“Pay inequality matters” — Executive Director


[As delivered]

I thank the University for having us today, and I thank the women in the room for inspiring us to do the things that we do.

Today is an all-around win, win, win day.

I want to also acknowledge the presence of my Deputy Executive Director, Mrs. Lakshmi Puri. For those who have been to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), at the United Nations, you will know that she is “Madam CSW”. Without her, we cannot do the things that we do during CSW and is another example of a woman who knows how to carry the world on her shoulders with a smile.

I would like to start by thanking the Premier of Ontario for being a trailblazer and for today’s event.

Thank you, Deborah Gillis, for the work that you do with Catalyst, and for having made it possible for the report to come together that we are celebrating today.

I do not know if you are aware that when you invited Prime Minister Trudeau to New York, it gave us the opportunity to invite him to CSW at UN Women—and didn’t we rock! Thank you very much for making that possible.

Today, I would like to highlight the linkage between the report that the Premier has just accepted with its recommendations, and another part of the work that we do, and that we hope to do together with the Premier, because it is already part of her menu, which is driving the whole campaign for equal pay.

Around the world today, women are paid an average of 24 per cent less than men. If you are a woman of colour, an indigenous woman, a disabled woman, or a mother, you are paid even less. Data from France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey suggest that women earn between 31 and 75 per cent less than men over their lifetimes. This is just daylight robbery, and it happens in front of governments, and in front of corporations. I do not think, they set out to cheat women. But because it is so institutionalized— the way patriarchy is—it just carries on from generation to generation. It will take studies and reports, like ones that were presented today, for us to begin to create transformative interventions that will make sure that we change the trajectory.

Pay inequality matters—both because it is a blatant injustice, and because it condemns millions of women and their families to live in a continuing cycle of poverty. This is especially important in households where the mother is the primary breadwinner. If you are a mother, it is assumed that the father will be there to support you. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has found that when a man says he has children, it increases their pay. When a woman does, it is assumed that someone else is already taking care of the children so she does not have to increase her salary.

It is always women who have to look to the fathers to assist them to bring up the children, but it is the fathers who are paid more because the baby has been born. So, it is that intrinsic, entrenched cultural patriarchy that we need to shake, and it is when we can actually use data, evidence, policy and practice to provide change that is lasting, and for us as the United Nations, change that is global.

I look to the Premier, to invite her to be one of the first leaders of the global coalition that we are pulling together to drive the whole area of equal pay. I am glad that she has graciously agreed to be part of the team of people that we are identifying around the world to help us. These people will not work by themselves but will be able to depend on many of you, in your different fields, to support this initiative.

We are also seeing an important link between addressing the issue of unequal pay and unpaid care work and the care industry in general. Part of this team is going to be to help us mobilize countries and nations to ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, which has only been ratified by 22 countries out of about 200 countries.

Through that Convention we can improve the lives of women who are domestic workers, whose pay is eroded because there is no minimum wage, whose labour is not valued, who are overworked, who in many cases will wind up retiring without a pension. Just by countries ratifying the convention and then generating supportive legislation and policy, millions and millions of women in the world would get a better life. Money in the pockets of women is money that will be well spent.

We are also hoping that this team will create a community of practice, whose collaboration with the work that Catalyst has done, which has been accepted today, will be about generating best practice that we can share around the world: At national level, provincial and state level, at local government level, with private sector as well as with civil society and with multilateral institutions, whose own transformation is also critical. This includes that very important thing called the woman Secretary-General, which is imminent, I hope.

We are also going to ask this team to link this work on equal pay with the call for minimum wage, which is gaining momentum in different countries. For this work, we desperately we need to be in partnership and aligned with trade unions. Their contribution is critical because we would like to make sure that trade unions and women’s organizations pay attention to this issue as part of collective bargaining agreements, because that will also help us institutionalize the gains that we will make.

We are also linking this work with the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which was announced and launched at CSW60 this March and was also announced by the Secretary-General at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic is going around the world collecting contributions and information from stakeholders on how we can remove some of the barriers that impact on women’s economic empowerment. We are hoping to provide a report from this Panel in September this year during the General Assembly. That will be the last General Assembly for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has been very supportive in driving women’s empowerment.

We hope we make sure that we entrench the work of the Panel so that the next Secretary-General will also support it. The final report of this Panel will be in March next year during the CSW. The Panel, which I am glad to say is also being supported by women leaders in Canada, is looking at legal barriers to women’s economic empowerment, the care economy and the pay gap, the informal sector, digital inclusion and the support for women entrepreneurs. I think this is something that could interest a number of you in this room and you are welcome to collaborate with us.

I want to end by highlighting the importance of the collaboration between UN Women, and men and boys. We have identified men and boys as critical stakeholders in this journey for gender equality. We recognize that, as the Premier said, this struggle is not about women and for women, it is about society, and men have a responsibility to play a critical role, because without the full empowerment of women there is no liberation for anybody.

Thank you.