Today is International Women’s Day (in case you hadn’t noticed). Conveniently, the blog has been very wimminy this week and today is no exception.
This is the first of three special posts (I hope, if they all come off) today and tomorrow.
And here indeed, is a cause for celebration, sort of. Let’s just say two cheers instead of three.
A poll commissioned by the European Parliament on the issue of equal pay has found that nearly half of respondents (47%) think that the EU should tackle the gender pay gap, just ove a third (36%) think it should be addressed at member state level and only 11% think it should be completely devolved to local level. Which is interesting huh? Especially when you consider the woeful failure of the UK Government to enforce its equal pay legislation or indeed, do anything to ensure equal pay for women and men on these islands.
Also interesting was the division of opinion on how best to tackle the pay gap. Just over a quarter thought facilitating access to jobs for all would help, while a similar number thought imposing penalties on firms would work and just under a quarter suggested enforcing transparent pay scales. Maybe if all three things were done, the gap would close?
Do Europeans think unequal pay between men and women doing the same job with the same qualifications is a serious problem? Indeed they do – 69% of participants agreed with this assertion. Encouragingly, 60% thought gender inequalities generally had decreased in the last decade with 12% saying that they thought things had stayed the same. By my reckoning that also leaves a substantial quarter who don’t know or think things have got worse.
At this point, the good news dries up because as ever, there is a gender divide on how serious a problem unequal pay is. Over a third of men do not think unequal pay – and gender inequalities more generally – are a serious problem; yet, over three quarters consider it to be so. So a woman’s problem appears to be just that, all across Europe, with a difference in opinion of between 10 and 12%.
These findings are worthy of consideration, not just because it is International Women’s Day, but because of the constitutional debate we in Scotland are engaged in. The pay gap in Scotland has been a yawning chasm for years but there are signs of it closing, or at least narrowing. The last Scottish Government Annual Report on its Gender Equality Scheme in 2011 found that the pay gap had reduced from 12.4% in 2009 to 11.9% in 2010. Not even worth a whole cheer, because hidden behind this mean calculation lies the fact that more women are to be found in lowly paid occupations and in part-time work. Women are more likely to be in poverty and lone parents – over 90% are women – are most likely to be in persistent poverty. Fortunately, there are a number of Scottish Government initiatives to try to address the gap, particularly a priority on tackling occupational segregation.
But even the Scottish Government acknowledges all it can do is fiddle around the margins: the big levers to address the pay gap and women’s poverty sit with Westminster. Indeed, in one single stroke, by pushing lone parents off of Income Support and on to Job Seeker’s Allowance, the Scottish Government has estimated 1200 lone parent households will be affected. In income terms, it means they and their families will have less.
Independence in Europe is still what the SNP stands for; with its majority, it is pushing for a yes vote in the referendum. And at last, we might well have a positive reason for women to vote yes to independence. With a significant poll of Europeans suggesting the best place to equalise pay is at trans-national level, women could find themselves better off – and better off more quickly by being part of an independent nation with a seat at the table. Scottish women, and indeed women elsewhere in the rest of the UK, have a better chance of having the pay gap closed by investing their votes in a constitutional settlement and in governments which would support such a European wide move.
It’s a bit simplistic admittedly, and there are other factors to be considered, but this idea is at least something to build on. Mix and match the macro and micro powers and you have a potential recipe for success, whereas at the moment all we have is a dog’s dinner. So that’s one hurrah.
What’s the other? How often do you find a politician quoting Virginia Woolf in a press release? I kid you not:
Mikael Gustafsson, Chair of the European Parliament’s women rights committee said, in commenting on the poll findings: “Virginia Woolf spoke out about the importance for women to have a room of one’s own. It is less well known that she also spoke out about the need for women to have money of their own. It was true then – and it is true today. Focusing on economic equality is even more important at a time of crisis.”
I couldn’t agree more.