Sunday 8th March was International Women’s Day (IWD). Across the globe, countries celebrated the huge strides women had taken in regards to their places in business, media and advancement in human rights. Hundreds marched in London for IWD, while media outlets acknowledged outstanding women who had broken through barriers in their respective countries. Celebrities even got in on the act, changing their social media profile photos, and participating in the celebrations.
In Ireland, the day was tainted with the announcement three days before that the gender pay gap in Ireland had deepened. The European Commission’s annual “Report on equality between women and men” revealed the disheartening statistics which declared that, in 2012, Irish women earned 14.4% less than men.
Although one might assume that the gender pay gap is steadily improving, in 2008 women were earning just 12.6% less than men and in 2010 the gap was at 13.9%.
The European Commission attributes several factors for the change in payment levels including: Discrimination in the workplace, the undervaluing of women’s work and skills, gender roles and traditions and balancing work and family responsibilities. Yet, these have always been there, so what has changed since 2008?
In 2009, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) released a report entitled, “Women and Recession”, which detailed the impact the economic downturn would have on women at work, and women in the home. Although there are more women at work now than ever before, there’s a greater percentage of women in lower paid jobs even though more women have a third level qualification.
In the UK, one explanation for the widening gender pay gap has been the economic recovery plan which has hindered the equality process. Job growth has been mainly in the male-dominated sectors, meanwhile the loss of jobs has been in the public sector where the pay gap is lower. This explanation is also relevant to Ireland where the number of state employees has fallen by over 45,000 since 2008.
If women make up the majority of low paid jobs, one of the solutions would be to raise minimum wage levels in order to ensure the gender pay gap closes. Along with the United States, Ireland is also the most expensive country in the world for childcare, so in order to close the gender pay gap, the Government need to subsidise childcare going forward.