They say the year 2018 has been a big one for women. From success during the midterm elections, to becoming CFO’s of major Fortune 500 companies, Western women have been making huge strides towards gender equality in the recent months. However, despite these facts and that Canada’s new ten-dollar bill features a female civil rights icon, women today only earn a fraction of every dollar a man does. According to the Canadian Women’s foundation, this fraction is approximately $0.69 per dollar and similar wage gaps can be observed throughout the world, including in the USA.
In order to understand where these wage gaps come from, it is essential to look into our past. The problem can be traced back to the earliest part of the twentieth century, which marked women’s suffrage movements throughout many parts of the world including Canada, USA, UK, Austria and Germany. In addition to gaining the right to vote, World War II led many women to take on non-traditional roles due to shortages in the workforce. According to Statistics Canada, female labor force participation rates surged temporarily during this time. In the 1950’s several interconnected factors led to the pay gap: lower education rates for women, lack of discrimination laws against hiring practices, grouping of “feminine” industries, misconceptions about female aptitudes, and cultural norms about gender roles and childrearing expectations. Over time, almost all of these factors seemed to fade into the background, apart from the idea that women should be the ones to raise children. This tendency to rely on women as the primary caregiver has led scholars to coin the term motherhood penalty.
Traditional theories have argued that gender discrimination is the reason why this pay gap exists, however, the motherhood penalty sheds light on a different perspective. Motherhood penalty can be thought of as a “per child” pay penalty for women who choose to work while bearing children. According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, working mothers face additional problems, in comparison to non-mothers and men. Mothers are penalized with an even bigger wage gap simply because they are perceived as less committed to their careers. Studies have shown that mothers are judged as emotional, less reliable and irrational in the workplace. On average, working women with children are burdened with more house chores and childcare duties than their male counterparts. Statistics Canada estimates that women spend 50% more of their time doing unpaid work than men. Interestingly, women have a hard time with the pay gap even in the comfort of their own homes. Specifically, women are more likely to end up taking care of their little ones and they end up making more career-related sacrifices, while fathers continue to climb up the corporate ladder. This discrepancy in expectations, following the birth of a child is the underlying cause of the gender pay gap. Moreover, this is reinforced by the fact that single women without children have a smaller pay gap and, at times, end up earning salaries closer to their male counterparts.
Now that I have brought this wage discrepancy to light, the question should be asked: how do we close the pay gap? The answer lies with Rwanda and Iceland, where important lessons can be noted from these two nations. Both countries have faced very different challenges yet have managed to get closer to the same goal. Tormented by genocide, Rwanda’s population saw an unnatural shift in gender ratios, which ultimately led women to jobs and industries that were once male-dominated. Following the 1984 genocide, Rwanda’s government’s priority was to rebuild their country, which opened new doors in the workplace for their female population. According to the World Economic Forum, Rwanda’s female labour force participation rate is 86%, in contrast to USA’s mere 56%. In addition, Rwandan women are paid $0.88 cents to the dollar, while American women are paid only $0.74 cents. The disparity is shocking and counter-intuitive, especially for those who consider America to be the land of opportunity. This year has marked the entry of many female politicians into the House, however, a closer look reveals that 80% of political positions are occupied by men in the USA. In Rwanda, females form 61.3% of the political makeup. It is important to have a fair representation of women in politics since research has shown that female politicians put emphasis on neglected issues, which tend to benefit other women in society and female lawmakers provide new opportunities through pro-women laws which help to uplift women out of oppression. Not to mention, women make up half of the population, so it is important for there to be equal representation.
According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Index, Iceland has managed to close 70% of its pay gap, making it the global leader of gender equality. In 1980, Iceland elected their first female president, which led to a substantial increase in female politicians. Maternity leave policy changes paved the way for a policy that made the greatest difference: established in 2000, an obligational paternity leave policy provided fathers with three months of non-transferable leave. This policy had a great impact on equality in the workforce. According to Slate, long-term effects of this policy also changed the way men engaged the tasks within their households. Through this policy, conventional male patterns were altered and men were able to spend more time with their children. This in-turn allowed their female partners the opportunity to thrive in their workspaces instead of having to sacrifice their careers in light of their childcare duties. The changes that come along with being a mother can push women off-balance in other aspects of their lives, especially work. However, with an equal parent-partner by their side who is available at home, they can delegate their childcare duties and find balance in their work/home lives more efficiently.
The motherhood penalty shows how the gender pay gap has little to do with being a woman and more to do with being a working mother. Two exemplary nations have taken vastly different paths towards decreasing their pay gaps, creating important lessons for the rest of the world to learn from. Though some still argue that irreducible percentages exist, will we ever truly be able to eliminate gender pay gaps? Low female numbers in the c-suite, the tech-industry, and in politics indicate how far we really are from resolve. The ultimate fix must begin with men accepting more responsibility at home and the idea that women should be the primary caregivers must come to an end.
Written by: Iqra Akhtar, JMWL Ambassador (2018-2019)
Editor: Amanda Kane