On the 7th of July 2019, the US women’s soccer team won the World Cup for the fourth time. Since the introduction of the Women’s World Cup in 1991, the US has reached five of the eight finals; winning it twice as many times their closest rivals: Germany. As impressive as they have been, the female players only earn a mere 38% of what the men’s soccer team earn. The prize money for winning the 2019 Women’s World Cup was $4 million while that of the 2018 Men’s World Cup was almost ten times more! There is a problem here: the disparities between the salary of men and women in soccer are just too large to be insignificant. This is just one example of the many great injustices against women when it comes to wages.
In her essay, Wages Against Housework (1979), Silvia Frederici talked about how women were reduced to machines who clean the house, wash the dishes and offer sexual satisfaction to their husbands. Fast forward to 2019; her argument is still valid. While the problem of women being reduced to nothing else but housewives is not as common anymore, the idea that they are subordinate and inferior to men still plagues our society. In my essay, I want to explore the significance of gender when it comes to job opportunities and salaries, and how statistics sometimes paint a vague picture of the current status of gender equality.
My heart grew sore when I find out how little women earn from soccer as compared to men. It is as though one drop of sweat from a man on the pitch is worth ten from a woman. In 2011, the United Nations established an organization for women empowerment called UN Women; many other organizations for women empowerment exist all over the world, all seeking to bridge the gap between men and women. The seriousness attached to this issue cannot be stressed enough. If one day I have a daughter, I would not want to raise her in a world where she feels she was born to be inferior.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), female full-time, year-round workers made an average of 81.6 cents for ever dollar earned by men in 2017 – a gender gap of 20% – although women receive more college and graduate degrees than men. One may argue that men earn more because they are better at doing specific jobs which are more accustomed to them. Well, if this was the case, then the average pay of male-dominated jobs would be equal to that of women’s, right? However, that is far from the truth; according to IWPR, middle-skilled, female-dominated jobs make only 66% as compared to male-dominated jobs. Maybe ‘manly’ jobs are more important. Again this is not true. Most women in middle-skilled jobs are nurses and elementary school teachers, literally the two most important things to humanity – health and education. Yet they continually earn considerably less than men.
Article 12 of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol of Gender and Development (2008) required that by 2015 all member countries should endeavor to make at least 50% of decision-making positions in the public and private sector to be held by women. On to 2019; the closest member country to this target is South Africa, with 42% of parliamentary seats held by women. My home country—Zambia—only has 18% of women in parliament. While these statistics do a great job in projecting the involvement of educated women in decision-making, they tend to underrepresent the everyday life of ordinary girls and women. In the same way, paid labor in capitalism hides the unpaid labor, having a high percentage of women in parliament can sometimes mask the even higher percentage of ordinary girls and women unjustly treated just because they are female. Despite having the third-highest percentage of women in parliament in the whole world, an article by Africa Check published in 2018 revealed that the rate of femicide in South Africa has consistently increased from 13.2% in 2013 to 15.2% in 2018 (percentages measured from a sample of 100,000 women). The reason I included this is not to disregard parliamentary statistics but to prevent from drawing a general conclusion of gender rights status of a country based only on parliamentary seats.
Positive discrimination (also known as affirmative action) has long been the option for leveling the playing field for men and women. Gender equality is broad and vast, sometimes complications arise when trying to provide equal opportunities. Gender equality requires that a girl or woman should not be denied an opportunity or job just because she’s female. But does it say the same for males? When I was in twelfth grade, I applied for a librarian position at my school’s library. The position was eventually given to a girl even though the interviewers admitted that I was better for the job. They wanted to promote gender diversity. I was bitter at first until I realized that this was not an act of unfair treatment directed at me. I understood that the interviewers knew that there were more job opportunities on campus for boys. It would have been much easier for me to find another job. This was the case even though 50% of the school’s population was female.
The complexity of gender equality cannot be underestimated. It is a problem with roots that run as deep as any ocean. The first step of narrowing the gender gap is realizing that it does not run in our DNA but in our minds. Our attitudes towards gender equality today determine how future generations will regard it. Frederici called for a revolution, and a revolution, by all means, must happen. A mental revolution is what we need; by changing the way we think and raising our children on principles of equality for girls and boys, we are building a fairer world for our granddaughters. Being female should never be the reason for a tear to fall from any girl’s eye.