To mark the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS), in collaboration with the Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF) and the Cyprus Federation of Business and Professional Women (ΚΟΓΕΕ), hosted a lecture entitled “Gender Wage Differentials in Asia and Europe: An Overview of Issues and Findings” by Dr. Teo Siew Yean.

The purpose of the lecture was to identify and discuss the various factors that impact gender wage disparities in the various countries of Asia and Europe. This lecture also explored the issue from a policy perspective and attempted to determine what policy changes are needed to narrow the gender wage gap.

Dr. Teo began by pointing out that achieving gender wage equality is a slow process as it challenges one of the most deeply ingrained of all human attitudes. A comparative overview of gender wage disparities in Asian economies such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan and the EU demonstrated stark similarities between the two regions. In Asia, the figures are not too distinctly different from those in Europe where on average women’s monthly earnings range from 70% to 85% of men’s monthly earnings.

The lecture explained that the gender wage gap can be found both within as well as across occupations. Although increasingly women have managed entries into non-traditional areas of the workforce, they are still restricted in job opportunities, paid less than their male counterparts, and discouraged to progress up the hierarchy of occupations. Dr. Teo called this the ‘glass ceiling’ phenomenon. However, gender segregation in the labour market [occupational segregation], where there is inequality in the distribution of women among occupations, has arguably the greatest impact on gender wage differentials. Dr. Teo pointed to cultural and society norms and influences in explaining this. Women are still not encouraged to pursue occupations traditionally held by men and, thus, often experience what is described as the ‘sticky floor’ phenomenon that keeps women trapped in low paid employment due to limited education and/or vocational training. The need to effectively balance professional and family life also has a detrimental effect on women’s earning power and occupational development.

Although legislation is important, it alone cannot effectively close the gender wage gap. This is demonstrated by the statistical similarities between countries in Asia such as Brunei that do not have legislation in this area, and countries belonging to the EU, such as Cyprus, that do. Effective policies are needed to enforce equal pay within occupations, particularly in the private sector, but most importantly education and radical transformation of cultural and societal norms are needed to redistribute female employees between occupations.

Gender wage equality is needed for both men and women to realise their full potential in terms of economic participation and position, as well as for effective utilisation of human capital for the benefit of the economy as a whole.

Dr Teo Siew Yean is currently a faculty member of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Policy Studies at University Brunei Darussalam where she teaches classes in Labour Economics, Public Sector Economics, Statistics and Research Methodology. She has also recently been appointed as the Coordinator of Brunei APEC Study Centre.