Speech: Unequal pay: united action against this formidable discrimination

Opening remarks by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women at the launch of the Equal Pay International Coalition on 18 September, 2017

Date: Tuesday, September 19, 2017

[As delivered]

Last year we concluded the work which was led by Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, President of Costa Rica, and his co-Chair Simona Scarpaleggia, the CEO of IKEA Switzerland. That was the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which looked at different barriers to women’s economic empowerment and tried to encourage stakeholders, Member States, private sector, civil society and others, to assist us in addressing these barriers.

Even those not in that panel would consider the fact that women are paid less money for doing the same amount of work or work of equal value, to be one of the most obvious barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Guy Ryder and I are taking forward this discussion and information through EPIC [Equal Pay International Coalition], as we represent the two UN agencies that were part of that panel. I’d like to say that the Secretary-General also extended his greetings. He asked me to let those participating in this event know that he is watching us.

This issue is important for UN Women because it is yet another formidable form of discrimination against women, one where there is blatant tolerance for discrimination. Women are valued very low, and so is their work. It doesn’t matter whether they are operating at a senior level, or just starting work. There is a pattern of discrimination against women that in the SDGs we expect to address, as we act to end all forms of discrimination against women.

Women are expected to take responsibility for unpaid care duties happily. As one Member State said, ‘the women do this for the love of motherhood’. Really? How many women would say they are happy not to be paid or to be paid less because, ‘I’m a mother’? I asked that Member State, ‘would you say, Excellency, do that work yourself, and take less money for doing the same work as a woman’?

Women tend to be at the bottom of the pyramid, with work that has no minimum wage and where the pay is low, and so accumulate disadvantages throughout their working life. That again creates disadvantage for women. Women are in jobs that tend to be low-valued, and there is entrenched occupational segregation, where women are concentrated in different jobs from men. In higher and upper income countries, many of the jobs in which women tend to be concentrated include childcare, teaching, nursing, healthcare, and office and service industries, which tend to be paid at lower levels.

On a lighter note, women who sew are called seamstresses, and when men sew they are designers. I think the majority of the clothes that we wear are made by women, not by men. But the majority of the people who earn a lot of money from making clothes, are men, not women. Something is wrong there. When women cook, and I can tell you a lot of the food that we eat is prepared by women, they are cooks. When men cook, they are chefs. And when we talk about celebrity chefs, it is the men that are celebrities. Why are we not celebrating the women who really do a lot of the cooking?

There really are norms that are deeply entrenched in the way we value the way women work. We need to pay attention to the people that are responsible for our HR, because they can potentially entrench discrimination in a woman’s life by deciding she will earn less. In many cases, we maybe don’t ask why that is the case. Sometimes managers don’t ask, and even sometimes women themselves don’t question this.

Together, we want to address this package of issues, which go towards entrenching gender inequality, and to make sure that in 2030 there is not this situation. The next generation should not have to go through what we have gone through. It should be possible for those people who will be entering the labour market at that point, to look back and say, ‘was it true really that you were paid less, how did that even happen?’

So, we must really address all the issues that we can, so that it becomes an exception rather than a rule.