When you look at general statistics, it is difficult to argue against the fact that wages are rising, the economy is growing, people are buying their own homes and cars, and they are travelling. Why then are women out marching in the streets – we all have good jobs here, we even have a female president!
There is much, however, behind the statistics that tells of significant economic inequality, primarily based on gender – Estonian women are considerably poorer than Estonian men.
The path to poverty develops early on. Different ways in education make women slower to rise on a career path. Being a mother or a main female wage earner, for example, creates a gap in the opportunity to raise capital, acquire assets, invest and do business, leading to poverty in old age.
Economic inequality can be seen in numbers.
Europe has the most substantial pay gap in Europe, which, even in the most conservative calculations, it’s over 20%. Inequality increases with age. 30% of women pensioners are still working as opposed to men. According to various data, the number of women with business investments is 10%. And it’s the same for the rich – in 2018, 45 of the wealthiest 500 people were women (9%).
There is a general absence of women in various positive scoreboards. A recent headline touted that the proportion of female managers in Estonia is quite good, but, in reality, its two out of ten (20%). The number of women in negative economic statistics is also notable – for example, the risk of poverty increases when they have children and when they are single parents, and, in Estonia, over 90% of single parents are women.
There is no need to stay in the comfort zone
Although we have achieved many rights and opportunities in Estonia, many of which women can only dream of – the freedom to move around, social mobility, the right to vote and the right to own property – that does not mean that we should remain in the comfort zone. Estonia is proud to be a digitally well-developed country; why can we not be a socially developed country?
Apart from individual satisfaction and independence, social equality is also a vital force. If people do not have to worry so much about how they will cope with everyday life, they have more freedom of choice and are usually more productive members of society.
Although the impact of economic inequality may not be evident at first glance, the effect on society is thoroughly adverse. Financial security is strongly linked to personal satisfaction, stress levels, entrepreneurship and even the creation of a family. Recently, Statistics Estonia pointed out that economic security is one of the most important indicators for the birth rate.
However, as women continue to be urged to have as many children as they can, it seems impossible to change the opinion that this often depends on a women’s economic security. It is difficult, for example, for a dependent woman to leave a violent relationship, or to accumulate money to start a business. Business venture capital is more available to men than women because it is easier for them to get it. Thus, much of the management of, and any change in our society is determined by men and men shape our corporate culture and politics.
The fewer women in business and leadership, the less their voices and opinions are represented. If gender doesn’t count, then logically, every family would be able to tell their daughter, just like a son, that she could become a top entrepreneur, investor or manager and there would be role models for her. This is not yet the case.
Inequality is amplified by language or disability
Economic inequality does not only exist between genders. Inequality is also exacerbated by, for example, language or disability. All these issues are the same, and it is possible for women to use their voices to draw more attention to economic and social equality at the same time.
For Estonia to continue to succeed, attention must be paid to more than economic indicators and technological development; a critical look should also be taken at social organization. The Women March draws attention to equal opportunity for self-realization. Why should anyone be pushed into a box of old gender stereotypes or fight glass ceilings at every turn? Why should s/he not have the right to live the same good life, (financial and otherwise) as anyone else?
So: what do these marching women want? A more equal opportunity to contribute to social development. Those with lesser economic resources often have a quieter voice for practical reasons – they cannot go to a demonstration because there is no babysitter or spending money travelling to another city means the use of scarce resources.
*The quote I have heard countless times from men when an equality issue is raised.