Understanding Work (In)equality: What Does It Mean?

By Anusree Mukherjee

reviewed by Juliana ascolani

“Gender equality work means activities such as teaching, training, guidance, development and research that involve the promotion of gender equality” (Holli, 2003). Working life and education are the central arenas in society where discourse about gender is produced, reproduced, and changed. 

Welcome to the 21st century: women here still lack the rights to own property, access credit, earn equal pay, or move up the hierarchy ladder in an organization. Throughout the world, women traditionally perform long hours of domestic work.

Article 141(1) of the Treaty of the European Community states: “each Member State shall ensure that the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value is applied.” In spite of this, there are gender employment and pay gaps: as of 2019, only 67.3% of women in Europe are employed in comparison to 79% of men.

At 18%, the unadjusted gender pay gap in Germany for 2018 was well above the average for the European Union (14.1%). Of the 28 EU countries, some countries have an even higher gender pay gap, such as Estonia at 22% in 2018.

This is primarily due to several factors, such as sectoral segmentation, work-life balance, and gender discrimination. However, there are some exceptional examples, such as the sovereign state of Estonia that houses the first female prime minister and the first female president in the world. This year saw the proud inauguration of political powers being vested in two bold women, serving as both the head of government and head of state.

One of the many things that the gender index of 2020 assessed is the work distribution. It tells us how each country in the European Union has distributed equal access to employment and healthy working conditions. Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland rank the highest in the domain of work with a score of 82.9 and 75.4, while Italy ranks the lowest with 63.3.


What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality is a concept wherein the focus of oppression is not just influenced by a singular element, such as gender, but the culmination of various other elements. These layers of inequalities are then portrayed in the work environment. 

Multiple discriminations are being posed on female employees; it’s not just to do with the fact that an employee is a woman. Often, ethnicity, race, education, and several other socio-political causes lead to discrimination and work inequalities. 

Jurist scholars and discrimination experts Eva Schömer (2014) and Susanne Fransson (Fransson & Norberg, 2017) have pointed to the shortcomings of discrimination law for a long time, since it does not recognize the existence of multiple discriminations or the impact of simultaneous grounds for discrimination. For example, a woman at work can face discrimination because of her ethnicity and, thus, be stereotyped and thought to be ‘underqualified in the workplace.’

With multiple layers of oppression, it becomes more difficult to voice your feelings about one problem and keep quiet about the others. Power relations also play a huge role in making the scenario comfortable enough to voice the oppression.

A key challenge for future intersectional studies is to develop knowledge beyond the usual categories, which can highlight the ways in which ideas of different categories of workers are articulated in current situations of profitization. Such analyses may make it possible to formulate work-life strategies that can prevent the story of discrimination from being repeated in the future. 


What is happening in Italy?

Traditionally, in Italy, children grow up with their grandparents while their mothers go to work; everything to do with care (children and home management) is associated with women. According to one study, this is because of the deep socio-cultural changes since the start of the 1970s.  

The gender gap in the labor market is still large, according to the same study. Female employment rates remain low, especially in southern Italy and for women with less education. There are not many labor laws to ensure work security for women in the country.

A set of reforms that provides access to affordable childcare and financial incentives for working women needs to be implemented. Laws can help only to a certain extent; a holistic culture change in the work environment is the need of the hour. A healthy work-life balance is important because it reduces stress and burnout at the workplace. 

The pandemic has highlighted the burden on working women. Italy’s ex-prime minister Giuseppe Conte said the country needs to adopt policies that will turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity for reform. This can happen when they “promote employment and female entrepreneurship by helping new mothers raise their children,” says Laura Boldrini, Italian politician and former UN official (2020). Hopefully, this will bring forth a change and increase the work distribution statistics in the country.


What is happening in Estonia?

Estonia is taking massive strides towards breaching the gap of work-inequality, being the only country in the world to have a female Prime Minister and a  female President serving together.

The only country in the world that is currently led by women has come to see the day that, including Kaja Kallas, the new Estonian government will have seven female ministers (46.7% of the cabinet). This promotes equal participation of women and men in important decision-making processes regarding  issues in the workplace. 

Labour laws are also strengthening in Estonia, where they want to promote increased opportunities for women to influence the development of society. It also allows both women and men to have access to three years of parental leave. Additionally, they focus on a healthy work-life balance to avoid chronic stress in employees.

The example of two bold women serving office at the highest official rank in the country will always remind us that when things fall apart, we mustn’t lose hope, as it all may be falling into the right places. Endurance, patience, and a little courage can take us a long, long way. 


Finland: Spearheading work equality?

Sweden and Finland boast about their holistic work-life balance despite the boom in marketization. Finland views itself as the exemplar of gender equality manifestation. So, what is the secret of the Nordic countries’ success story?

The Finnish Equality Act states that Finland will aim to “prevent gender discrimination and to promote women’s and men’s equality, and consequently to improve women’s position especially in working life.”

Since the 1980s, many policies have been made while keeping gender equality in mind. One of the objectives is to reduce segregation of a gender in a particular field, such as teaching and schooling. This has promoted Finland to reinforce gender sensitivity, advocate for women’s research careers, reduce the wage gap, and establish the status of women’s studies. 

Amongst other things, they practice something known as projectization, which means the allocation of funds without specifying the need. Project-based activities are a result of marketization, which brings together individuals, groups, organizations, and state officials to complete an activity.

Finland also happens to be the first country in the world to have a female Member of Parliament. Post-war years also saw the rise of female input in the decision-making processes pertaining to labor laws. Dismantling the gender stereotypes and promoting this notion in education have proved to bring about this success. The notion of masculinity and femininity is seen through a different lens.

Finland is thus a pioneer of gender equality and hopes this will turn into a working reality soon.


What did Finland do differently?

  • Projectization gives a hands-on and more practical experience in the work environment; this activity is gender-neutral and more task-oriented, which means it does not see gender as a commodity for discrimination. A crucial obstacle to the effective functioning of equality is this division into two strict categories: women and men. This promotes a line of thinking that there are fundamental differences between people based on this.
  • In an equal workspace environment, it is noted that a verbal discourse of negotiations is more effective than oppositions when issues are being resolved.
  • This allows a safe space for disagreement, dissonance, and different interpretations.
  • Work-life balance plays a major role in the holistic health of employees and keeps chronic stress at bay. It ushers in a healthy mental space to prevent burnouts at home or work, which in turn increases the productivity of employees.


However, every issue has two sides. Men are susceptible to the stereotypical gender-based roles given by society as well. We often forget to address the grievances of men when creating equal work opportunities for women. Finland takes this into consideration; their aim is to prevent further imbalance in gender inequality and to pay heed to every employee irrespective of gender.

Anusree Mukherjee
A highly professional and a dedicated writer specializing in marketing and communications. I want my content to propagate holistic wellbeing and help individuals live a better life. My studies in communications and journalism began in 2014, with an avid interest in effecting change in society. My background has not only nuanced my understanding of political analysis, human rights, anti-corruption, and several other key issues facing the disenfranchised but also taught me effective ways to deliver the message to people. I have also been involved with various philanthropic and mental wellness-oriented activities in India, such as committing to implement the goal of all-round wellbeing, and facilitating gender equality by ensuring the equal participation and full involvement of women and men in all aspects of life. Together, we can make this world a better place!

Juliana Ascolani

I am a health researcher who bridges data science and health research with direct experience in healthcare and university institutions, passionately and collaboratively pursuing the integration and synergy of all key areas of health and wellness. I believe in inclusion as the main pillar of our society, especially when it comes to health. Promotion and prevention in health empower people to adopt healthy decisions, thus I have been working during the last years in the development of inclusive and holistic health systems. What do I enjoy about my job? Realizing how we are making a difference in people’s lives, and seeing the result in their health journey. I enjoy the challenge of questioning new paradigms and creating debate around them. 

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