TALLINN - The European Commission has launched a campaign to try to tackle the gender pay gap across Europe, throwing the spotlight on Estonia's struggle to ensure gender equality.
The campaign, which was launched earlier this month and will last until August 2009, will be aimed at ensuring that men and women receive the same pay for the same job.
"Equal pay for equal work is one of the European Union's founding principlesâ€¦ closing the gender pay gap is a priority for achieving gender equality at the workplace," The European Commission said in a March 3 press release.
The issue is a particularly important one for Estonia, which, according to the most recent EU data, has by far the largest gender pay gap in the bloc.
According to the most recent survey published by Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, in 2007 the gender pay gap in Estonian workplaces is more than 30 percent. By comparison, the next highest gap in the EU is Austria at 25.5 percent, while the pay gaps in Latvia and Lithuania are 20 percent and 15.4 percent, respectively. Italy has the smallest pay gap at 4.4 percent.
Kadri Aavik, a project manager and researcher at the Estonian Women's Studies and Resource Center, said there were a number of reasons for the disproportionately high gender pay gap in Estonia.
"First, there are stereotypes and traditional ways of thinking in society according to which men should be the main breadwinners of families and should therefore earn more than women," Aavik told The Baltic Times.
"Second, the labor market is segregated[â€¦] The sectors where women tend to work are less prestigious and lower paid than those where men dominate," she said. "Men tend to be concentrated in higher and more valued positions, whereas women tend to have lower and less valued jobs, such as assistants and secretaries."
Aavik said there is also direct gender discrimination, whereby women make less money than men for doing the exact same job.
This issue has become a very controversial topic in Estonia in recent times and is at the the center of discussions.
Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves has recently refused to promulgate a law on gender equality that passed through Parliament because the law was tied to a highly controversial Tallinn administrative reform that would redraw the city's districts ahead of local elections later this year.
Issues surrounding sexual equality have been pushed into the background, as the administrative reform part of the bill has completely overshadowed the issue.
The law has served as a good example of how progress toward a more gender equal society is being slowed down by political maneuvering in the country.
MIND THE GAP
Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimir Spidla said during the recent EU conference that he believes the best way to achieve the European social model is to maintain basic human values such as equality, justice, respect for human rights and dignity.
The campaign for equality will include a number of measures, mainly aimed at disseminating information about the effects of unequal pay and the advantages of promoting equality in the workplace.
Aavik said knowledge is one of the most important tools in helping to close the gender pay gap.
"In order to change the situation, first people should become more aware that the problem exists," she said.