The theme for International Women's Day 2017 is Be Bold for Change, which urges us to forge a better working world and a more gender-inclusive society. We should take up this challenge and to do so we need more than words; we need action. This year has already seen millions of women and their allies march in support of women’s rights. The day of the women’s marches was a proud day for women and gender equality activists across the world. International Women’s Day represents an important opportunity to continue this momentum and fight for change.
While women’s rights may be the focus of only one day this week, the issue must be kept in mind all year round. The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won't close entirely until 2186. This is a fact we cannot ignore. Based on the average gross hourly income of full and part-time workers across Europe, women earn 16% less than their male counterparts. This figure reaches over 20% in some countries including Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. In the UK the figure stands at 18%. The statistics show we still have so much to do.
The gender pension gap is even worse, with men receiving higher pensions than women in all EU Member States and women pensioners facing higher risks of poverty in old age. Across Europe, this amounts to 38% on average. This is proving even more intractable than the gap between women and men in work.
Even now, we have to respond to ridiculously outdated attitudes and just last week we were sadly reminded of how much work we still have to do. During a European Parliament debate on the gender pay gap, a Polish MEP claimed women should earn less money than men, because they are “weaker", "smaller" and "less intelligent”.
The principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work has been enshrined in the European Treaties since 1957. There are numerous articles in place to enable legislation to combat gender discrimination, the trafficking of women and children and violence against women to name but a few. Clearly even this legislation is not delivering the change we need.
Realising women’s economic empowerment requires transformative change so that prosperity is equitably shared. I believe that International Women’s Day is an important day to focus all minds on what we have to achieve and help us to move closer to gender parity, including the reduction of the gender pay gap. But this fight for equality is not just for one day. We have to work each and every day to continue our long standing battle. I hope that you will join me today and every day and Be Bold for Change.