International Equal Pay Day 2020: EPIC calls to prioritize pay equity in COVID-19 recovery 

15 Oct 2020

The first ever International Equal Pay Day on 18 September 2020 came at a time when the world of work is changing profoundly. COVID-19 and its economic fallout is posing new and unprecedented challenges to women’s participation in the workforce:

• Globally, 40 per cent of all employed women work in the hardest-hit sectors;

• With large scale childcare and school closures, lockdowns, and heightened elderly care needs, women have shouldered the brunt of the unpaid care burden; and

• Women in domestic work have been highly vulnerable to containment measures and are at risk of losing their jobs.

However, COVID-19 has not arisen in a vacuum. Prior to the pandemic, women were still being paid, on average, 20 per cent less than men. Despite decades worth of progress through strengthening of non-discrimination legislation, increased educational attainment and employment as well as activism on the promotion of women’s economic empowerment, women continue to do three times more unpaid care work than men; they are over represented in industries that have long been underpaid and undervalued; they are underrepresented in leadership roles across all sectors; and gender based violence and harassment in the workplace have long made the world of work an unsafe space for many women.

International Equal Pay Day serves as a reminder of the persistent and pervasive inequalities that exist in the world of work, and urges all actors to take affirmative action to achieve equal pay for work of equal value and close the gender pay gap.

To mark the occasion, the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) hosted a global, virtual call to action, calling all leaders of the labor market to come together in solidarity and take coordinated action to ensure pay equity is at the heart of COVID-19 recovery efforts worldwide. The event kick started with a video message from leaders of the EPIC Steering Committee calling for a COVID-19 economic response that prioritizes the achievement of equal pay for work of equal value; recognizes the value of unpaid care work; and provides access to affordable services, such as childcare and healthcare.

The inspiring global conversation was moderated by Nozipho Tshabalala and invited an exchange of knowledge and ideas from panelists, as well as over 1000 policy makers, advocates, experts and decision makers that came together from all regions of the world to mark the event.

Reflecting on her own personal and professional fight for equal pay as a BBC journalist, Samira Ahmed spoke to the challenge of fighting for equality and power, “if you’ve always been privileged, equality will feel like discrimination”. Having experienced similar pushbacks and challenges in her advocacy for equality in sport, Megan Rapinoe, Captain of the US National Women’s Soccer team, shared advice for others working towards the same goal, “(s)eek out other women, whether in your own company, other companies, networks. It’s about sharing information, sharing ideas, bouncing off each other, and building that sisterhood. It’s the exchange of information and confidence that will get you there”.

Underlining the need for urgent and systemic change, Iris Bohnet, Harvard Kennedy School Professor and Academic Dean, shared, “(w)e need to fix the system and not women or marginalized groups…to move the needle on equalizing pay, we need to debias systems, leveling the playing field for everyone to become an engineer or a nurse, to have an equal shot at promotion, and to benefit from flexible work arrangements”. As Thorsteinn Viglundsoon, former Minister of Social Affairs and Equality in Iceland, shared, such systemic change is not only a matter of fairness, it is a matter of common sense, “(g)ender equality is not a threat to men; we benefit from it as well. We need change when it comes to equal pay. We need to drive that change. We need to be that change”. As Kristin Skogen Lund, CEO of Schibsted ASA Norway, said “it also has a bit to do with choices”. She shared that “very importantly, we have to encourage both employers and women to make more untraditional choices”.

There was a consistent theme throughout the interactive panel discussion and the remarks delivered by the EPIC Secretariat: no actor can overcome the current challenge posed by COVID-19 alone; multi-stakeholder cooperation is key in order to build back for a better, more equitable and resilient world of work. As Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary General asserted, “Governments, employers, trade unions, civil society and other stakeholders have to work together”, and Guy Ryder, Director-General of International Labour Organization, reinforced “collective action makes an extraordinary difference”. Asa Regner, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, spoke to the measures actors can adopt by working together, “(w)e can enact laws which uphold the principle of equal pay for work of equal value; we can promote policies that eliminate gender stereotyping; we can design family responsive services; and we can improve quality of wage data”.

The same message was echoed by other participants, for example, Megan Rapinoe, “(i)t’s “and”, “and”, “and”, not one thing…we need political will to enact and enforce legislation. We need social will. All the bills in the world are worth nothing if the world doesn’t want it. We need to come at it from every angle”. This was reiterated by Nadia Soubat, Executive Bureau Member from CDT Morocco, who elaborated on the importance and advantages of social dialogue to provide solutions to problems. She stressed that “(t)he impact of this pandemic could be an opportunity to implement a new paradigm based on equality, equity and a decent life for all”.

In her Call to Action, Sylvie Durrer, Director of the Swiss Federal Office for Gender Equality and Chair of the EPIC Steering Committee, highlighted the responsibility of all actors to adopt the following measures to advance equal pay for work of equal value:

• Governments must ensure that integrated policy responses are aimed at mitigating the job and income losses;

• Employers must seek to ensure that women do not end up disproportionately shouldering job losses and reductions in incomes;

• Employers’ and workers’ organizations must work together to ensure that gender equality is at the center of solutions for all workers;

• Civil society organizations must raise awareness and promote coordinated action to tackle pay inequalities.

Ms Durrer underlined the importance of EPIC as we embark on the road ahead, “(i)t is only together we can ensure that the response and recovery efforts lead to building a more inclusive and fair world of work”.

For further information about the event, see here. Spanish and French versions attached.

To watch a recording of International Equal Pay Day event, see here.

Join the online conversation using the hashtag #EqualPayDay

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@epic2030 (Twitter) and Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) (LinkedIn)

@UN_Women (Twitter), @UNWomen (Instagram)