Realise the Benefits of Closing the Gender Pay Gap in South Africa

Closing the Gender Pay Gap - Maurice Kerrigan Africa

You may not be aware of it, but South Africa has a severe gender pay gap problem. In fact, recent statistics contained in the 2018 Global Wage Report showed that women in South Africa earn an average of 28% less than their male counterparts, 8% worse than the global average. In Rand terms, the World Economic Forum determined that SA men earn on average R6600 more than women, a number that makes a considerable difference in anyone’s life.

In a country rife with inequality, this shouldn’t come as a surprise – but this doesn’t mean it should be ignored. According to Stats SA, the 51% majority of our country’s population is female and young – and the key to economic growth is in empowering this section of the population to take their place at the table, as equals to men.

April 2nd was World Equal Pay Day – the milestone at which women around the world on average finally earn the equivalent pay their male counterparts earned in the same year. Many countries that contribute to this pay inequality have institutional restrictions on the employment of women, with 104 countries including Iran, India and the UAE actively acting to prevent women from doing the same work as men by reducing their access to jobs, credit and even driving. However, South Africa has none of those legislated restrictions and our constitution as it stands is one of the most fair and equal in the world – so where is this gendered pay gap coming from?

Why Do Companies Pay Women Less Than They Pay Men?

As individuals within society, we absorb different beliefs and ideas that directly inform our actions. The world we live in is significantly patriarchal, where the work of men is valued over the work of women, and women are encouraged into low paying professions, discouraged from certain paths in education, and face cultural and racial stereotypical gender roles. South Africa is no exception to this type of discrimination, which is so much a part of society that we are almost unaware of it. But the consequences are deep, especially when you consider that gender inequality is even more severe when race is taken into consideration.

What Happens if the Gender Pay Gap is Closed?

By paying women less for the same work, women are limited in their ability to become economically-stable entities. With equal pay, poverty rates amongst women would drop significantly, which also has a huge benefit on the children of these women who can access better nutrition, better schooling and better healthcare. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, of the approximately 5.6 million children living under the poverty line, 2.6 million would effectively move out of poverty if equal pay was put in place.

In fact, almost all economic specialists agree that there are considerable benefits for men, women and children if the gender pay gap is closed. Not least of all, by having women participate equally in the workforce and have the same ability to invest in assets as male counterparts, the International Monetary Fund predicted average economic growth of 1% per every 0.1 reduction in the gender pay gap. For South Africa, PwC estimated conservatively that closing the gender pay gap by just 10% would result in a 3.2% growth in GDP and a 6.5% reduction in unemployed job seekers, with low income households receiving 2.9% more income.

Taking steps to actively close this pay gap is critical in our country, where we are experiencing severe economic pressure and jobs as well as businesses are under threat. In times like these, it’s essential for leadership to think outside the box, to invest in their people and to take a hard, honest and open look at their leadership, business culture and policies. It takes strength by both men and women, from all races and cultures, to close this gap for good – but the benefits of taking that first step are endless.

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