Editorial: why take hammer to drive in screw?

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Photo: Urmas Nemvalts

Yesterday, on Equal Pay Day, the issue of ladies/gentlemen wage difference was stirred up again. The politicians and experts who undertook to opine are partly right and partly not.

True: in Estonia, there is an unacceptably wide gap between male and female salaries. Also true that if swept under carpet, problems tend not to be solved.  But what were missing – as over the long years of discussions – were to-the-point solutions. These cannot be birthed, there being no exhaustive studies on why we have the gap.

It’s not the issue of the ability to do the study, neither – probably – in finding the financing for it. As even the most vociferous spokespersons haven’t deemed it necessary to have such study at all, this smells of a comfy way to keep the debate going – rather than try and find a way out.

As compared to other countries of Europe, Estonia sits in a peculiar situation. As stated by sociologist Triin Roosalu in the latest Human Development Report, there is a unique situation here, making is highly complicated to explain the wage gap. Women do have a clearly weaker economic position in Estonia; even so, when it comes to gender equality, we still are doing well, as compared to Scandinavian countries, in other areas including family live and education. To advance with the issue, it must first be clarified whence the contradiction. None of the existing explanations fit, as no other society could be used as comparison.

In other words, we do not even have clarity about what is causing the Estonian Wage Gap; nevertheless, our politicians-analysts are ready to suggest standard solutions. As somebody said: when one only has a hammer, every problems looks like a nail. Stupid, however, to use a hammer to drive in a screw. But in order to understand which tool/means to use, one must first get clarity about the situation. Until that is missing, treatment of the topic only adds unnecessary tensions. Easily, accusations pop up against the state, the government, bosses, and men as such. Boiling the wage gap down to simplistic contradictions yields no solution, but just keeps putting off finding the answer.

And that’s such a pity. The problem is an important one; not just for the women who get paid a third less as compared to men, but for the society as a whole. Experience of other countries incl. the UK show how the entire economic wellbeing of a nation improves as capabilities of labourers are used equally, while also paying the same.

Thus: let’s not have another naive & trivial explanation. What we need is essential research, unearthing the reasons for the wage gap, while also offering new ideas based on these reasons.