On Friday, 14 June 2019, women across Switzerland plan to go on strike as part of a global movement calling for gender equality and an end to violence against women.
Over the last 10 years, an average of 25 people have been killed annually as a result of domestic violence in Switzerland. 75% of the victims were women or girls. Women are more likely than men to be victims of other more prevalent forms of domestic violence too, and foreign women and girls in Switzerland more than twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence from their partner as Swiss women.
In Switzerland, women overall get paid less than men. In 2016, there was a 12% overall difference in median pay.
However, overall pay differences can be misleading. A study by recruitment firm Korn Ferry shows how Switzerland’s overall headline gender pay gap fell from 22% to 2% when pay was compared on a job-for-job basis.
Professions dominated by women sometimes pay less than others dominated by men. Some suggest evening out these differences. But how? What would replace market pricing? If employers cut pay in one sector to boost pay in another they might struggle to recruit in the sector receiving a pay cut or be forced to cut the number of people they hire in sector made more expensive.
Another element of the headline pay gap is the low percentage of women in well-paid management positions. According to Linda Hill, a professor at Harvard Business School, one key to women rising up the corporate ladder is for them to be given greater responsibility in their formative years, a call to managers, who are currently mostly men, to help women.
At the same time some US research suggests, since #MeToo, male managers are increasingly uncomfortable working with women – 60% said they are uncomfortable participating in common job-related activities with women, such as mentoring, working alone together, or socializing together, up from 46% a year earlier.
Furthermore, some think popular gender inequality measures, such as the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI), suffer from blind spots. Research on gender inequality tends to focus on issues disadvantaging women. Issues disadvantaging men have been understudied, according to the authors of a study published earlier this year.
The authors have come up with an alternative measure of inequality called the Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI). It looks at educational opportunities in childhood, healthy life expectancy and overall life satisfaction. On this measure men in Switzerland are more disadvantaged than women – men score worse on healthy lifespan and life satisfaction, while scoring better on basic education. The most heavily disadvantaged women are in countries with a low Human Development Index (HDI). In Europe, only Italy and Macedonia have BIGIs disadvantaging women. Across the rest of Europe men are disadvantaged.
According to the authors, areas of male disadvantage include harsher punishments for the same crimes, higher prison numbers, higher homelessness rates, higher levels of drug and alcohol abuse, more occupational deaths, higher underperformance in schools, overrepresentation in risky and physically taxing occupations such as front-line military duty, firefighting, mining and construction, lower healthy life expectancy and higher rates of suicide. In addition, Switzerland has two institutional ones: a higher retirement age for men (65 compared to 64 for women) and compulsory male-only military service.
The creators of BIGI also point out that popular inequality measures risk mistaking choice for disadvantage. For example, fewer young adult men than women enroll in tertiary education in most developed nations. Although this may represent a disadvantage for men, it may also reflect a male preference for less academically oriented vocational jobs. Another example is the earnings gap between men and women, which may reflect a strategic and desired division of labour within families, rather than a disadvantage to women.
Many other details are easily overlooked. Women typically fair worse than men financially after divorce while men typically lose out when it comes to accessing their children. Many men feel the quiet pressure to have successful careers, something that matters more for men than women in the marriage market. In the US, professional and financial success is the second most important attribute for men, but only seventh for women, according to a Pew poll. The same poll considers kindness, empathy and nurturing the second most important attribute for a woman, which often leads to quiet pressure on women to focus on childcare, a choice that can lead to more unpaid work and greater financial insecurity. In Switzerland, women are more likely to end up on welfare in retirement – women typically have less work-related retirement savings than men but also enter retirement one year earlier and live longer.
Most will likely agree, male or female, that discrimination, violence and injustice are an affront to all. The well-meaning majority of men and women hoping for an improved future in this intricately complex and often paradoxical world, might hope that social-media-fuelled tribal generalisations don’t get in the way of calm open reflection.