Ms. Sirpa Pietikäinen is a Finnish member of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament. She is a former Finnish Minister of Environment (1991-1995), and her career at the Finnish parliament is extensive, ranging from the year 1983 to 2003.
At the European Parliament, Sirpa Pietikäinen is a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and the Women’s Right and Gender Equality Committee as well as a substitute member of the Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety Committee. She is active in several organizations. Her positions of trust include Chairmanship of the Globe EU and membership in The Board of Alzheimer Europe.
Regarding gender equality, Sirpa Pietikäinen is currently a shadow rapporteur on the EU Pay Transparency Directive and EU’s third Gender Action Plan in the union’s external actions. She will soon take on the rapporteurship of the upcoming European Care Strategy. Ms Pietikäinen will be the “main” rapporteur of the strategy in the European Parliament, leading the negotiations with the shadow rapporteurs.
Q1. Europe is the global leader in gender equality, How should Europe eliminate the persisting gender gaps in employment, pay, and power?
The upcoming pay transparency directive, in which I am the EPP Group’s shadow rapporteur in the European Parliament is of utmost importance. We cannot fix issues we know nothing about. This applies strongly to pay inequalities and transparency as well as other gender equality issues. That is why it is so important that we have transparent and researched data and information, and this is why we need to have statistics on salaries and the development of wages. That is why the directive on pay transparency, focusing on transparency of salaries and improving the legal protection of victims of pay discrimination, is so important. The reality is that pay discrimination encountered, especially by women, stays still too often in the shadows, only because we do not know enough about the scale and prevalence of the pay gap as well as the structural reasons behind it – which is due to lack of transparency when it comes to wages. We need to harmonize tools and methods in Europe to tackle these issues. This directive is one of these tools. Unjustified pay differences can appear in the form of paying lower salaries to female workers for the same work than to their male colleagues.
Another form is the segregation of the labour market, which is one of the biggest factors maintaining the pay gap: paying higher salaries in male-dominant industries than in female-dominant fields. For
example, in my home country Finland (and everywhere in Europe) care and health sector are heavily concentrated on female workers who are very much underpaid compared to their male counterparts in fields and sectors whose workers are mainly men. I have always found it strange that it pays off better to care for cars than for people. All these factors need to be identified first. We have to be aware. We need gender quotas for different organisations’ management and company boards. We need equality programmes and concrete corrective measures to implement them. It is not enough to report on how the pay gap persists, and changes are not in sight. We also need to report on how we plan to fix the persisting pay gap, on which concrete steps and tools we have in use, and which ones have proved effective.
Q2. Gender Stereotypes perpetuate gender inequality across sectors. How can Europe use Artificial Intelligence to root out systematic gender discrimination?
A gender-equal economy is still a far-fetched dream. Is Europe doing enough to achieve equal participation of genders across different sectors of the economy? Right now, the algorithms of Artificial Intelligence are created mainly from a male perspective. AI is a system created by men, for men, and it follows the logic of only half of the population. We need to form and train gender-sensitive AI technology, and this needs to be included in the upcoming EU strategies and regulations on AI. Women need to be involved in developing AI so that it can also better benefit the whole population and be gender-sensitive, seeking and finding gender flaws. It is painfully obvious that right now women are grossly underrepresented in STEM both in education and professional life. The gender gap is especially deep in digital technologies, notably in AI, where women represent only 12 percent globally. Involving women should be an obligation already in the development stage. AI obviously entails many opportunities as well. For example, women and girls are disproportionately suffering from hate speech online. We could benefit from AI in better combatting gendered hate speech and identifying perpetrators and illegal content online.
Q3. A gender-equal economy is still a far-fetched dream. Is Europe doing enough to achieve equal participation of genders across different sectors of the economy?
Right now, the algorithms of Artificial Intelligence are created mainly from a male perspective. AI is a system created by men, for men, and it follows the logic of only half of the population. We need to form and train gender-sensitive AI technology, and this needs to be included in the upcoming EU strategies and regulations on AI. Women need to be involved in developing AI so that it can also better benefit the whole population and be gender-sensitive, seeking and finding gender flaws. It is painfully obvious that right now women are grossly underrepresented in STEM both in education and professional life. The gender gap is especially deep in digital technologies, notably in AI, where women represent only 12 percent globally. Involving women should be an obligation already in the development stage.
AI obviously entails many opportunities as well. For example, women and girls are disproportionately suffering from hate speech online. We could benefit from AI in better combatting gendered hate speech and identifying perpetrators and illegal content online. We aren’t doing nearly enough. Just like in AI, the whole perception of the economy is very male. Hazel Henderson’s layer cake theory demonstrates the problem well. We have a formal and informal economy, and women too often fall in the informal category. They are not getting benefits or even a simple livelihood of the work they do because – for example – care work is usually performed by women. Out of all the care work in the EU, 80 percent is informal care done at home. 75 percent of these carers are women. The way our economic structures are perceived right now does not support identifying this work as lucrative, prosperous, and beneficial and is shoving it outside the income distribution of the formal economy. No one is being paid for work that is classified as informal.
When we take into account the gender differences in pay income, in higher-income grades – the amount of women is lower, and in lower-income grades, there is an overrepresentation of women. This also causes severe pension inequalities. Besides this, women earn less capital income and own fewer assets. The problem will not be solved only by having an equal amount of women in traditionally male sectors such as in forest or finance sectors, and the other way around. We have to change our perception of the economy because the current way of understanding and analysing the economy leads to errors and aberrations.
Q4. With the digitalization of the economy, what can Europe do to promote digital literacy across different groups of women?
It all starts from childhood. Right now, digital technology is often not interesting enough to girls because of the male starting point. Instead of trying to integrate girls and women directly into the existing structures and expectations we now have in digital technology or education in this area, why don’t we ask girls what they would like to do with this technology? This is the starting point we need for digital education, for example. What sort of programmes or applications would girls like to create by coding? Girls and women need real opportunities to have an impact in digital, including AI. It is useless to simply blame women and girls for their claimed lack of interest when often, digital does not send a message of serving their interests and needs. Gender-sensitive digital education and creative ways of teaching and learning are crucial. Stereotypes, lack of role models, and workplaces overruled by men are only some of the issues that we need to tackle. Besides digital literacy, it is even more important to develop accessible, user-friendly, and equal appliances, programmes, and interfaces.
Q5. The gender pay gap is believed to be the root cause of low levels of women participating in the workforce. Is pay transparency the only effective way to resolve it?
Pay transparency is indeed a central tool in reducing the gender pay gap and therefore having more women in the workforce. Right now, we do not have enough data on salaries and information on the root causes of the pay gap. The upcoming pay transparency directive is also meant to offer more resources, legal protection, and ways to justice for people who suspect that they have been victims of pay discrimination. This should hopefully add to the confidence of people to enter professional life when they have more faith in the fairness of the system.
We do need other ways than pay transparency as well. We need to acknowledge informal work and the amount of it that I mentioned earlier, especially in care. It’s worth has to be acknowledged. At the beginning of the article, I also mentioned the segregation of the labour market which is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Different professional options need to be more open and more easily accessible to all of us, despite our gender or other characteristics. Work for this starts already in what sort of messages we send young people about what is acceptable and possible for them to do.
Q6. Gender inequality is a global problem. What can Europe do to promote gender equality across member countries and the rest of the world?
Gender and gender mainstreaming need to be a crucial point in all EU’s international partnerships and EU development policy. EU needs to continue supporting the UN and its different agencies, such as UN Women, in their gender equality work. EU already has ongoing actions in promoting gender equality globally as well. I am the EPP’s shadow rapporteur in the EU’s third, new Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Action 2021–2025 (GAP III). This action plan aims to accelerate progress on empowering women and girls and safeguard gains made on gender equality during the 25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and its Platform for Action. The plan is a good example of the EU’s efforts in promoting gender equality. Right now, in the EU’s external actions we need to focus on recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic globally. GAP III, among others, needs to put women and girls’ rights at the heart of the global recovery from the pandemic.
Q7. Intersectionality is a key point of discussion in the modern world. What can Europe do to implement policies and strategies that benefit the most vulnerable groups of women?
We need all our legislation to consider gender equality, intersectionality, gender mainstreaming, and other gender-related issues. Strengthening The European Pillar of Social Rights is one tool to ensure well-being for everyone. The welfare state and care economy are the girl’s best friend. The better and fairer society we build, a society that has an effective social-economic support system, counter-cyclical economic policy, and good quality, affordable universal care services, the better it prevents female impoverishment. Gender is such a common feature that almost all vulnerable groups, be it, refugees, unemployed, disabled, people in the threat of exclusion, there’s always going to be a big part of women, and in general, they are worse off than their male counterparts. And once again, when we deal with topics about vulnerable groups of people in general and draft resolutions or other texts on these issues – for example, the recent spike in energy prices – we need to remember the gender aspect of it and make it visible.