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  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

Today I’m launching a new theme on my blog: thought pieces, which initially will be inspired by a book published by London Wall, my publisher:

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How to Do Good: Essays on Building a Better World is a collection of extraordinary personal stories from thought leaders, celebrities, statesmen and women, Nobel prize winners, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists and others who are driving and inspiring positive change. (You can watch the book trailer at https://vimeo.com/205395055/f3c7f9e06d.) It’s published in association with Philanthropy Age, the leading source of philanthropic news, views, trends and analysis for the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

In the book, UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka writes a sobering and thought-provoking essay on pay inequality between men and women.

Did you know that on average women worldwide take home 24 per cent less in their pay cheque than men? That in the US, African American women earn 60 per cent of what white men earn?

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Information like this is sensational – and yet it rarely creates a sensation. In my own industry, publishing, research by the UK’s Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society found that female authors earn 20% less than male authors. So where a male writer earns a £1 royalty on a book sale, his female counterpart earns only 80 pence. Why? Is she an inferior writer, less gifted? Not at all. She is simply a woman.

What’s more, not only does that female writer deserve equal pay for doing an equal job, but she also deserves credit for the many hours of caregiving and domestic work she’s no doubt doing – for free.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka states the simple facts of this issue in her essay:

Globally, women do two and a half times more unpaid care and domestic work as men. The economic value of this work is estimated to be anywhere between 15 per cent of GDP in South Africa, to a staggering 39 per cent of GDP in India.

The repercussions of this inequality are far-reaching. Millions of women worldwide are living in poverty, their hard work unvalued.

Why exactly is a woman’s work so poorly valued? Why, as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka points out, does a male golf caddy earn $17 an hour while a female caregiver earns just $9? ‘Why should carrying golf clubs be worth so much more than carrying children?’ she asks.

The discrepancy horrifies me. When I think of the female teachers who taught my children, the nurses who gave them their vaccinations, the governess who looked after me when I was a young child – these women give so much; their contribution to society is so important and far-reaching.

In the UK, The Fawcett Society is the leading campaign organisation for women’s equality and rights
at home, at work and in public life. It outlines the following reasons for the gender pay gap:

* Discrimination against women

* Unequal responsibilities caring for children and other relatives

* An uneven spread across the labour market (‘feminised’ sectors like care are less well paid, and only one in ten people in the well-paid trades is female)

* Men being promoted over women to the most senior posts

It’s outrageous that such a situation exists in 2017, especially when you reflect that equal pay was legislated by the government 45 years ago, and discrimination is illegal.

What can be done? Well, first and foremost we can all be aware of this issue, and know that solving it really matters. As Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says:

It matters because it is an evident injustice and because it condemns millions of women and families to lives of entrenched poverty. It is a global, systemic problem that needs concerted attention and action to change the way that we value and support women’s work.

The solution isn’t simple, but we need to push for:

* Transparency and accountability over pay – with penalties enacted for inequality

* Free or subsidised access to good childcare, so that women can work

* Initiatives to open male-dominated professions to women

* A supportive workplace culture with regard to leave for parents, and flexible working arrangements and hours that allow women and men to both work and care

* An easier, and cost-free, path for women to make tribunal discrimination claims

Ultimately, all of this is predicated on a single need: that we all, men and women, agree that equality is not a luxury but a basic human right.

What do you think of this issue? Have you encountered the gender pay gap? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Note: All quotations are taken from How to Do Good: Essays on Building a Better World published by London Wall, with the kind permission of Philanthropy Age.

  • TREKnRay

    In the Navy pay was based on rank. Men did get faster promotions. Women were barred from certain jobs that received bonuses. I had a part time job as a Navy trained pharmacy technician in the 1970’s. I was being paid more than registered nurses. I didn’t think that was fair.
    A shipmate of mine worked part time as a lab technician. He was the only male in that lab. When he found out that he was being paid more than the women he talked them into threatening to quit in order to get more money. They all got more. It was the first time they were taken seriously in getting a fair wage. I wondered at that time if perhaps women got less money because they were willing to work for less, particularly in predominately female occupations. I think it was then, if not now. I am retired and don’t know much about the reasons for disparity now.

    • hannahfielding

      Thank you for sharing your experiences. It’s interesting that the women had to club together to get fair pay – standing up as an individual can be hard; not in keeping with tradition for women.

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