Same work, same pay is as elusive in Southeast Europe as it is across the rest of Europe.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 02/04/12
Working retail is a common option for women. [Reuters]
Jovana Stankovic, 30, is an experienced saleswoman, but lost her job a year ago because the shop she worked at closed. After months of searching for a new position, she was invited for a trial period to work at an upscale eyewear shop in Belgrade.
This probationary period would begin with a few days of eight-hour shifts, on her feet, standard for jobs in retail. If the employer likes her, Stankovic would move to the next phase of probation: a full month of work eight hours a day, six days a week – without pay. If she completed that month of free work, her salary would average 200 to 300 euros per month.
"I need a job desperately and accepted this, but, after two days of probation, they told me they will take a male worker because he is stronger and can stand on his feet for eight hours without complaining … I didn't complain! Also, he got a job without the first month free probation, and I am pretty sure he will have better salary as well," Stankovic told SETimes.
Her story is far from unique. Southeast European countries share a slew of labour market characteristics with the rest of the continent, including longstanding EU members. Salary inequality between men and women is common.
Although women and men are equal in the eyes of the law, they are not paid equally, largely due to a series of factors including stereotypes, unequal access to education, and discrimination. As a result, analysts say, women in Southeast Europe earn and save less than men, the prevalent pattern most everywhere.
The gender pay gap -- the relative difference in percentage between the average gross hourly earnings of women and men -- as well as discrimination, are caused by assessing the value of jobs, Reiko Tsushima, senior specialist of Work and Gender Equality at the International Labour Office (ILO) for Central and Eastern Europe, told SETimes. This assessment by society in general involves four criteria.
"Skills, physical efforts, responsibility and working conditions are those criteria. Skills that are considered "female" such as those related to care work and manual dexterity such as embroidery, acquired "informally" are not well rewarded.
Experts say women tend to get shuffled into less desirable fields. [Reuters]
"Physical demands, such as the strain of performing repetitive tasks -- holding babies, bending to pick fruit -- are not well rewarded. Responsibility for another person's well-being, responsibility for quality control, escape attention. Working conditions that women face, such as handling feces, blood and vomit in the cases of nurses and child minders, are often ignored. Moreover, such conditions also involve contact with infectious diseases," she added.
According to Eurostat, the gender pay gap across Europe generally has narrowed by 1% to 3% since 2002. But, there are several countries, including EU members France, Italy, and Czech Republic, where the gap widened between 2006 and 2010.
Recent EU members Bulgaria and Romania have experienced fluctuations over the past eight years. In Bulgaria for example, the gender pay gap was a substantial 18.9% in 2002. It narrowed to 12.5% in 2006 and 2007, widened to 13.6% in 2008, then to 15.3% in 2009 and to 15.7% in 2010.
Neighbouring Romania bounced around as well. The pay gap was 16% in 2002, narrowed to 7.8% in 2006, jumped to 12.7% in 2007, decreased to 9% in 2008, then to 8.1% in 2008. In 2010, it was 12.5%.
Eurostat numbers show that Greece, the oldest EU member in Southeast Europe, had a gender pay gap of 25% in 2002; in 2008, it had narrowed to 22%.
In Macedonia, the story is somewhat different, Marija Savovska, executive director of the NGO Akcija Zdruzhenska Skopje, told SETimes.
"Macedonia is the third country in the Europe and Central Asia region -- after Kosovo and Turkey -- with the lowest female participation in the labour force. In 2007, women constituted 63.7% of the inactive population in the country. The pay gap was around 20% or higher, in sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, trade, hotels, health and social work."
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the employment rates of men and women are almost the same when comparing those earning the highest and lowest salaries. Yet in the middle range, there are three men for every one woman employee. Men earn 300-500 KM per month while women earn 200-400 per month, according to data from Gender Centre of Republika Srpska.
"In addition, many women are what the ILO calls "discouraged workers" -- workers who are not included in the statistics on unemployment, because they do not actively seek employment, even though they want to -- because they feel that they have no jobs or are facing discrimination or structural, social or cultural barriers," Gender Centre spokeswoman Dijana Tepsic told SETimes.
Kosovo's President Atifete Jahjaga shakes hands with members of parliament after taking the oath a year ago. [Reuters]
Beyond the gender-based pay gap is the issue of political representation. In Kosovo, where the president is a woman and politial parties are required to reserve 30% of electoral slots for women candidates, the job market for women is slim.
"Some 70% of Kosovo women are jobless. Women in the rural areas are less employed. Women cannot be free if they don't enjoy economic freedom," parliament deputy Flora Brovina told SETmes. The Kosovo Democratic Party member is director of the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Mother and Child.
Next door in Albania, data provided by the Coalition for the Promotion of Women and Youth in Politics suggests men control 84% of parliament and 98.2% of local governments across the country.
Blerina Metaj, a programme co-ordinator for the Children's Human Rights Centre of Albania/Defence for Children International, underlines that there can be no talk of equality between men and women in Albania as long as the patriarchal mentality exists. "According to that mentality, the woman is considered to be the property of the husband or the boyfriend, with whom he can do whatever he wants," Metaj told SETimes.
In Serbia, the number of women claiming unemployment benefits has been growing over the past few years. In 2009, 40% of claimants were women. In 2011 that figure had grown to 44%, according to National Employment Service data.
"According to latest estimates, the gender pay gap in Serbia is around 14%, which is under the European average. But the biggest problem for women is how to find a new job when they lost one they had. Also, women over the age of 35 have narrowed choices and this is why a significant number of them decide to try self-employment," Sanja Popovic Pantic, president of The Association of Business Women in Serbia, told SETimes. Her association is geared towards providing support and advice.
The picture is brighter -- perhaps brightest of all -- in Croatia, where the gap between men and women is narrowing on two specific fronts. According to the State Statistics Office, in 2010 the jobless rate among men was 33.4%, or 1.8% higher than the rate among women (31.6%). Secondly, the average monthly gross wage of women was around 11% below that of men in 2008. That is one of the lowest rates in Europe.
To the ILO's Tsushima, the solution in the Balkans and beyond is clear.
"In order to combat pay inequality, businesses have to remove barriers for women to access higher paying jobs, put in place measures to enable workers to balance work and family, such as workplace child care facilities, ensure part-time work is remunerated equally [per hour] as fulltime work, [and] enable flexible working arrangements." Lastly, she advised businesses to "revise wage structure through a job evaluation free from gender bias."
Linda Karadaku in Pristina contributed to this article.