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24 Jul, 2010 04:02

Women in Estonia suffer from EU’s worst gender pay gap

Gender stereotypes die hard in Estonia leaving women far behind their male counterparts when it comes to paychecks. And when it collides with the ethnic dimension, Russian women find themselves at the bottom of the list.

Estonia has one of Europe's worst pay gaps between men and women. EU studies say women get paid 17 percent less than men on average. But in Estonia, it's as much as 30 percent.

“People think that we don't have a problem. It's the awareness of the problem and the problem that people don't have the gender lenses to see when there is inequality going on,” Estonian political analyst Pirijo Turk told RT.

Yet it goes much further than wages. The so-called segregation in the economy means women often remain in lower paid jobs like healthcare and education while men dominate the more lucrative private sector.

Experts say that's not just unfair, it’s bad for business.

“If, for example, a woman feels that she can’t do the job or can't take up the career that she would like but she has a talent for that, then of course there's some human resource lost to the economy,” said Mari-Liis Sepper from the Gender Equality Commission.

There also appears to be an ethnic dimension, with Estonia's large Russian minority receiving lower pay than their Estonian counterparts. And ethnic Russian women come out bottom of the list.

“It's a structural issue in the labor market that Russian-speaking women are perhaps working in the sectors where the wages are especially low, and this, of course, will increase the pay gap even more,” said Sepper.

Single mother Olga Brackel works in a factory where she has to sweat it out just to bring in a meager paycheck to raise her son.

“It’s 33 degrees Celsius in our workshop, but our employers don’t care. If you try to stand up for your rights, they’ll point you to the door – if you don’t like it here, you’re free to leave. It’s very hard to find a job here in Estonia, therefore we put up with working in slave-like conditions,” she told RT.

Whether it’s over ethnicity or gender, it's stereotypes that have been identified as one of the root causes of inequality. Ingrained attitudes of what are seen as the proper roles men and women should perform are passed down though generations. The government says it’s trying to weed them out, but its going to take time.

“I would admit the problems. There is no point of hiding the problems that your country faces,” said Christian Veske from the Ministry of Social Affairs. “However, it is a lengthy process and these attitudes of people do not change overnight.”

For Brackel, though, it’s simply a case of double standards.

“I think if our prime minister was paid my salary, even if he didn’t have to pay the utilities, I don’t think it would last him a week,” she said.