In its 2016 Global Gender Gap report, the World Economic Forum suggested that at the current rate of progress it will take 170 years to close the gender economic gap. Women constitute roughly one half of the world’s population, and they also earn one half of what men earn, according to the same report. It is estimated that the average global income of women is $10,778 while it’s $19,873 for men. There’s a pay gap across the board, from sports to Hollywood to the corporate sector. And while progress has been made, countries across the world still need to implement stringent measures to ensure women aren’t essentially working for free after a certain hour in the day, compared to men performing the same role.
Also in 2016, thousands of women in Iceland took to the streets to demand equal pay. This is the best country in the world to be a woman, yet there exists a 14-18% pay gap. The prelude to this mass protest took place in 1975, 2005 and 2008 when women left work and household chores behind to draw attention to gender inequality in the country. These protests seemed to have had an impact as in the following year, the Icelandic government presented the first bill of its kind in the world – public and private organisations with over 25 staff members have to prove they offer equal pay. The bill is proposed to become law in January 2018.
So, what can the world learn from Iceland? The power of collective action.
American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, emphasized the importance of civil disobedience, whereby people constantly assert their rights to improve society. Women around the world should organise themselves to impose pressure on their governments till they, in the very least, acknowledge the existence of the gender pay gap. Everyone, who wants to equalise pay for women in the labour force, should form unions that meet and discuss concerns of their workers in order to take it up with authorities. Unions might help in restoring confidence in people about their power as workers and members of society, and help equalise the current power imbalance between employees and employers. Also, to ensure that the demands of equal pay are being met, governments around the world should introduce legislation similar to Iceland’s, which requires them to prove they are offering equal pay to employees. Ironically, many countries such as the UK, India, the US and Canada, among others, actually have laws to ensure equal pay, and while in the public sector employees are offered equal pay, it is in the private sector that the pay discrimination becomes apparent.
In the etiology of why women are paid less, one cause often cited is the stereotype of the woman as the natural caretaker. According to a 2013 Pew Research, 39% of women had “taken significant amount of time off”, 27% quit their job, and 13% turned down a promotion to take care of family. India ranks 121 out of 130 nations in terms of female participation in the workforce, which has dropped from 37% in 2004- 05 to 28% in 2016. One of the reasons for this low participation is societal mindset, which continues to pigeonhole women into roles as a caretaker. Gender stereotypes need to be dissolved starting from the grassroots level, if more women are to participate in the workforce. India recently implemented longer maternity leave, but real change will come when longer paternity leave is also granted. Biologically a baby needs its mother for a certain amount of time. Beyond that, their role ends and is not needed any more or less than a father.
Further, women tend to form the majority in jobs and sectors that are considered low income. Globally, fewer women are likely to enter STEM fields – according to Catalyst, in 2013 women accounted for less than a third of those in research and development. Stereotypes need to be shaken so that boys and girls alike don’t feel they can excel in one field more than another just because of their sex. In India, though more than half of women are likely to take up STEM studies, they face sexism and societal pressures once in the workforce, which leads them to dropping out. According to the 2016 Kelly Global Workforce Insights, 41% of women in technology companies leave after a decade, compared to 17% of men.
Gender parity in pay is an achievable task in the short run if collectively people put more pressure on governments to install rules that guarantee equality. Shaking century-old stereotypes may take longer, but is a goal to work towards to ensure a more economically and socially harmonious society.
About the Author
Shreya Kalra professionally identifies herself as a journalist with a keen interest in gender issues. She has previously worked for media organisations in the UK, UAE and India. Her global upbringing has instilled in her a deep sense of curiosity about the world’s cultures and people’s behaviours, and led her on a quest to find out the how’s and why’s of human nature and existence.