Mind the gaps (not just the gender gap)

Berlin U-Bahn train

Earlier today someone flagged up an event taking place next Monday by which female travellers on the Berlin public transport system will pay 21% less than men (€5.50 rather than the usual €7.00) to compensate for the gender pay gap which is worse in Germany than it is in the UK (21%, hence the discount, rather than our 18%). According to a spokesperson for the city’s transport operator:

It is not our intention that men feel discriminated against by the action. If that happens, we apologise. On the other hand, who apologises to the women who earn on average 21% less? Most men of Berlin will not only understand this action, but also support it. Especially since this small gesture of solidarity is disproportionate to what women are deprived of income on a yearly basis.

What’s wrong with a scheme like this, just for one day? The simple answer is that it ignores every other reason by which some sections of society earn less than others and that there are many women who can better afford to pay the full fare than some men. People from immigrant backgrounds, people from poorer families who did not get the best classes of education (private schooling is less of an issue in Germany than here, but they still have the three-tier grammar/technical/everyone else system in which a minority of young people are chosen to get a more academic education which can prepare them for university), people whose education was disrupted by being in the care system, people who are disabled. These groups of people include men as well as women and I do not know what Germany’s disability pay gap is, but in most places they have familiar barriers to even getting into employment such as inaccessibility of buildings, and increased living costs (some of which are met by the state and some of which are not).

Yes, the gender pay gap refers to men and women who do “equal work”, but the fact is in life that not everyone gets to do “equal work” and the reasons are not just down to personal effort but circumstances. I have never heard of rail fares being set according to someone’s ability to pay; they are set by what it costs to run them and how much the government is willing to contribute to that. Why should a man travelling to his minimum-wage job pay more to get to work than a well-to-do woman travelling to a well-paid office job? It’s just not fair and it is a typical example of the pitfalls of affirmative action which targets only one form of disadvantage rather than taking account of many. So, in answer to their question, no, this should not be repeated in London (assuming it would even be legal, which I doubt).

Image source: Bahnsteigkante from www.bahninfo-forum.de. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.

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