ACHRS Representative Participants: Alissa Dörr, Gwenola Balcon and Madison Wells
Equal Pay International Coalition, EPIC, organized a virtual event to exchange ideas and evidence on how to effectively combat gender discrimination and commit to further action to achieve equal pay for work of equal value to mark the occasion of the first International Equal Pay Day. The event took place online on Friday 18th September 2020 at 15:00 – 16:30 (CEST). The event was held in English with simultaneous interpretation into Arabic, French, Russian, Spanish and International Sign Language and was attended by more than 3000 people around the world. The event was interactive, with polls and questions and comments integrated directly into the dialogue in real time instead of a traditional Q&A session after the panel discussion. The event was moderated by Nozipho Tshabalala whose journalist experience spans political economy, development finance and gender mainstreaming.
We know that economies benefit from closing the gender pay gap, yet the global gap in earnings between men and women stands at around 20%. Despite decades of gains in women’s educational attainment, employment participation, legislation, policy action and activism, women continue to be paid less than men all around the world. Moreover, Covid-19 has disproportionately affected women which has widened gender inequalities at work and at home. Women constitute the majority of frontline workers in the health and social care sectors, increasing their risk of contracting Covid-19. The burden of unpaid care work also falls primarily on women, which has been exacerbated by Covid-19 with widespread school and childcare closures. Women also face higher risks of job loss as a result of the economic downturn caused by Covid-19. There has been an increase in reports of domestic violence and harassment and, in developing countries, women, who are many to work in the informal economy, are among the most vulnerable citizens, left without access to social protection and Covid-19 national stimulus packages.
The speakers interestingly proposed various levers in order to reduce the gender pay gap. Among the most emphasized were gathering momentum through unions and peers networking, raising awareness on the impact of gender in one’s career path at school, redesigning parental leave schemes, valuing unpaid care and domestic work, as well as modifying the legal framework on gender equality and increasing the share of women in politics.
Thorsteinn Viglundsson, former minister of social affairs and equality, Iceland
Megan Rapinoe, Captain of the US Women’s National Soccer team
Samira Ahmedm, BBC journalist
Kristin Skogen Lund, CEO of Schibsted ASA Norway
Nadia Subat, Executive Bureau Member from CDT Morocco
Iris Bohnet, Harvard Kennedy School Professor and Academic Dean
Remarks by the EPIC Secretariat:
Guy Ryder, Director General, ILO
Asa Regner, UN Women
Angel Gurría, Secretary General, OECD
Call to action:
Sylvie Durrer, Swiss representative and chair of EPIC
Summary of panelists’ remarks:
Thornsteinn Viglundsson: Mr Viglundsson vigorously emphasised the correlation between higher levels of gender equality and higher results in GDP per capita. He traced back the historical developments that took place in Iceland to achieve such positive developments, most notably the 1975 strike. Like other panelists, he stressed the need to ensure greater transparency and to reverse the burden of proof by transferring responsibility for ensuring equal pay to the employers.
Megan Rapinoe: Ms Rapinoe emphasised the interconnectedness between societal inequalities and inequalities that play out in the professional world. She also highlighted the need to build in an element of intersectionality, as women from minority groups might have an even different experience. She explained the need to build bridges between women to join efforts in this struggle. She crucially argued that those in privileged position may regard equality as potential discrimination, hence the need to involve a multitude of actors.
Samira Ahmed: The crux of Ms Ahmed’s intervention was the lessons she drew from her own experience of witnessing the gender pay gap in her own workplace, namely the BBC. She too stressed the importance of forcing employers to publish both the high pay list and the pay gap, so that victims can then seize their unions and courts to seek redress. She further emphasised that the issue should not be posited as one that concerns only individual cases, but rather that spans across all female workers, and as such, should be addressed by unions. Moreover, it is certainly not about seeking privileges above men, but rather to establish fairness.
Kristin Skogen Lund: For Ms Lund, the key element that needs to be tackled is the traditional position women have been confined into. She noted how gender stereotypes lead to educational choices that adversely impact a woman’s future professional trajectory, as women tend to enter low-paid work sectors. She explained a project led by the Norwegian government to promote girls’ access to STEM careers, which consisted of bringing female role models working in that field to convince highschoolers of the importance of working in this sector. She used that example to highlight how simple interventions can have tremendous impacts.
Iris Bohnet: Drawing from her own experience in academica, Ms Bohnet described the inequalities she witnessed in that field, most notably the fact that only 25% of tenured professors are women, which also has financial implications. She emphasised the need to measure not only differences in terms of wages, but also in terms of other indices such as seniority. Thus, she called for an all-encompassing measurement of gender pay gap and not simply the one that is traditionally used. She argued that it is crucial that both hearts and minds are convinced of working towards gender equality, the latter being more easily mobilised, due to the positive correlation between equality and prosperity. She also suggested that men should come to realise that even within their category, some are privileged above others.
Nadia Soubat: Ms Soubat’s intervention focused on the Moroccan example. She discussed the precarious situation of many women in Morocco, which is largely a result of the fact that Morocco has a huge informal economy which mainly includes women, who are then left out of social security schemes. This dire situation has been exacerbated by the Covid crisis. She also noted that traditional roles contribute to confining women to the home where they take up unpaid work. Her discussion stressed how the combat against poverty cannot be achieved if women suffer from these structural inequalities. Legislative progresses are certainly a step, yet they must be accompanied by wider societal changes.
Guy Ryder: Mr Ryder stressed the tediously slow progress towards equal pay since the ILO Convention has come into force. While the text enshrines the need for equal remuneration for work of equal value, the reality is far bleeker, despite evidence highlighting economic and development arguments for tackling the pay gap. He argued that hidden causes of inequality, such as the unequal care burden, need to be tackled through collective action.
Angel Gurria: Mr Gurria acknowledged the deceivingly slim progress that had been made in the last 20 years to reduce the pay gap. He also argued that the Covid crisis hampers any progress on that issue. Women have been particularly exposed to the virus given the sectors in which they work. He cherishes new forms of flexible working as a means to encourage women’s participation in the workforce. According to him, gender considerations need to be mainstreamed in order to break structural inequalities. A smart mix of legislation, policy measures, awareness campaigns and workplace practices will lead to progress.
Asa Regner: Ms Regner started off by reminding the audience that 25 years have elapsed since the 1995 Beijing Declaration on gender equality and yet, no country has managed to close the gender pay gap. This is notably due to women’s underrepresentation in leadership and higher paid sectors. Women’s work tends to be undervalued and underpaid, and even in many cases not paid at all, despite the fact that these jobs are indispensable for society to function. She called for laws that uphold the principle of equal pay for equal value, as well as shared parental leave schemes.
Antonio Guterres: Mr Guterres pondered on a multitude of questions, ranging from why women are relegated to lower paid work to why women work part time, as well as why women see their wages decrease when they become mothers while men see a wage boost at that point in time. He argued for a removal of gender stereotypes and institutional barriers, as well as a redesign of women and men’s role in the household and a revaluation of unpaid care.
Sylvie Durrer: Ms Durrer’s intervention focused on the impact of COVID-19 for women and the extent to which it increased their vulnerabilities. She stressed how women find themselves in jobs that demand long hours of work and difficult working conditions, and yet are low-paid. Given that EPIC promotes equal pay for works of equal value (in accordance with the ILO Charter), EPIC calls upon governments, academia, civil society and the private sector to unite in their efforts to combat the wage gap.
Achieving wage parity is a major human rights issue, both in terms of advancing women’s rights, but also in terms of eradicating poverty. Each panelist stressed the extent to which closing the gender pay gap would not only empower women, but would in fact trickle down to benefit the entire economy. Hence, the stakes are high and the incentives important, yet for that to occur, intense work needs to be undertaken to deconstruct stereotypes around gender roles.