Strong action needed to ensure inclusion of all women in the labour market

By Anna Defour, ENAR Policy Assistant

28 March 2014 - "Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all” stated the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the occasion of International Women’s Day a few weeks ago. This year’s motto was “Equality for women in progress for all” and stays in line with the discourse that the United Nations has held for the last 40 years: women are needed for societies’ well-being and development, and yet, they are strongly discriminated against in their daily life. As a consequence, it is high time for strong actions to be taken.

Since its creation following the Second World War, the United Nations broadened its mandate and progressively became a key advocate for Women’s rights, at least labelling itself as such, claiming the necessity to ensure equality between men and women and to prevent discrimination and violence against women. International Women’s Day is therefore presented as an opportunity to reflect on the progress achieved, to raise awareness on the future challenges and to remind of the important role of women in their countries and communities.

On the very same day this year, the European Commission adopted a recommendation warning about the persistence of a gender pay gap in Europe. Asserting that gender equality, is one of the founding principles of the European Union, enshrined in the Treaties and in several pieces of legislation, the Commission insisted on the priority to tackle gender pay gap as part of its 2010-2015 Strategy on Equality between men and women. Full of good will but remaining unfortunately very general, the Commission recommended more pay transparency. This would, among others, include the entitlement of employees to ask for information on pay levels; employers’ regular reporting on remuneration by category of employee or position; the collection of regularly updated statistics on the gender pay gap in the various Member States and the improvement of national equality bodies’ actions to tackle gender pay discrimination.

Indeed, statistics provided by Eurostat in 2012 show the existence of an average 16.4% gender pay gap across the EU, which in other words means that hourly earnings’ difference between men and women amounted to 16.4%. It is also interesting to note that countries that are defined as “leading countries” either in terms of equality or economically speaking, are the countries in which the gender gap is the widest. For instance, in Germany, the gender gap amounted in 2012 to 22. 4%, in Austria 23, 4%, in Finland 19.4%.

But there is a problem in the way women are considered and therefore in the way policies are designed and implemented. In the United Nations as well as in the European Union, althoguh increasing attention has been given in recent years to gender mainstreaming, women are often considered as a homogenous category. In particular, too little attention is given to the specific situation of women of migrant or minority background. And yet, they are facing discrimination on multiple grounds: their gender, their origin, the colour of their skin and potentially their religion or sexual orientation. This is crucial to address as it represents additional reasons to be discriminated against and thus, more obstacles to overcome.

Last week, ENAR launched its European Shadow Report on Discrimination in Employment. Several times in the report, ENAR refers to women of migrant and minority background as being particularly vulnerable to discrimination in employment. The report, which is based on national Shadow Reports from EU Member States, identifies five groups that are the most vulnerable to discrimination in employment: migrants from non-EU Member States (undocumented migrants included); refugees and asylum seekers; Roma; Muslims; People of African Descent and Black Europeans; and women with a minority or migrant background. The latter are largely disadvantaged on the labour market compared to the majority population but also compared to men of migrant or minority background. For instance, it is stated that the unemployment rates for Roma women are on average one third higher than those of Roma men. Another example is the reference to a study that shows that non-EU migrant women have higher unemployment rates compared to EU-born migrant women, native-born women and migrant men. It is also underlined that Muslim women are the most exposed to obstacles, prejudices or hostility because of their religion or appearance. Finally, in terms of jobs’ characteristics, women of migrant or minority background are often concentrated in domestic or seasonal work, catering, manufacturing industries, healthcare or jobs in the informal sector.

Employment is only one field in which women face disadvantage and discrimination. Their access to education, health or politics is also largely subjected to stereotypes and comments that often maintain women in a dominated position. It is clear that challenges remain huge despite the efforts that have been undertaken, since de jure equality doesn’t mean de facto equality. International Women’s Day was a great opportunity to remember this and the initiative of the European Commission is one further step on the long way towards gender equality. However, the specific situation and obstacles faced by women of migrant or minority background should be highlighted more and put at the top of the international as well as European agendas. Indeed, the fact that these women face even more marginalization must be take into account in policy priorities.

In the end, one day is but a drop in the ocean to celebrate the diversity of women who need to be fully included and empowered in society.


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