Equal pay can’t wait another day

5 Sep 2021

An intergenerational dialogue on closing the gender pay gap for Generation Equality – Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The Equal Pay International Coalition hosted an intergenerational dialogue as part of the momentum-building sessions in the countdown to the Generation Equality Forum in Paris (30 June – 2 July), bringing together thought leaders from across regions and sectors at different stages of their careers in conversation to discuss how the pay gap reflects in the life cycle, and how to address the gap through a multi-regional, intergenerational and intersectional lens.

Jeevika Shiv, social worker, lawyer and National Gender Youth Activist from India, moderated the dialogue and opened with an interactive audience question on defining ‘decent work’. Fairness, equal opportunities, respect, safety, and social protection were some of the key terms underlined by event participants, reflecting a collective consciousness and awareness of gender-responsive economic rights and principles.

The moderator then addressed four guest speakers, asking each of them to share their personal experiences or the experiences of their peers and colleagues in their respective contexts, as well as their current or past advocacy for pay equity and workplace inclusion.

H.E. Senator Patricia Mercado of Mexico opened the dialogue with a reflection on her work as a young advocate for women workers in the automotive and textile industries. Senator Mercado recalled that in the early 1980s, at a time of technological innovation and increased automation, Mexican women began taking on more technical and traditionally ‘masculine’ jobs, despite being compensated at the same rate of their original roles.

Natalia Carfi, Interim Executive Director of the International Open Data Charter, cited her lack of exposure to concepts like the ‘glass ceiling’ and equal pay until after she had already received a university degree in Argentina. She shared that women in most contexts do not have the tools for navigating workplace discrimination because people are simply not talking openly about issues like the pay gap – even in elite academic contexts. This led Carfi to co-found Open Heroines, a global group of over 600 members who work in the fields of open government, open data and civic tech that provides safe virtual spaces where women can meet like-minded women and share experiences, advice, and words of encouragement.

Sherry Hakimi, Executive Director of genEquality and Commissioner in the New York City Commission on Gender Equity, shared her experience as a 16-year-old high school student working as a cashier and getting paid not only one dollar less than her male colleagues, but also less than the legal minimum wage in the U.S. state of Massachusetts at the time. She went on to underline the importance of pay transparency and the significance of having open conversations about equal pay.

Mohamed Ali Raddaoui, National Gender Youth Activist from Tunisia and queer-environmentalist activist in the MENA region, shared current feminist strategies and movements taking shape in Tunisia to ensure equal pay in the agricultural sector, including by demanding equal heritage laws that would allow women to own farmland. In his intervention, Raddaoui drew upon broader issues related to equal pay and workplace inclusion by highlighting the struggle of queer communities in the Arab States. He stressed that informal sectors – including sex work – remain the main options for LGBTIQ+ victims of social and economic exclusion, especially for trans and intersex people. It is therefore critical, Raddaoui explained, to include LGBTIQ+ voices in the fight for equal pay, as well as the industries in which they work.

The next audience question tackled men’s behaviour in the post-pandemic context, as the role played by men in care duties has a direct impact on women’s access to decent work. The moderator asked participants if they believed men would continue to perform higher levels of unpaid care work as pandemic restrictions are lifted. While 35% of participants responded “no”, the positive uncertainty of most respondents demonstrated an underlying hope for change following a uniquely turbulent period.

As the event came closer to its conclusion, the moderator launched an informal discussion by asking speakers to delineate the role of traditionally powerful figures in companies, governments and organizations in promoting decent work for women in all their diversity and in reducing the gender pay gap from an intersectional lens.

Sherry Hakimi stressed the need for leaders to become more radically accountable to those most deeply impacted by the pay gap, highlighting as an example the significant gap for Black, Latina and migrant women in the United States, particularly for those working in the care economy. Mohamed Ali Raddaoui identified key actors who are mainly responsible for promoting and ensuring pay equity depending upon context, including labour unions, human resources managers and agencies, governments, and business owners.

While UN entities, civil society and youth-led organizations, governments, the private sector and employers’ and workers’ organizations are fully engaged in closing the pay gap in the context of the Generation Equality Forum and beyond, speakers agreed that much more needs to be done in every context. Allowing the pay gap to linger or even widen due to the economic challenges posed by the pandemic could seriously undermine important gender equality achievements and gains made over the last few decades.

It is in this context that EPIC remains committed to the achievement of equal pay for all and that EPIC members will support the realization of the transformative goals of the Generation Equality Forum at the global, regional and national levels.