In his end-of-the-year statement, Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said that women in Europe continue to work without pay during the last two months in comparison to men and that they continue to be underrepresented in decision-making bodies and positions.

“This is a gross injustice and a human rights violation. European states must tackle it much more forcefully than has been the case so far”, he said.

“Although the situation varies from country to country, it is clear that women suffer everywhere on our continent from unequal treatment and opportunities in the workplace,” he added. “It would be wrong to believe that this situation is the result of employment dynamics only.”

According to Muižnieks, who was speaking in Strasbourg on December 20, discrimination against women, be it direct or indirect, in this sphere of life results from deep-rooted societal attitudes that keep women in a subordinate role.

“Tackling this problem therefore requires  a comprehensive approach from Council of Europe member states, from laws to be changed to political, cultural and economic measures to be implemented”, said Commissioner Muižnieks.

He also stressed the role of state authorities, in particular governments and parliaments.

“They must lead by example and fully implement the gender equality standards set out in international and European human rights treaties,” he said, highlighting the European Social Charter, which requires that state parties guarantee the principle of equal pay for work of equal value by legislation that should be implemented effectively.

“This includes providing for appropriate sanctions and remedies in case of gender discrimination in the workplace. Both within the public administration and in the labour market, state authorities must make more efforts to bridge the gender pay gap. They should also remove barriers that prevent women from reaching top level posts,” he added.

In conclusion, the Commission noted that the current situation is not only harmful for women and the economy. “It is deleterious for society as a whole. Even where the gender pay gap is narrowing, this is happening very slowly.”

And he warned that if states do not step up their efforts now, it will take several more decades before full equality is achieved.

“We cannot afford to wait such a long time. European states must show more resolve in upholding the obligation to ensure gender equality in the employment sphere.”