With International Women’s Day celebrated around the world this month, a number of studies have been published highlighting the fight for women's rights. While advances in many areas have been made, the female of the species is still - in some significant ways - effectively marginalised the world over. Western nations may tend to view the plight of women as something to be discussed in terms of extremes, looking to harshly conservative societies or parts of the developing world for examples of sexual discrimination. Gender discrimination and prejudice, though, are as much features of western culture as they are of any other part of the world - something made particularly clear in the OECD’s study of gender pay gaps around the world.
Many of the countries on our list of nations with the biggest gender pay gaps are developed, largely economically secure nations. Women form a large part of the work force, but are either confined to specific sectors or restricted from climbing the career ladder while balancing family commitments. It seems there are still many improvements needed, even in the most developed nations, before women are considered equal.
10 Austria: 19.2% Gap
Austria is a well-developed, forward-thinking country, yet this nation demonstrates that the gender gap exists, no matter where in the world you are. The landlocked European nation has a GDP of $399.6 billion, suggesting that it’s not a shortage of cash that's leaving women behind.
An EU survey revealed that Austria has one of the highest gender divides between people in part-time employment: 44.4% of working women work part-time, while only 7.8% of men on the payroll are part-time workers. This is perhaps indicative of a workforce with a large volume of working mothers, though that's only one side of the coin. The low proportion of part-time male workers to the high proportion of female part-timers suggests that there are fewer opportunities for women to secure their careers full-time in Austria.
9 Israel: 20.7% Gap
Israel is a nation that is, in many ways, the exemplar for gender equality: in 2013 the European Parliament awarded Israel for reducing its gender gap. It should be noted that Israel stands out from the crowd with regard to women in society in the Middle Eastern region, where there's ongoing concern over women’s rights. It should also be noted, however, that 20.7% is the average gender pay gap and if we dig a little deeper, a more telling statistic emerges. For those who completed secondary education, but did not pursue further study, the gender pay gap rises to 33.1% based on figures from the UN Economic Commission for Europe. In Israel, women are more likely to stay in education than men - perhaps because this helps close the salary gap, to some degree.
8 Germany: 20.8% Gap
With a GDP of $3.428 trillion in 2012, Germany is one of the most successful developed nations in the world. The nation has been the richest in Europe throughout the economic crisis , although the UK is expected to outperform the Germany economy in the coming months. The problem here is not financial but is instead a social one. The gender pay gap is seen for many as a sign of a more inherent level of sexism in society, and last year things in Germany came to a head on this matter: first bloggers began discussing the everyday sexism they encounter, at the doctors, on public transport and in the workplace. Then the story went national as the magazine Stern alleged that the German minister for economics and technology had sexually harassed a journalist. Twitter exploded, as did the national media, as German women vented their anger. No quick solution for the nation is in sight, but the frenzy may force Germany to confront a long-standing issue on the country's treatment of women.
7 Ukraine: 22.2% Gap
Ukraine is now in the news for political reasons, and the struggle for the former Soviet nation to stabilise reveals several cultural divides perhaps more pressing than the gender-based divides. That said, a 22% pay gap is still no laughing matter and if we look to the Ukrainian press prior to the revolution we can see a clear marginalisation of women in society.
In 2012, the nation’s then Minister of Education, Science, Youth & Sport, Dmitry Tabachnik, stated that the women in Ukraine’s universities who pursue postgraduate studies are those who are less good looking and that pretty Ukrainian women do not need such an education. The comments sparked widespread condemnation, but with the nation’s prime example of a strong woman, Yulia Tymoshenko, in prison it was clear that the remarks reflected the reality of life in Ukrainian society.
A 2010 study by the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy revealed that 36% of Ukrainians believed that a husband’s career was more important than that of his wife's, while 41% of Ukrainian women believe that men are better –suited to politics than their female counterparts.
6 India: 24.81% Gap
In recent years disturbing stories have emerged from India with regard to gender relations: more and more women are reporting incidences of violent sexual attacks. The first major case to hit the international news was in December 2012 when a 23 year old woman was assaulted by a several men and thrown from a moving bus in Delhi, causing her death. The incident sparked an outcry from Indian society and since then several other cases of gang attacks and sexual violence against women have been reported throughout the country. In january it emerged that the case of a woman who was sexually assaulted by up to 12 men was authorised by the Elders of her rural village; this highlighted the extent to which violence against women takes place in India. With such dangerous attitudes towards women, the gender pay gap is just the tip of the iceberg.
5 Cyprus: 25.1% Gap
The small island nation of Cyprus in the Mediterranean is a popular holiday destination for many Europeans, but outside of the tourism sector the nation is struggling. The financial crisis hit the nation particularly hard; at one point Cypriots were queuing outside their banks for fear of not being able to access their money.
A survey on sexism in the European Union, carried out in 2012 by the European Research Group on Attitudes to Age found that while only 7.53% of men felt they had suffered sexism, 19.8% of women had felt they had experienced some form of sexism. In terms of education for women however, Cyprus performs well: only 7% of women leave school before completing secondary education and in 2011 50% of all engineering graduates, and 46% of science and maths graduates, were women. Such high levels of women in these sectors is something many EU nations have tried, but failed to encourage, suggesting that there may yet be hope for gender equality in Cyprus.
4 Japan : 27.4% Gap
An increasing gender pay gap seems to correlate with more common occurrences of serious examples of sexism in society. Sexism in Japan has been widely reported by the international press, but it remains unclear how effective measures to reduce sexism in Japan actually are.
The serious problem of the groping of women on the nation’s crowded subway and commuter trains has been tackled by a poster campaign in carriages encouraging victims and those who are witnesses to such harassment to speak out and report the crime. Women-only carriages have also been introduced, indicating the extent of the problem. Within the workplace, women are expected to be in high heels at all times and are obligated to take their full 3 year maternity leave. For some, this may sound like a generous package, but the reality is that this leave cannot be shared with the father, and returning to work before this period is frowned upon. Mothers and grandmothers are expected to take most of the responsibility for care for the children, with few professional childcare facilities available.
3 Estonia : 27.9% Gap
The second eastern European country to feature on our list, the northern region of Estonia is the most unequal member of the EU in terms of female salaries. It's also something of an anomaly. An EU survey published this month revealed that Estonia has the biggest gender pay gap of all EU states, followed by Germany and Austria. Women however, are far better educated than their male counterparts in Estonia: 50.4% of women have completed third level education, compared to only 28.1% of men. The majority of those at university, however, study traditional subjects for women, with over 90% of women in university studying subjects relating to health, welfare or education women. By comparison, only 31.1% of Estonians studying engineering are women. With a low birth rate in the country, maternity benefits too are said be good and protected maternity leave can be taken for up to 12 months. At some level, the situation is beginning to change for Estonian women, albeit slowly.
2 Russia : 32.1% Gap
Russia is a deeply traditional country and the world’s largest nation appears to be making headlines for all the wrong reasons these days. For an example of Russia’s treatment of women, look no further than the feminist band Pussy Riot. The artistic performance band spoke out about the power of the Orthodox Church in Russia, and spoke against Putin; in return the band's members were arrested, imprisoned, went on hunger strike, and most recently, were whipped by Russian police at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Public reaction to the band in Russia is mixed: while larger cities such as Moscow or St. Petersburg may display a tolerant, more sympathetic view of the left wing movement, much of Russia still remains deeply traditional, with gender equality, as well as issues around homosexuality, two key issues which demonstrate this.
1 South Korea: 37.5% Gap
South Korea has been ranked by the OECD as having the biggest gender pay gap in the world. Not only this, but South Korea was also ranked a miserable 108th for gender equality by the World Economic Forum.
Like Japan, and several other nations on this list, South Korea has a strong tradition of women attending to the children, with men as the unquestioned breadwinners. As evidence of this, divorce laws in the nation still strongly favour the man, and Korean culture dictates that adult women who are unmarried still maintain very close ties with their parents.
As a result of the country's high wage gap, many international companies have been capitalising on the opportunity to nab talented women who are under-appreciated by South Korean industry. Well-educated Korean women who are frustrated with earning only 62.5% of their male counterparts have been jumping ship: Goldman Sachs’ offices in Seoul now employ more women than men.