Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

On September 18th 2023, International Equal Pay Day was celebrated. This initiative from the United Nations, including the International Labour Organisation (ILO), strives to achieve equal pay for work of equal value. International Equal Pay Day was not officially recognized by the United Nations until 2020. The idea was derived from the National Committee on Pay Equity, which started a similar action in 1996 to raise awareness for the pay gap between salaries of men and women in the United States. Since being recognized by the United Nations, International Equal Pay Day has become a global phenomenon. Now that the inequality in salary between men and women has mostly been acknowledged, the focus lies on making a change to start narrowing this gap in practice. According to the numbers the United Nations refers to, the gender pay gap has been estimated at 20 per cent globally. Consequently, the UN founded the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), which works on reducing this number and achieving gender equality in the workplace. Their vision is to ensure active behaviour from governments and private entities to implement initiatives for equal pay. They strive to realise this by 2030, through educating these institutions, encouraging innovation and creating initiatives and programmes which have positive results. 

According to the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111), discrimination is defined as ‘any distinction, exclusion or preference which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.’ This definition does not include any distinctions based on the inherent requirements of a specific job. Besides this general convention, the ILO adopted numerous conventions related to the topic of discrimination.The definition of workplace discrimination according to the ILO has a wide span, referring to “any distinction, exclusion or preference”. Since this blog discusses the pay gap between men and women, the focus will lie on gender discrimination. The Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100) seeks to prohibit gender discrimination. In particular, it strives to preserve equal pay for men and women for work of equal value. Since this convention is seen as one of the fundamental principles and rights at work, securing equal pay can be seen as a principle of great value. 

The OECD started researching the root of gender inequality in 2022 and brought out its report in 2023. It focuses on the social institutions which are the fundamental causes of this inequality. These social institutions include both formal (law established by the qualified institutions) and informal laws (unwritten and customary law) and social norms and practices. Although there have been some fundamental changes in formal and informal laws to open more opportunities to women and girls and to start narrowing the gap, gender equality is a far road ahead. The OECD reveals in their report that the bias against women’s economic empowerment has actually worsened since 2014 and that 40% of women and girls live in a country where gender discrimination is high or very high.

With a lack of people supporting women’s economic empowerment comes a higher number of gender discrimination in the workplace. This manifests itself in the pay gap we previously discussed, but there are other ways women are experiencing oppression and discrimination in their workplace. The ILO published an article in March 2023 about a woman in the Philippines who works in the construction industry. Especially in male-dominated industries like this, female oppression and gender discrimination are noticeable. The woman in the interview explains the need she felt to prove that she belonged at her construction job as much as her male colleagues, even though they had the same qualifications and were doing work of the same value. She worked herself up and started building on the respect she had for herself, instead of the respect others had for her.

While this example is from somewhere far away, gender discrimination in the workplace happens everywhere in the world. 

In Iceland, a country which is seen as socially progressive since it has been at the top of the World Economic Forum’s list of gender equality for fourteen years running. All women, including the prime minister, recently went on a strike because they were dissatisfied with the way they were treated in the workplace as opposed to their male colleagues.  

Even in academic, innovative institutions such as universities, gender discrimination still takes place. Multiple professors of the University of Amsterdam recently released a book talking about gender violence at universities. Apparently, equal pay treatment norms are not yet universally established even within academia. 

Notwithstanding that the ILO convention we discussed originates from the 1950’s, we can conclude that looking at the current data, discrimination and specifically gender discrimination are still an important issue which requires action.


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