Equality commissioner: Society still hasn't adjusted to women working

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Liisa Pakosta. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The commissioner for gender equality and equal treatment Liisa Pakosta said on ETV's show "Plekktrumm" that the inequality between men and women in society has been created by culture.

Estonia's society is illustrated by the fact that there are more highly educated women, but regardless, there are far fewer of them working in high positions.

"The reason behind it is the same as behind the wage gap - a sticky floor and glass ceiling. The maintenance load. Many women can't take on responsible tasks because in the evenings they have to take care of their parents or children. When you work in a high position, the days are longer, you have to contribute more time to work and your responsibilities are larger. Women are saying that they cannot balance family and work life," Pakosta said.

The education gap starts in high school.

"When we look at entering high school, then Estonia is one of the countries with the biggest education gap in the world. Among under 35-year-olds, there are the most highly educated women per one highly educated man. Dropping out of school starts earlier, important decisions are made when entering high school. Lots of boys go to vocational schools and there are not many girls. And also we have the most different career choices, boys mostly go study the same areas and girls other areas. It is called segregation and it has nothing do to with biology," Pakosta said.

Pakosta explained that Estonia is one of the countries with the highest wage gap.

"The wage gap isn't measured for the same work, but women working full time and men working full time in the private sector and corporations are added up and their average wage is compared. From there, it really turns out that 22 percent is the difference. Why is it as big? One reason is positive. When we look at the difference between the average pension, then this is the smallest. This comes from the fact that we have a lot of women working full time. When we look at countries where the wage gap is smaller, lots of women don't go to work at all or work half-time. This is positive that women are working full time," Pakosta said.

The reasons for the wage gap also lay in the fact that women take responsibility for raising their children. "On the negative side, we have the fact that the wage gap increases when women start having children. In the case of young parents - this is the period when the wage gap really increases."

The cognitive cultural effect doesn't let women ask for a higher salary

The studies have shown that women ask for less salary and salary expectations differs by as much as €500.

"It is difficult to claim that a woman is guilty of asking for less money. People are rational, especially when asking for a salary and there's a reason why women are asking for less. The reason is culture. And the reason is something that is not written anywhere. I feel that there is a difference in the labor market in general. For example, I have two children, I have concerts in the nursery and development interviews at school or nursery and they are all in the middle of the working day, and I have to somehow reach an agreement with the employer. I have to ask him that I need to be free for those two hours. If I ask for less wage, then the employer will somehow agree. That is how we reach an agreement, and research shows that we are generally satisfied with reaching such an agreement," Pakosta explained.

Society hasn't adjusted to both women and men going to work

If we look for reasons in history why women's role has developed in society, it cannot be said that Estonia has an overly patriarchal past.

"If we think back to Estonian history, archaeological findings show that our ancestors were equal, historians even talk about a matrilineal society where inheritance happened through women. We also see from medieval records and folk songs that women have been active," Pakosta said.

Moving forward in history, great changes came with the world wars.

"If we think about what happened during World Wars I and II, a lot of men died and women went to work in factories. At the same time, a lot of work has already been mechanized that women used to do at home. There are washing machines and central water so Krõõt does not need to carry buckets of water far away and does not scour by hand, there is extra time. She can do paid work and it is a huge shock to society. When men started to work during industrialization, society was also shocked about how children can grow up when their fathers no longer raise them. We have forgotten that," Pakosta described the social changes in history.

"Until this day, we have not been able to adapt and figure out how to organize society in a situation where both women and men go to work, but children continue to be born and the elderly must be cared for. This is the problem of reconciling work and family life," she said.

Pakosta's interview was broadcast on March 8, International Women's Day.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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