Inequality in Belgium: women athletes earn 81% less than men

Sarhan Basem

Brussels (Brussels Morning) – Belgium’s gender pay gap persists starkly in sports, where female athletes earn 81% less than males. Pension disparities also afflict women, underscoring broader gender inequality challenges.

How significant is the wage gap in Belgian sports?

Female athletes in Belgium make 81% less than their male peers, according to the Institute for Equality of Women and Men’s annual salary disparity report. The report states gender parity has improved globally in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the simultaneous economic recovery. The global wage void is now at 7%, down from 8% the last year. In the private sector, the void has reduced by one and a half percentage points to 10.2%, while in the public sector, it is 4.2%.

Why are female athletes in Belgium paid less?

However, the gap is particularly wider in the sports sector, with women making up to 81% less than male athletes. “Professional differences between women and men are vast,” states Institute Director Michel Pasteel. “Only 6% of professional athletes are women. What is more, for 59% of these women, this is a part-time job, compared to just 30% of their male counterparts. The thought of being a part-time top-level athlete is romantic: in practice, this means being spent part-time to dedicate more than full-time to one’s sport.”

What measures can close the wage gap in sports?

The Institute recommends measures such as equal prizes for comparable competitors in men’s and women’s sports, improved media coverage of women’s and mixed competitions, and equal backing from public authorities and federations for athletes. The report also states that a new social security system for salaried athletes has been in impact since 2022. Previously, social security contributions were established on capped income, but they are now estimated on actual wages.

Moreover, In April 2024 it came to light that female pensioners in Belgium are disbursed 25% less than men on average – just less than the overall European average pension pay void of 26%. The research, posted by Belgium’s Federal Planning Office, also rated Belgium fourth in the EU in terms of how possible it is that women over 65 will not have their pension, compared to their male counterparts.

Belgium’s Pensions Minister Karine Lalieux has emphasised that work must continue to prevent the pension earnings gap between men and women across the country, as the latest study puts the gender pension pay gap in Belgium at 25%. The Planning Office clarified that this is because, for Belgian partners, family pension laws permit one partner to obtain an increased amount if the other spouse gives up their right to a pension entirely. While the rule is gender neutral, in practice this implies that the higher earner (usually male) retains their pension, and it is nearly always the female partner who surrenders her right.

Lalieux said that the inequalities mourned by women when they reach retirement are the result of inequalities mourned during their careers and in their married life choices. These “must be vigorously combatted,” she stressed.

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.