Gender equality at the labour market: is it possible for Ukraine to reach the level of the EU countries?
December 23, 2019
Recently published Global Gender Gap Report 2019 shows the ranking of gender equality in the countries of the world in which Ukraine ranked 59th out of 153. Compared to the previous year, the indicator has improved significantly (in 2018 it was 65th). However, Ukraine does not reach the average gender equality level in Europe. What prevents Ukraine from approaching European standards and what steps could help to improve the situation?
If to compare
Signing of the Association Agreement with the EU required that individual programs at national level were aligned with EU programmatic documents, such as Directive 2000/43/EC on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment of persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, 2000/78/EC on the establishment of common rules for equal treatment in employment and occupation, 2010/18/EC on the implementation of the revised framework agreement on parental leave etc. The experience of another country whose civilisation path has a number of similarities with the Ukrainian one – Lithuania, may be useful here.
Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, with a gender situation on the labour market similar to today’s Ukraine. However, over the last 15 years, it has been able to significantly improve its rating and this year’s annual report on the gender gap in the four major spheres of life (The Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) put Lithuania at 33rd place out of 153 countries by the level of gender equality.
The ranking takes into account indicators of political involvement (the number of women at the highest positions in the country), level of education and access to education, access to medical care, and economic opportunities. The most successful for Ukraine of these indicators is the indicator of accessibility of education (26th place in the ranking). It is important to understand that this rating is not about the quality of education, but rather that women and men in Ukraine have equal access to it. The worst indicator represents the engagement in political life (83rd place in the ranking).
Illustrative figures (comparing Lithuania and Ukraine) are that the percentage of women employed in Lithuania, in general, is 14% higher than in Ukraine (74.2% to 60.4%).
Back in 2005, the Law on Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men came into force in Ukraine. However, 15 years later, the average monthly salary for women in Ukraine is 75% of men’s salary. In other words, in Ukraine, women work on average 25 working days out of 100 for free. Although in Lithuania, the average salary gap for women and men is 16%, yet 10 years ago it was the highest in the EU at the time – 22%. The National Equal Opportunities Program for Women and Men in Lithuania in 2010 set the priority goal of reducing the salary gap, and one of the steps was to substantially increase the level of salaries in sectors of the economy mainly occupied by women – such as education, art and culture, social work.
Results of polls: the problem is not a legislative one, but a psychological one
In the meantime, while NGOs and public authorities have focused on the implementation of European legislation, the results of the National Gender Equality Survey have been disappointing. According to a survey conducted by GFK Ukraine in 2018, only half of Ukrainians (both women and men) support equality of household responsibilities when the husband and wife are working, while 43% of respondents said the opposite – a woman, in any case, should do all the housework and be a good housewife, and two-thirds of those surveyed believe that a woman should be primarily a wife and mother, and the level of support for this view has hardly changed since 2009. The opposite view is that a woman should, first and foremost, make a carrier, do what she wants to do and that she chooses in what way and when support only 31 %.
It is likely that programs and campaigns for more active involvement of men in family life, childcare and assistance to women in domestic affairs would help to somehow free women and enable them to be more actively involved in the labour market. However, other stereotyped views, such as exaggeration of the importance of male employment, may hinder progress in achieving gender equality.
Another nationwide poll on gender stereotypes, conducted in July 2018, shows even less encouraging results in terms of overcoming stereotypes: 61% of those polled said it is a man who needs to support the family financially, while only a third (37%) pointed out that it should be the responsibility of both or of the one whose salary is bigger. Such results can be partly explained by the difference in salaries, not in favour of women.
At the same time, the overwhelming majority of the population of Ukraine consider motherhood to be the main way for a woman to achieve something in life – according to the results of an all-Ukrainian survey in 2018, two thirds (65%) said that “every woman should have a child for a purpose in life”, both women and men (69% of men and 63% of women agree with this statement); instead, only a third (32%) said otherwise – that a woman had a “right to choose to have a baby or not”.
Therefore, this gives rise to contradictory pressures on women from the environment in combining the roles of mother and worker: expecting the birth of at least one child on the one hand, and discrimination on the part of the employer about lower salary, worse than men’s in the same positions. In other words, women are expected to fulfil the role of a mother, however, the very possibility of fulfilling this role is a pretext for depriving women of equal opportunities with men in the labour market.
Therefore, the main manifestations of gender discrimination in the labour market both in Ukraine and in Lithuania can be observed in the difference in pay, the division of employment into “female” and “male” (horizontal segregation). Moreover, it is the double workload that women workers face as being primarily responsible for the reproductive field (family care, household etc.).
Gender-based stereotypes regarding the division of spheres of life as being more important for women (childbirth, childcare, unpaid social work) and men (career, material welfare of the family) exist in Ukrainian society with the idea of active working mothers who are entitled to self-realisation in the professional sphere.
What to do about it?
In addition to legislative changes in Ukraine in the previous years, various initiatives (mainly from international and non-governmental organisations) could be identified to address discrimination in the labour market and other areas, such as the abolition of the 2018 “List for Prohibited Women Occupations” approved by Ministry of Health, launching the GirlsSTEM initiative, supporting small business owners through trainings and grants, hosting a HeForShe congress, and a Four-handed Happiness awareness campaign explaining why gender equality is important for men as well as for women.
A possible change as the legislative step would be the introduction of the possibility for dads to take paternity leave as in Lithuania, for example. Such a step can help to establish a more balanced division of family responsibilities, more involvement of dads in care work, not only after the birth of a child but also in the years to come.
The possibility of alternative forms of employment (partially flexible, remote etc.) will also help to reduce the disparity in the representation of women and men in the labour market in Ukraine in order to reach a level close to the one in the EU in the coming years. An additional step could be to support the involvement of women in the labour market through the development and support programs – both through training, grants and mentoring, sharing of good practices, and the creation of mutual support networks for women who want to create their own businesses or who already have it.
Broadly speaking, the main focus of public policy – in the legislative field and in the implementation of information campaigns – should be to overcome gender stereotypes, prejudices regarding the linking of a particular area of activity to women or men, to create work conditions favourable to combine work and family life.
Based on the research of the Ukrainian Centre for European Policy “Gender situation on the labour market: comparing the cases of Ukraine and Lithuania”
Author: Kateryna Potapenko, Ukrainian Centre for European PolicyAuthor : Ukrainian Liaison Office in Brussels