Equality will be achieved when women and men are granted equal pay and equal respect: An explainer

On this momentous day 18th of September, International Equal Pay Day, UN Women urges policymakers, non-governmental organizations, and the rest of the UN system to continue working towards closing the gender pay gap. 
UN Women pledges to continue efforts to raise awareness and promote policy change to narrow and close the gender pay gap and ensure women and girls have equal rights as their male counterparts.


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Closing the gender pay gap

Closing the gender gap requires efforts on several levels in the public and private sphere, these include but are not limited to:
  • Improving the social protection system, extended to workers in the formal and informal economy. Including ensuring that social policy work for women and minimal living wages
  • Policies to transform labour markets
  • Addressing occupational segregation
  • Guaranteeing domestic worker’s rights
  • Increasing the returns to women’s informal employment in rural areas
  • Ensuring social transfers
  • Accessible and affordable social services
  • Provision of quality public childcare and elderly care services, family-friendly workplace policies
  • Policy measures that address women and girls' disproportionate share of unpaid care responsibilities
  • Freedom of associations and the right to organize and bargain collectively

Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) stipulates "To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls". The aim of this goal is to achieve gender equality in the labor market, including equal access to jobs and top decision-making roles; in education, by achieving gender parity in primary education; in access to health; and in all domains to reduce gender-based violence and discrimination to empower women and girls. Goal 8 of the SDGs specifies "To promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all". Target 8.5 intends to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value by 2030. While significant progress has been made in realizing goals 5 and 8, we still have a long way to go to fully achieving the goals.

Globally, women only make 77 cents for every dollar men earn, this disparity is one of the main reasons for lifetime income inequality. It is estimated that it will approximately take 70 years to close this gender pay gap.

The gender pay gap demonstrates the relentless inequality between women and men at all levels of our societies. One of the main underlying reasons for the gender pay gap is that jobs tend to be valued along gender lines. Social and cultural norms also play a significant role not only in the types of paid work for women and girls but also in terms of how that work is valued and remunerated. In 1951, the General Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the Equal Remuneration Convention, yet to this day, male-dominated and female-dominated industries are still not valued the same. In order to ensure equal pay for work of equal value, we must see a change along the gender lines.

The gender pay gap is at 30 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 24 percent globally including both the formal and informal sectors. In sub-Saharan Africa, women opt to work in the informal sector mainly to cater to their care responsibilities, and more than 89 percent of women work in the informal economy. Agriculture continues to remain the most important source of income at the grassroots level on the African continent, employing more than 50 percent of women. The majority of agricultural employment is informal.

Women and young women face challenges in balancing paid work and family responsibilities, as they bear the brunt of catering to most of the unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities in households. In sub-Saharan Africa, the gender pay gap is estimated at 31% for women with children compared to only 4% for women without children. Labor policies are thus a critical element in closing the gender pay gap.

Dr. Marjan Petreski, a professor of economics and statistics at the University American College Skopje in North Macedonia, is currently conducting an analysis of the gender pay gap in ten countries within the east and southern Africa region on behalf of UN Women. The analysis is underway but so far has proven that countries in east and southern Africa face varying levels of a raw gender pay gap, the pure difference in hourly wages of men and women, expressed as a percentage of men’s wages. In order to calculate the adjusted gender pay gap, further analysis will be done to take into consideration the personal and job characteristics of women and men in the labor market, to be able to approximate the concept of 'equal pay for jobs of equal value. This will then provide a different picture. In some countries, these characteristics may help in explaining the gender pay gap. For example, in Kenya, labor force participant characteristics explain nearly half of the gender pay gap. While in Namibia and Mauritius, the gender pay gap increases when adjusted, which is not unknown in the literature, revealing that working women in these countries have better personal and job characteristics than working men, hence they cannot explain the gap but rather amplify it.

Speaking about the ongoing study, Prof. Dr. Marjan Petreski said "A multitude of policies may be relevant for dealing with the gender pay gap, starting from the basic provision for equal pay for work of equal value in the primary labor laws, up to policies related to the minimum wage, flexible working arrangements, a set of anti-discrimination laws and policies and so on."

Women and girls face numerous challenges in the labor market, including being overrepresented in the informal economy, and too often women are trapped in low-paid and poor-quality work. The disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work further limits their opportunities to fully participate in the workforce. Moreover, they lack social protection and social services, which are crucial in narrowing the gender pay gap. Social protection and social services can enhance women’s income security, their ability to realize their potential, and expand their life options.

Women in the labor market in eastern and southern Africa

  • 89 percent of women work in the informal sector
  • Women dominate the agricultural sector, over 50 percent of women are estimated to work in the sector
  • 3.9 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa are covered by social protection measures
  • Women are the backbone of the African economy, with the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the world, one in every four women starts or manages a business in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Women have minimal presence on boards in African companies, with the majority of the companies having at least one woman board director. Approximately one-third of companies have no women on their boards and another 33.6 percent have only one female director