The gender pay gap is best tackled at European Union level, according to 47 per cent of the Europeans interviewed for a Eurobarometer poll presented on March 7 by the European Parliament’s women's rights committee chairperson Mikael Gustafsson.
However, respondents were almost evenly divided on how best to close the gap: by facilitating access to jobs for all (27 per cent), imposing penalties on firms (26 per cent), or enforcing transparent pay scales (24 per cent), the European Parliament said in a media statement.
Gustafsson said: "Virginia Woolf spoke out about the importance for women to have a room of one's own. It is less well known that she also spoke out about the need for women to have money of their own. It was true then - and it is true today. Focusing on economic equality is even more important at a time of crisis."
While the pay gap between women and men doing the same job with the same qualifications is seen as a serious problem by almost seven in 10 Europeans (69 per cent), respondents were divided on whether incentives or penalties would be more effective in reducing the gap.
The three possible remedies offered, namely "facilitating access for women and men to any type of employment" (27 per cent), "imposing financial penalties on companies that do not respect gender equality" (26 per cent), or "transparent pay scales in companies" (24 per cent), all scored similar percentages.
When asked at what government level these measures are best taken, 47 per cent of those interviewed said they favoured action at EU level, 38 per cent at national level and 11 per cent at local level.
Unsurprisingly, women saw gender inequalities, and the pay gap in particular, as more of a problem than men did. Here scores for the two groups differed by between 12 and 14 percentage points. In fact, more than three in four women said that the gender pay gap is a serious problem (76 per cent), as against 62 per cent of men. More men (35 per cent), than women (21 per cent), said that it was not a serious problem.
When asked about pay trends, 60 per cent of respondents said they thought gender inequalities had decreased over the past 10 years, whereas 12 per cent thought that there had been no change.
This Eurobarometer poll was commissioned by the European Parliament to mark the 2012 International Women's Day (March 8), and as a contribution to work under way to reduce the pay gap between women and men, the statement said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking in New York on March 7, joined other senior United Nations officials on the eve of International Women’s Day
in highlighting the potential of rural women to improve the well-being of entire societies if given equal access to resources and set free from the discrimination and exploitation that hold them back.
"The plight of the world’s rural women and girls mirrors that of women and girls throughout society," Ban said at an event at UN Headquarters to commemorate the Day., the UN News Centre said. This year’s theme is ‘Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty
He acknowledged that women are increasingly exercising greater influence in business, government, politics, public administration and other professions. Also, more girls are going to school and are growing up healthier and better equipped to realise their potential.
"But, despite this momentum, there is a long way to go before women and girls can be said to enjoy the fundamental rights, freedom and dignity that are their birthright and that will guarantee their well-being," Ban said.
Rural women and girls make up a quarter of the global population, yet they routinely figure at the bottom of every economic, social and political indicator, from income, education and health to participation in decision-making, Ban said.
Melanne Verveer, US ambassador-at-large on global women’s issues, said that espite the progress that women and girls have made, many challenges remain to be addressed.
"Women are disproportionately trapped in poverty and gender-based violence, which is a global scourge," Verveer said.
"Women are too often absent from village councils and parliaments, the board rooms and negotiating tables where decisions are made affecting them their families and communities. Too many women are denied equal access to healthcare, to education, to the credit they need to launch and grow small businesses," she said.
Verveer said that the US would continue to make the empowerment of women "a cornerstone of our foreign policy".
"It’s not just the right thing to do. A growing body of research affirms that investing in women is one of the smartest and most strategic things a country can do. Women and girls drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity. Investing in them means investing in economic progress, political stability, and greater prosperity for everyone men and women, boys and girls, the whole world over," she said.
In a statement on International Women’s Day, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: " While we can be proud of the significant progress already made, this day reminds us that much work lies ahead to achieve true gender equality.
"While women are still underrepresented politically, the EU has been encouraged by
the leading role they played in the Arab Spring. We hope that women will maintain a central role as these countries continue their political transition," Ashton said.
"The EU will continue to provide support to women's groups in the southern Mediterranean, as it does across the world, through projects such as the one which allowed Libyan women to observe the elections in Tunisia," she said.
The EU reaffirmed its commitment to promoting gender equality and the advancement of women worldwide, Ashton said.