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Mark Equal Pay Day with Action to Prevent Women Being Left Behind in COVID Recovery

August 31, 2021 / Patty Kinnersly

This year, Equal Pay Day falls on August 31, with this date marking the 61 extra days from the end of the financial year that women, on average, must work to earn the same annual pay as men. That means a woman working full-time is taking home $261.50 a week less than men.

Disappointingly, the gender pay gap has risen over the past six months, (by 0.8 per cent), and many of us working in gender equity see this as the latest troubling sign that the impact of COVID is stalling, and even reversing progress towards equality. 

There is mounting evidence that women have been disproportionately affected by the fall-out from the pandemic.  

While many of the economic stimulus packages have targeted construction, which is heavily male-dominated (87.4 per cent of employees are men), female-dominated industries have been among those hardest hit. Women in areas such as early childhood education and care, retail, hospitality, health care, and aged care, have experienced job losses, cuts to hours and more insecure work. 

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which calculates the gender pay gap each year, found that the rise in the pay gap was largely driven by higher growth in men’s full-time wages (1.8 per cent increase) over women’s (0.9 per cent). The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) highlights “the high average earnings growth in the construction industry, which has a high proportion of men” as an explanation for this. 

Women have also felt the brunt of the rise in unpaid care demands, with so many juggling home schooling, limited childcare and work from home. In May this year, the ABS’s Household Impacts of COVID survey revealed that women were almost twice as likely than men to have spent 20 or more hours a week on unpaid caring and supervision of children. 

These finding are concerning, as they play into rigid gender stereotypes such as the belief that men should be the breadwinner and women should do the bulk of the housework or raising children. These expectations can reduce woman’s financial freedoms and independence and further devalue their worth in society. 

Tragically, we have also seen, since the onset of COVID, a rise in the incidence and severity of relationship and family violence against women. It is vital that decision makers understand the link between gender inequality and violence against women. We know that inequality, including economic inequality, is one of the underlying drivers of this gendered violence. We also need to consider those who experience other forms of discrimination such as racism, ableism, ageism, homophobia and how the ongoing impacts of colonisation can impact the gender pay gap. 

But this downwards trend towards worsening inequality need not continue, and nor should it. It is critical that efforts to increase gender equality are prioritised at this time. A pandemic recovery that is driven by policies that improve equality, rather than widening the gap, will lead to a fairer, stronger community, where all are valued. 

To this end, we call for all levels of government to apply a gendered approach to all policies, for example ensuring that economic stimulus packages do not disproportionately benefit male-dominated industries. 

Workplaces also have a critical role to play in improving gender equality, making flexible work arrangements genuinely available for women and men, encouraging women’s career progression and ensuring that their policies and processes address discrimination and inequality. Our Watch’s Workplace, Respect and Equality program has resources that workplaces can use to get started in this area. 

Workplace gender pay audits are a key tool for identifying and eliminating discriminatory pay. These can also incorporate measures to identify and address other forms of inequality in the workforce (based on cultural background, age, ability or sexuality for example) to ensure that work  to reduce the gender pay gap benefits all women.  

As we move towards recovering from the pandemic, it is vital for the whole of the community that progress towards equality is not lost and that means continuing to work towards eliminating the gender pay gap. All women deserve to be not only safe, but respected, valued and treated equally. That is a fundamental human right. 

 This article was first published in The Herald Sun