Women’s professional empowerment and the reconciliation of professional and family responsibilities must remain among the state’s priorities and be key goals for gender equality, Labour union Peo said on Monday, announcing an event in honour of International Women’s Day.

The union will be hosting an event at the entrance of Ledra street between 10.30 and 11.30 on Tuesday morning which will include performances from school choirs.

It will focus on the negative impact of zero-hour contracts on the gender pay gap and its detrimental effects on women’s professional development.

Gender equality is one of the fundamental values of the EU, but the fight for women’s rights remains a necessity, the union said in a press release, citing the European Institute for Gender Equality (Eige)’s Gender Equality Index.

Cyprus ranks 21st out of the 28 member states, “an extremely low position, which indicates the failure of the state in the field of promoting and ensuring gender equality”.

Government austerity measures have had a more negative impact on women who are unemployed, single women and mothers with many children, low-income retirees and women in precarious employment, Peo said.

Changes in the labour market in recent years have led to deregulation and the extreme exploitation of employees, it added. “As a result, many women continue to face difficulties in achieving financial independence and often belong to the most vulnerable groups,” especially in exploitative forms of labour such as freelance work and zero hour contracts, which according to the union enlarge the pay gap as they are most common in female-dominated fields.

This phenomenon “deprives women of the opportunity for productive and dignified employment, consciously keeping them away from power and from accessing decision-making positions.

“For this reason, it is important for all of us to understand that the service market is neither normal nor socially constructed. Instead, it is a government policy of perpetuating inequality, prejudice and stereotypes between men and women”.

The union therefore called for national policies that will bolster efforts towards the professional empowerment of women and the reconciliation of their professional and family life.