|EQUALITY BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN IN EMPLOYMENT|
Equality of the sexes has from the start been a basic goal of the Cyprus Government, a goal which from the end of the 1970s began to be incorporated into the more general social and economic policy of the state. It was promoted by various measures within the framework of Strategic Development Plans which targeted expansion of facilities to help conciliate family and employment responsibilities, the creation of a legal framework which could effectively deal with gender discrimination, and which generally aimed at improving the position of women in economic and social life.
Encouragement of equality and of equal opportunities is a fundamental priority of employment policy in Cyprus. This endeavours to encourage and increase the participation of women in the work force and also aims at their fuller social inclusion.
Measures and priorities concerning equality in employment have resulted in increased numbers of women joining the work force while protecting equal opportunities in promotion, pay and professional advancement. As a result the role and the position of women in social and economic life has been strengthened. These developments were aided by the good course of the Cypriot economy over the last few years which was combined with radical economic restructuring beginning with the marked development of the services sector.
The largest share of new jobs is concentrated in the services sector which offers better terms and conditions of employment and favours the participation of women. In Cyprus today, about 15,000 women seem to prefer temporary employment while some 16,000, part-time employment in areas such as education, trade, agriculture as well as in processing industries, either because of favourable working conditions or flexible hours which help them combine family, social and employment obligations.
A. The existing situation in the labour market
Generally, Cyprus has a high employment rate (68,7%) with satisfactory women’s participation (58,5%). The services sector is viewed as the employment engine while employment is also increasing in the agricultural sector. In the industrial sector, levels have not changed appreciably.
During the last two decades the employment rate of women has increased from 43.4% in 1982 to 58,5% in 2005.
Differences in the employment rates of men and women are evident. For example, the number of women employed in 2005 was lower than that of men by about 21 percentage points (58,5% compared to 79,5%). In 1992 the difference stood at some 31 percentage points.
A notable development for women over the last few years has been a
shift from low-skilled jobs to those with high educational requirements. Improved levels in education have also led to more women entering the work force. Specifically, out of every 100 women between the ages of 15 and 64 with a lyceum or equivalent level education, nearly 40 are employed, while for tertiary education graduates the figure rises to about 81. It has been documented internationally that as women’s skills and education levels rise, so does the trend for their participation in employment.
Though unemployment has been low over the last few years, it seems that women face a bigger problem than men. According to the Labour Force Survey of 2005, 6,7% of women were unemployed, a figure that was considerably higher than that of 4,3% for men. Despite this, recent data point to a narrowing in the difference between the employment rates of men and women. It is expected that in future it will be reduced further, as younger generations of women are better educated and participate more in employment. At the same time measures are taken to increase the numbers of women and to improve their position in the labour market.
Distinctions between the sexes also occur regarding pay despite improvements. However, recent developments have positively influenced levels of remuneration and have considerably reduced the gap which has long existed in the rates of pay of men and women.
Despite the relatively improved situation in Cyprus today concerning the employment of women, there is scope for improvement towards parity. The target is to raise their employment rate to 60% by 2006.
B. Legal Framework
Harmonization with the acquis communautaire in the area of equality in employment, and in general gender equality, has doubtlessly contributed to the awareness of the need to include the principle of equality in all policies, and has not only hastened the improvement of existing laws, but has also led to new legislation. Specifically:
- Discrimination in social insurance legislation has been abolished almost completely.
- Maternity protection legislation has been improved.
- The health and safety of pregnant women and nursing mothers at the
work place are better protected.
- A pioneering, for Cyprus, scheme for parental leave and for
leave for reasons of force majeure has been introduced.
- Equal treatment in employment pensions has been secured.
- Equality in pay, not only for the same or similar work, but also for work of equal value has been secured.
Perhaps the most important development in securing gender equality is the Law for the Equal Treatment of Men and Women in Employment and Occupational Training of 2002. In particular this law introduces three important issues: (1) the safeguarding of the ability to adopt positive measures (aimed at the complete and substantive equality of the sexes), (2) protection from sexual harassment and (3) the formation of a Commission on Equality in Employment and in Occupational Training, which breaks new legislative ground.
C. Promotion of Measures and Goals
Harmonization with the acquis communautaire concerning gender equality has led to the awareness that legislation on its own is not adequate and that supportive measures, along with policy measures within the framework of a binding strategy for equality, are needed for it to be effective in practice.
At the moment, the Framework Programme for Gender Equality 2001-2005 of the European Union is promoting five strategic goals: equality in economic life, equal participation and representation in decision making, equality in social life, equality as citizens, as well as the elimination of stereotypes.
Achievement of these goals is sought through the financing of activities from community funds, awareness campaigns and by an exchange of views, practices and experiences.
Promoting equality and equal employment opportunities, as well as the social inclusion of vulnerable population groups, constitute basic and immediate priorities of the European Employment Strategy. With the aim of increasing the participation and improving the position of women in the labour market, measures are being advanced in the field of Employment and Human Resource Development, within the agreed Priorities of Employment Policy, as well as within the National Development Plan 2004-2006.
These measures include: a) Improvement in the employment guidance services offered, by upgrading and modernizing Public Employment Services, b) increasing the numbers of women in training and retraining programmes, c) expansion and improvement of facilities for working parents, d) promotion of flexible forms of employment within the framework of work organization and e) promotion of special programmes aimed at the improved participation of women in the labour market, especially in cooperation with local authorities and other interest groups.
In conclusion, the pursuit of gender equality is served primarily through emphasis on increasing the number of women in the labour force. This takes the form of three main aims:
- removing obstacles which keep women away from the labour market
- encouraging women to participate more actively in training and/or retraining programmes, and
- promoting measures which permit the conciliation of employment with family life by encouraging family friendly labour standards and employment practices.