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OP-ED: Equal pay for equal work

  • Published at 12:43 am December 11th, 2020
Gender equality
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Society needs to see women as much more than just caregivers and homemakers

Early in the 1950s, most women did not work because they were not given the opportunity to refine their skills. As years progressed, and society, with it, women were seen more in the professional field. 

Yet, there existed a specific divide. Women were only hired as either teachers, nurses, or as factory workers. Some say that women have good dexterity in their fingers and they are more “suited” for roles which involve sewing and weaving. 

There were hardly any women excelling in more career-oriented roles in the way men did. Employers would advertise job vacancies labeling which ones hired only women and which ones hired only men. People realized women needed to work, but a career, that was for men. 

The reasons for such discrimination in terms of wages and job opportunities were either inadequate education or pre-determined posts designated as “feminine” jobs. Perhaps the most popular misconception that holds true till date is the notion that women cannot maintain power and they should stay home and support their family and children as the primary caregiver.

As the world changed, women around the globe gradually took what was never given to them. They fought, protested, rioted, marched, and went beyond social norms to create a foundation upon which women today can stand tall. Now we have women dominating the education sector and excelling as physicians, parliament members, soldiers, activists, and global leaders.

Much of the archaic reasoning for which women were told that they “can’t do” has disappeared except one; the reason being that women are perceived as primary caregivers. So, perhaps, it can be concluded that women are not primarily discriminated against for being women, but for being mothers. 

When a working woman becomes a mother, she has to take a break from work and take maternity leave which might last several months, and which might be unpaid. But it does not end there. A mother has to stay home with her child providing for its needs. 

This means rejecting that promotion that requires more office hours, the business trip that could alleviate her career, and projects that demand more work and attention. Her male counterparts do not have to face such limitations and are able to climb up the corporate ladder, further widening the wage gap. 

The average woman suffers a wage loss of 4% per child, 6% for low-wage workers, while the men incur a wage increase of 6% when they become a father. Researchers have labeled these as the “motherhood penalty” and the “fatherhood bonus.” 

Mothers are assumed to be distracted and so are often not considered for promotions. Western societies on average have families with mostly two working parents. In spite of that, studies from 2001 showed that 65% to 80% of the childcare responsibilities fall on the mother’s shoulders. 

Despite the successful efforts to create more opportunities for women, Bangladesh has yet to be progressive in terms of equal pay. Bangladesh is on par with countries that have the worst labour rights. It is a prevalent scenario in the informal sector where women are paid less as opposed to their male counterparts for doing the same job. 

An article published in 2019 by The Daily Star reported that women at brick kilns in Lalmonirhat district get half the payment than what a man receives. For every Tk800 a man receives, a woman is paid around Tk400. This is true for other sectors as well such as construction and agriculture. 

For a developing society like Bangladesh, it is common to see the father as the provider while the mothers are expected to care for their children at home. Even so, women and their roles have evolved as they are becoming more integrated into the job market. Today, women stand on equal grounds with men in terms of earning a livelihood for themselves. 

But regardless, much like in western societies, women are expected to stay home once they become a mother. Moreover, women are looked down upon if they resume their work after becoming a mother and are shamed for being unable to properly look after their children. This is true for western countries as well. 

Additionally, most women in Bangladesh decide to leave their jobs and become the primary caregiver to their children. 

A paid parental leave is a prominent way to move forward in closing the gender wage gap significantly. Paid parental leave targeted towards new fathers would socially oblige the fathers to take leave. Doing so would lessen the weight on the mother’s shoulders with responsibilities being shared. 

The woman does not always have to say no to opportunities, allowing her to gradually progress in her career. This would create a more gender-neutral environment not only in the work place but at home as well. Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland are some of the countries which have nearly closed the gender wage gap through parental leave administration. 

It has to start with men. It is social norm to project society’s model belief of women as pre-designated caregivers, resulting in the motherhood wage penalty. This is mostly due to the uneven distribution of work and responsibilities between the father and the mother with regards to childcare. A parental leave alters that line of thinking.

It’s not about gaining an advantage; it is about gaining equal opportunity. It’s not about equality; it is about equity. The word equal pay often gets tied with feminism which is then socially scorned. 

Asking for equal pay and narrowing the gender wage gap, regardless of social status, is not just advocating for women’s rights -- it is advocating for human rights.

Afrin Mahbub is a student of economics, American International University-Bangladesh.

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