- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Belgium among the 10 most egalitarian countries in the world… victory before failure?

Last week the World Economic Forum (the famous Davos) published its annual rankings of equality between women and men for 142 countries. This index is based on 4 major variables: health, education, women in the economy and in politics. I find it one of the most reliable rankings and I think it is very important to be able to make comparisons in order to be able to verify the results of our efforts or, on the other hand, step up the pressure if the results are bad.

In the European Union, all kinds of gender discrimination has been forbidden by law since 1976. The “Global Gender Index” measures gender equality in practice, which is a completely different story. Europe occupies 12 of the first 20 places. Nordic countries are still at the top of the ranking (5 countries in the first 5 in the world). Canada and the United States occupy the 19th and 20th place respectively. It is necessary to state that no country has achieved perfect parity. In 9 years of analysis, the WEF has noticed slight progress towards gender equality at the global level but change in some countries has slowed progress. It is always necessary to repeat… nobody is ever immune from taking a backward step and we must always remain vigilant.

Because of its policy of austerity, which hasn’t taken into account the life differences between women and men,  Great Britain (26) has slipped 8 places as the revenues of women have dropped. France (16) and Italie (69) have moved up in the ranking thanks to the fact that their governments have equal numbers of women and men. The political dimension elsewhere has also pushed up the global index of gender equality. As always, the most penalised European countries are being so because of the place of their citizens in the labour market. That is particularly the case for countries where it is viewed badly to work while having small children (for women of course). I’m talking about Germany, the Netherlands, Mediterranean countries…the results are multiple: career break, staying at home or working part-time after the first child, but also only 1 child or maximum 2 per woman due to the age at which they had the first child. This culture of hyper-maternity penalises the level of participation of women in the economy and therefore the macoeconomic growth as well as the performance of companies that can no longer count on all their skilled workforce, and also on the birthrates of whole nations!

Belgium is a winner… our country has always been relatively well placed in the WEF ranking because we enable women to continue to work full time while having children and have been one of the first countries to have a gender quota for the electoral roll (thank you Miet Smet). We are doing a lot better than the average European country in this domain.  But… this analysis was carried out before the the constitution of the new governments. If the number of women in the parliaments of the country is close to 40% and the Brussels government is equal, the new federal and Walloon governments will almost certainly cause the country to slip back in the index!

There is no cause for celebration not least in economic terms. For the past two years, we have had legislation on gender quotas for the board of directors of companies listed on the stock exchange to reach 33% by 2018. We have gone from 12% to 17% in two years! During this time, France has gone from 12% to 30% with the same type of quota (40% by 2016). But here lies the real problem – the number of women on executive committees: 15% for France despite 30% of women on boards of directors and 12% for Belgium. This figures have hardly changed.

Concerning the wage gap, if we do relatively well in Europe with an average of 10%, it’s largely due to the weight of the public sector. The study of Jobat on wages in 2013 showed that at university level or equivalent and same number of hours worked, women earn a gross salary of 600€ less per month. But that’s not all… this study confirms the results of the gender analysis of non-wage benefits carried out by the l’Institut de l’Egalité entre les Femmes et les Hommes (Institute of Equality between Women and Men) three years ago. In the same company women have half of the value of stock options of the men and are reimbursed much less expenses. According to IPSOS for Jobat, on a global level among those with a university degree, women enjoy less meal tickets, group and hospital insurance, laptops, GSMs, cars, internet connections than men…the only real benefit that a woman enjoys more is the reimbursement for the cost of public transport!

Last but not least to show that we risk slipping still further in the WEF index next year, let’s take a look at the impact of women in the decisions concerning pensions: 60% of women against 10% of men should work until they are 67 years old in order to have a “complete career”. It’s been 6 years that I have been fighting to have the means to inform women on the consequences of their decisions for their pensions. It seems there is not enough money…

At this rate (all things being equal), the WEF predicts that we have to wait until 2095 to have equality between women and men! That indicates perfectly that a lot still needs to be done but it assumes as well that countries will continue to progress at the same speed. But the reality is far from that. If we take the number of women in national parliaments as an example, which should reflect the composition of the population, countries that are particularly committed reach 40% but never go beyond that (except Rwanda) as if we accept being close to equality but never achieving it and even less likely to reverse the majority made up of men for thousands of years while women are more numerous and generally more qualified than men (60% of university graduates). It is telling and brings into question the projection of 81 years that separates us from equality and which is, however, the basis of a democratic society.