Equal Pay Day in Germany was Monday 18 March 2019. The day intentionally falls on the 77th day of the calendar-year, marking the 77 extra days (or 21% more of the year in relation to the 21% less they are paid) that the average woman in Germany would have to work to earn as much as the average German man does in a year.
Last year, Germany failed to closed its gap in gender pay: one of the highest (and by some accounts the highest) in Europe. So, this year has seen stronger, more coordinated and targeted efforts to highlight this substantial pay discrepancy. Germany’s Justice Minister, Katarina Barley and its Family Minister Franziska Giffey have been incredibly vocal in their intolerance of gender pay inequality, and Berlin’s main public transport company/operator Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) adjusted its fares for Equal Pay Day. To correspond with the average percentage pay difference, the BVG implemented, under the advocacy slogan ‘Mind the Pay Gap,’ a concession which reduced underground, tram, and bus ticket prices by 21%, called the Frauenticket or “Women’s Ticket.”
While a reduction in fare from €7 (£5.98) to €5.50 (£4.70) is fairly substantially, and those that bought an annual pass on the day could have saved €160 (£136.92), the BVG’s statement on this initiative demonstrates its greater purpose was to bring attention to some of the injustice faced by German women, rather than compensating them all that they could be considered owed.
The effort to do this has caused backlash, with some criticising the policy for reversing inequality as any men who were found to have bought a Frauenticket were charged as a Schwarzfahrer: “fare dodger.” To this, BVG spokeswoman Petra Nelken replied ‘Of course the action is unfair. But it’s just as unfair not to pay women equally,’ echoing the company’s earlier announcement that ‘It is not our intention that men feel discriminated against by the action. On the other hand, who apologises to the women who earn on average 21 per cent less?’
However, this initiative and initiatives like it could more accurately critiqued in their inability to correct this unjust economic imbalance alone. Highlighting the matter further will not alter the situation. Significant policy changes are required within government and corporate constitutions.
For its 70-year history, gender equality has been enshrined in Germany’s constitution. Yet, this equality of rights has not typically extended into the income sphere. Germany, the rest of Europe, and the world, should take heed from Iceland who in 2018 became the first country worldwide to enforce equal pay between men and women by law. Part of the application of this is the requirement for all Icelandic companies with 25+ employees to be certified as paying equivalent wages by an independent agency or face a punishment of daily fines. Such active and drastic measures, that could also include publishing incomes and promoting female employers, have ensured that Iceland continues to be rated by the World Economic Forum as the most gender-equal nation in the world.
Other measures, though, have to be considered as part of a concerted effort to improve gender equality. Sweden is the best example for why the enforced guarantee of paternal parental leave shifts the gender norms that consider women to be the sole primary caregiver. This limits their opportunities for promotion and higher salaries upon returning to work after childbirth. Taking the free education and childcare offered for 2-year-olds in the UK several steps further, so that it is a universal public sector service subsidised by the government, from the time a mother or father is mandated to return to work. Doing so would help, traditionally unfortunately, the mother from being forced to withdraw from the labour force as private childcare is often unaffordable.
Nevertheless, Berlin’s Frauenticket was valuable in keeping issues like this at the forefront of the public’s minds. In the UK, where the gender pay gap has been growing in hundreds of the country’s largest companies, this level of public advocacy should be aspired to and intensified on our 2019 Equal Pay Day and year-round. Worldwide, the fight for gender equality of all kinds across all sectors must persist until it is achieved.