EU State With Smallest Gender Pay Gap Is Still Run by Men

Victories in the pursuit of gender equality can be fleeting.

Take Romania. The country leapfrogged Luxembourg in recent years to boast the European Union’s smallest difference in salaries between the sexes, also passing legislation mandating diversity and naming its first woman prime minister in 2018.

But a male hold on parliament strengthened in December elections. The new cabinet contains just one female minister, while the central bank’s board has none.

EU State With Smallest Gender Pay Gap Is Still Run by Men

Romanian stands in contrast to much of the rest of the world. President Joe Biden has unveiled a U.S. cabinet with the highest-ever female representation. Closer to home, Serbia’s government is split almost equally between men and women.

For Anca Dragu, a former executive at E.ON who quit to become the first female speaker of Romania’s upper chamber of parliament, politics remains a frustratingly male world.

EU State With Smallest Gender Pay Gap Is Still Run by Men

“The attitude of many men who mock and disrespect us, even during parliament meetings, is a deterrent for the presence of women,” she said in an interview before taking up her new post in February. Dragu said she couldn’t sleep for two weeks with worry after deciding to make the career switch and now plans to fight for better treatment of women in politics.

EU State With Smallest Gender Pay Gap Is Still Run by Men

Romania’s experience is a lesson for countries not to be complacent. The win on more equal pay was largely down to separate government programs to boost minimum wages rather than a specific push to narrow the gap. Meanwhile, gender-balance laws have only been enforced weakly and political parties largely shrug off female representation.

A quick turnaround is possible. Lithuania just last year had the EU’s only all-male government before changing course after elections to appoint an almost equally balanced cabinet.

But Romanian Prime Minister Florin Citu defends the status quo, pointing to large numbers of women in deputy-ministerial jobs and other second-tier roles.

Liliana Popescu, a professor at the Romanian University of Political Studies, dismisses such explanations, saying capable women within the ruling coalition’s parties have simply been excluded.

She sees earlier progress on the “burning issue” of women in politics being reversed. The prevailing attitude is that “women should just go back to making babies and not aspire to successful careers.”

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