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Unequal Pay Day: Women in Europe start working for free on 4 November

18:46 03/11/2020

This Wednesday, 4 November, is Unequal Pay Day in Europe, the day that women in the private sector start symbolically working for free for the rest of the calendar year. The day is meant to draw attention to the gender pay gap in Europe.

The gender pay gap signifies the difference in gross hourly wages between men and women. In Europe this pay gap is 16%, but in Belgium it is a whopping 24%. So Belgium’s Unequal Pay Day was in fact nearly a month ago.

The day, identified by PES Women (of the Party of European Socialists) and locally by the zij-kant women’s organisation, is not to be confused with Equal Pay Day, which is in the spring and signifies at what day women have earned as much as men in the previous calendar year.

Zij-kant points out that women are over-represented in many of what we call essential workers during the corona crisis, such as teachers and nurses, “but these jobs are among the lowest in terms of salaries,” say the organisation in a statement. “Child-care providers earn the least of all jobs in Belgium.”

The Unequal Pay Day figures are based on annual salaries of full- and part-time workers in the private sector. In Belgium, a huge 44% of women work part time, while only 11% of men work part time.

Covid-19 ‘lays inequality bare’

The reasons for the gender pay gap include women-dominated jobs traditionally paying less, women abandoning ambitious career trajectories to care for children and elderly relatives, and women not being promoted into high-paying management positions.

It is part-time work in order to care for children that is the real culprit when it comes to the pay gap in Belgium. If part-time work is eliminated and only full-time private sector workers are compared, Belgium’s gender pay gap shrinks to 6%, one of the lowest in Europe.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the inequality among men and women in the household,” according to zij-kant. “In the spring, parents were faced with an enormous task as schools and creches shut. The government offered extra and more flexible parental leave. Of those who took advantage of the scheme, 69% were women and 31% men. In other words, the care of children is still women’s work.”

The two women’s organisations ask that parenting be considered a task for both genders, for a quota of women on boards of directors and to strictly enforce the application of the Pay Gap Act of 2012.

Photo ©Getty Images

Written by Lisa Bradshaw