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EU women will be working for free from 4 November

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Persistent gender pay gaps mean that women living in the European Union will work for free for the rest of the year from Wednesday onwards, according to the EU Commission.

The Commission found that hourly wages for female workers were on average 16% lower than that of their male counterparts, accounting for around two months of an annual salary.

EU and national government campaigns to close the gender pay gap, some dating as far back as 2005, have been insufficiently translated into legislation or have been meagerly implemented on the ground, causing progress to lag.

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As a result, the standing 16% average gender pay gap in the EU has “only changed minimally over the last decade,” according to the EU Commission.

“Women in the EU even earned 39.6% less than men overall in 2014. One of the reasons is the fact that on average women spend fewer hours in paid work than men.”

Throughout the bloc, the Commission found that the lack of progress in closing the gender pay gap was due to “various inequalities” that women continue to face when accessing professional rewards, progression or work itself.

These inequalities include the overrepresentation of women in low-paying professions, such as care and education, unequal distribution of domestic or parental responsibilities, hurdles in accessing high-ranking positions (the so-called glass ceiling) or outright discrimination, or instances where women are paid “less than men for doing jobs of equal value.”

The gender pay gap in Belgium

In Belgium, one of the EU countries to mark a national Equal Pay Day (EPD), pay gap calculations based of 2017 figures showed that “women in Belgium earn on average 24% less than men,” according to the national EPD campaign.

“In the private sector, the difference in gross annual wages rises even further to 28%, while in the public sector the pay gap is (…) 18%,” the campaign wrote in a statement marking International Equal Pay Day in September.

The coronavirus crisis further aggravated the gap across the world, as women, who make up “as much as 85% of nurses and midwives and 90% of long-term care workers in OECD countries (…) worked day and night, but as of yet did have not seen the [nightly round of] applause being converted into higher wages.”

Areas where women are overrepresented, such as the services industry, customer service, sales or tourism were also among the hardest-hit by the crisis while, to make up for the shutting down of schools and childcare services, women were more likely than men to cut back on their paid work.

In Belgium, the majority of people who benefited from a bespoke coronavirus parental leave granted by the government are women, the Belgian EPD campaign said.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times