fight for equal wages requires more than “equal pay day”
Just 24 hours after the world marked Equal Pay Day, women are returning to jobs where for many of them, their worth is defined by a whopping 26.5-cent wage gap.
This year’s Equal Pay Day, marked yesterday in the United States but celebrated by many worldwide, sparked the necessary dialogue about sexism and wage discrimination in the workplace. A day meant to symbolize the point in the year that women will have earned what men earned the year before, Equal Pay Day was “celebrated” by supporters who came together to advocate and rally for wage equality. Countless articles were published comparing the stark differences in the earnings of men and women. Online, many took to social media to express their disappointment and shock, vowing to join the fight for equal wages among the sexes.
While I watched the excitement unfold, it was with mild interest. Like many women, for me Equal Pay Day has become nothing more than a tease, a bittersweet moment in which we are made to believe we will soon be treated as equals in the workplace and compensated fairly.
We go through it every year and every year, nothing changes.
In Canada, though women generally attain higher levels of education than men, full time working women continue to earn roughly 26.5 cents less on every dollar a man makes. Despite the country’s Pay Equity Program, which strives to eliminate gender-based wage discrimination in the federally regulated sector, as well as various provincial regulations, wage discrimination remains a very real problem. According to the OECD Gender Initiative, the wage difference between men and women has only decreased about five per cent since 2000.
Although Canada does not have a national Equal Pay Day like the United States (however, the Ontario Equal Pay Coalition observes the day on April 19), the issue has not gone unnoticed. In 2015, a United Nations Human Rights report raised concerns about the “high level of pay gap,” and its disproportionate effect on low-income women and women of visible minorities.
The reasons for Canada’s wage gap are both numerous and complex. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, one of the reasons behind this gap is the failure of the government and employers to adequately respond to the dramatic increase in the number of working Canadian women. Over the last 30 years this percentage has increased nearly 20 per cent.
Other reasons include the fact that traditional “women’s work” pays less than traditional “men’s work,” while most women are employed in lower-wage occupations and industries. Lastly, the Foundation says some women are simply discriminated against by employers, based on gender.
Equal Pay Day is great in principle but in practice, it’s both ineffective and powerless to enact the real change working women need. While I as a woman—not to mention, a woman of a visible minority who’s inordinately affected by any wage gap— openly encourages discussions of inequality, discrimination and sexism, I’m reluctant to engage in a dialogue that sparks interest just once a year.
Arguably, this is the greatest problem with Equal Pay Day: It’s nothing more than a day.
Like any successful campaign, a call to action must elicit a response. Though words are powerful and capable of raising awareness, these words must be supported with action. Equal Pay Day is no exception. If those who vowed to advocate for equal wages truly want to champion the cause, they must do much more than retweet a hashtag from the comfort of their home.
The data surrounding the issue of unequal pay can be overwhelming. If you’re having difficulty making sense of it all, the World Economic Forum has made it quite simple: Unless we do more, it could take another 117 years to close this gap.
If you ask me, that’s 117 too many Equal Pay Day’s.
But that’s just According to Adrienne.