ECONOMY

Inequality in the workplace hurts growth

The pursuit of gender equality in the workplace cannot be exhausted in legislative initiatives but also involves a balance between the family and professional responsibilities of women, Ireland’s minister of state for justice, equality and law reform, Frank Fahey, said in Athens yesterday. Speaking at a two-day conference on the subject of «Gender Equality and Competitiveness – The Role of Enterprises,» Fahey discussed the parallel course the participation of women in Ireland’s work force has had with its continuous economic improvement in recent decades, and the important role which enterprises have played in this process. Other important and related factors were improved access to education, the decreasing size of families, upgraded care for children and a trend toward individualizing taxation. Fahey said the upgrading of the legislative framework governing gender equality in the workplace is largely part of the benefits which his country has reaped as a member of the EU. Fifty-eight percent of women in Ireland are economically active, against a European Union (EU) average of 55 percent. The EU has set a target of raising this to 60 percent by 2010 as part of the so-called Lisbon Strategy for bolstering its international competitiveness. According to Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who also addressed the conference, Greece’s rate of economically active women is only 45 percent and unemployment among them stands much higher than men’s, at 16 percent, when the EU average is 9 percent. «We are facing a serious social and economic problem which we must urgently solve… It cannot be dealt with through piecemeal measures of support for women, as in the past, without a specific strategy and policy,» he said. «Equality is development,» said General Secretary for Equality Evgenia Tsoumani. «Gender equality is now a factor of production, closely linked with the demographic issue, the labor market, social and economic cohesion, but also the growth of the family into productive/consumption unit,» she added. Tsoumani’s department is now implementing for the first time in Greece an EU-subsidized program, «Positive Action in Favor of Women in Small and Medium-Size Enterprises,» which aims to upgrade women’s skills so that they may improve their career prospects. The government has designated 2005 as «Competitiveness Year.»