inequality that women face every day – to the detriment of society as a whole.