75 years for equal pay

Media Releases article written on the 15 Jul 2014

In a village near Faizabad in India, 32-year-old mother of three, Manju Tiwari, works hard as a farmer, growing a wide variety of produce, including sugar cane, rice, wheat and potatoes.

“Women do the majority of the work.  We do domestic work and we also work in the field.  We do everything but our work is not recognised,” she says.

This is an issue right across the world, in rich and poor countries alike.

For all the progress we’ve made in areas such as access to education, the under-valued work of women is still pervasive – along with great disparity in employment, wages and political participation – and a hindrance to truly inclusive economic growth that benefits everyone.

Oxfam’s report out today, The G20 and gender equality – How the G20 can advance women’s rights in employment, social protection and fiscal policies, shows just how big an issue this is.

It includes the startling fact that on the current rate of global progress, it will take 75 years for women to be paid the same as men for equal work.

In other words, women will not achieve equal pay in most of our lifetimes.

Across G20 countries and beyond, women are paid less than men, do most of the unpaid labour, are over-represented in part-time work and discriminated against in the household, markets and institutions.

These are not just ‘women’s issues’ alone – they are systemic issues that determine the wellbeing of everyone.

Depending on the country context, an extra 20 – 60 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be added if the hidden contribution of unpaid work was valued.

For an organisation such as Oxfam, which works to improve the lives of people in poverty, the gap between women and men represents a major risk to sustainable development, and is the biggest obstacle to eradicating poverty.

Seventy per cent of the 1.2 billion people who live in extreme poverty worldwide are women and girls; while women perform two-thirds of the world’s work and produce half the world’s food, they earn only ten per cent of the world’s income.

Economic growth is central to the agenda of the G20 this year, which Australia is hosting in Brisbane.  But inequality is not. The extreme and growing gap between the rich and the poor, as well as gender inequality, must be front and centre in Brisbane.

The G20 must show a commitment to women’s rights and gender equality if the outcomes from the summit are to support a truly inclusive growth model.

Increased workforce participation is on the agenda, and I’m pleased that this is an issue that the Australian Government has been leading on within the G20.

But tackling gender inequality doesn’t end there. The G20 must take a more comprehensive approach. To address the systemic issue of gender inequality it needs to tackle the issue in its governance structures and in all of its fiscal and employment policies.

In Australia, we know that women have lower workforce participation rates than men, are more likely to be employed in insecure work,are significantly more likely than men to work part-time and end up with less retirement income and savings.

Meanwhile, in Manju’s case in India, we know that when women are able to assert their rights, it can benefit not only them but their whole community and the economy.

In recent years, Manju became involved in an Oxfam supported initiative, a ‘women farmers’ parliament’, where women share their challenges and interact with local government and public representatives.

“I had no house in my name, no land in my name.  A piece of family land was even sold by my husband without my knowledge,” she says.

“Now I have asserted my rights and I got property rights…I’ve been able to get farming-related information…I also got training, which helped me get land in my name.”

Thanks to this, Manju has been able to substantially increase her harvests and her income.

Manju’s children are now able to go to school, and she is happy to not have to depend on her husband.

“I have no more fear now, I just wish to continue living an independent life.”

Isn’t that what we all want?

Dr Helen Szoke, Chief Executive, Oxfam Australia

This opinion editorial was first published in Mamamia on 14 July 2014.