Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The German capital is celebrating Equal Pay Day with the Frauenticket, a discounted fare that reflects the gender pay gap.
Women traveling around Berlin on Monday will find that public transit costs them quite a bit less than usual—and quite a bit less than it costs men, too.
For one day, March 18, the city’s transit authority BVG is selling a special Frauenticket, a women-only day pass that allows travel anywhere in the city all day for €5.50, instead of the usual €7—a 21 percent reduction on the regular fare. BVG is offering the ticket on March 18th in honor of Germany’s national Equal Pay Day. The discount reflects to the percentage that female German workers are paid less compared to their male counterparts.
It could feasibly be argued that the special ticket discriminates against men by obliging them to pay more for the same service. On this subject, however, the BVG is fairly forthright, saying in a press release:
It is not our intention that men feel discriminated against by the action. If that happens, we apologize. On the other hand, who apologizes 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.
BVG also says the Frauenticket will be available to all “who live as women,” whether they are cis or trans.
This move comes on the heels of International Women’s Day, on March 8th. This year, a re-unified Berlin celebrated International Women’s Day as a public holiday for the first time, reviving a day off that occurred annually in East Berlin, before the country of which it was capital was dissolved in 1991. It also partly rectified a situation where Berlin has fewer public holidays than other German states.
Taken together, these two moves might give the impression that Berlin, and Germany, is a particularly progressive, female-friendly place. The reality, however, is that the country as a whole currently does quite poorly in securing equal opportunities. Germany’s gender pay gap, while broadly similar to that in the U.S., is the third widest in all Europe (behind Estonia and the Czech Republic) and much wider than the gap in Italy, Romania, and Luxembourg, where it has narrowed to less than 5.5 percent.
Germany also has an educational equality gap, with women comprising only 28 percent of students enrolling for STEM subjects at the college level, while cultural attitudes to women who work outside the home can be particularly harsh. Against this backdrop of systematic financial and institutional obstacles for women, a scheme to highlight inequality through a mere one day’s fare reduction seems both timely and fairly moderate.