Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value

The Launch of the Equal Pay Platform of Champions at the UN General Assembly Hall six years ago – on 13 March 2016. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown
  • Opinion by Belen Sanz, Patricia Cortes (mexico city)
  • Inter Press Service

The UN recognizes that equal pay is essential to build a world of dignity and justice for all. Yet, despite decades of activism and dozens of laws on equal pay, women globally still earn 20 per cent less than men. 1

The gender pay gap is often larger in care work, as it is often invisible, unequally distributed, underpaid or simply unpaid.

In care sectors including domestic work, the gap is often even larger, with care work invisible, unequally distributed, underpaid or simply unpaid.

This year’s 2022 International Equal Pay Day provides the opportunity to highlight that—through the recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work and the promotion of decent work for care workers and their representation2 —the care economy can play a catalytic role in these uncertain times, shifting towards a society of care.

It would support societies to overcome the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency and growing conflicts in different parts of the world, including the unprecedented levels of food and energy shortages, increased forced migration, and the spiralling of care needs and demands on women and girls.3

The crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic underscored society’s reliance on care work both on the frontlines and at home. For many, poverty have put essential services such as piped water and clean cooking fuel out of reach. Such deprivations propel other gender inequalities as women spend more time on unpaid care and domestic work.4 Yet care work remained the last line of defence in the face of crisis.

The global response to lessen the care burden on women and girls was limited in face of the mounting care needs emanating from the pandemic. The 2022 report of the UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker indicates that almost 60 per cent of countries and territories tracked did not take any measures to address unpaid care during the pandemic.

Among those that did respond, care measures were often out of sync with societal needs in terms of coverage, generosity and duration.5 And care work remained last in line for fair wage compensation. While the social recognition of care sector workers and the care economy may have risen during the pandemic, this recognition has yet to be translated into better wages and working conditions, including increased formalization of the care sector, and securing investments into the care economy.6

The joint WHO-ILO report titled “The gender pay gap in the health and care sector: a global analysis in the time of COVID-19” 7 shows that, despite women comprising 67 per cent of the healthcare workforce globally, the industry continues to sustain a pay gap of 24 per cent between women and men. Measures to promote pay transparency and legal instruments against pay discrimination are needed to begin to close this gap.

Against this background, the Global Alliance for Care was launched as a collective commitment emanating from the Generation Equality Forum in order to mobilize global, multi-stakeholder action towards the Care Economy Action Area of the Action Coalition on Economic Justice and Rights.

Convened by the Government of Mexico through the National Institute of Women (INMUJERES) and UN Women, the Alliance is a multi-stakeholder platform that promotes strengthening the care economy by deepening and broadening the progress secured with governments adopting regulatory frameworks.

These includes labour market regulations and standards to secure decent care work arrangements; the adoption of comprehensive care systems that will ensure access to care for people who need it and guarantee the rights of the people who provide it; the inclusion of unpaid care work in national statistics and data; and valuing and reducing unpaid care work through scaling investments in social care infrastructure and services.8

With compounded crises on the horizon, multi-stakeholder action is not only critical but the only way forward. In September 2018 ILO, UN Women and OECD launched the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) to accelerate the achievement of equal pay for work of equal value. EPIC brings together leaders of the labour market (including governments, trade unions, employers’ organizations, private sector, civil society and academia) to close the gender pay gap by 2030 in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), namely SDG 8.5 and 5.

The coalition aims to achieve these ends through advocacy, knowledge sharing, facilitating cross regional and sectoral research, innovation and learning, and awareness raising.

Joint action and scaled-up investments to secure innovative solutions for the provision of care policies and services is the pathway towards women’s economic autonomy. By promoting this approach, the Care Alliance contributes to positioning the care economy as a fundamental pillar of sustainable and transformative recovery.

Together with its 78 members to date, the Care Alliance will accelerate progress on gender equality and enable care’s catalytic effect on the overall 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is time to care. Women and girls deserve no less!

1 ILO, 2020. Understanding the gender pay gap.
2 UN Women, 2022. A toolkit on paid and unpaid care work: From 3Rs to 5Rs.
3 UN Women, 2022. In Focus: War in Ukraine is a crisis for women and girls. March.
4 UN Women, 2022. Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. The Gender Snapshot 2022.
5 UN Women, 2022. Government responses to COVID-19: Lessons on gender equality for a world in turmoil.
6 Ibid. UN Women, 2021.
7 World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization, 2022. The gender pay gap in the health and care sector: a global analysis in the time of COVID-19. Geneva.
8 UN Women, 2022. A toolkit on paid and unpaid care work: From 3Rs to 5Rs.

Belen Sanz is Country Representative UN Women, Mexico; Patricia Cortes is Coordinator Global Alliance for Care, UN Women.

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