Shuvai Nyoni : Correspondent

Sixteen years after the adoption and implementation of landmark policy on gender equality by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the region’s women are stuck in the wage gap. Women all over the region are asking when the scales will be evenly balanced. When will they receive remuneration that corresponds to both the work they are undertaking and positions that they occupy alongside their male colleagues.Southern African women persistently earn less than their male counterparts. This is despite promises made through adoption of numerous frameworks, agreements and strategies to ensure equal pay for equal work across the sexes. These are endorsed by national governments as well as at a regional level; but yet, the data does not reflect much of a shift towards closing the gap.

To be fair, the gender pay gap is a painful reality across the world where the global average of women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s is 24 percent. In other words, women globally earn just less than one quarter of what men earn.

More frustratingly this means that where women’s positions are directly comparable to those of men, women are being paid a fraction of what men are paid for the same work. Some commentators on this issue note that in some instances this can be understood as women working for 12 months of the year but only being paid for a quarter of that year yet having done the exact amount of work as a male counterpart.

Southern Africa is no exception. The 2016 SADC Gender Barometer finds that no member state has equal pay for men and women. Tanzania is the only country where women’s earnings come close to those of men; their earnings are 93 percent of men’s.

This is closely followed by Botswana and Mozambique, where women earn 85 percent and 80 percent of men’s salaries respectively. Disappointingly, this is not the picture across the region. In Swaziland women workers earn just above half of what men earn at 53 percent while in Mauritius women earn less than half at 42 percent.

Economic decision-makers in the region have had 16 years to effectively and substantively address this inequality but there is little to show for their efforts except big gaps like the 42 percent in Mauritius. While women in the region continue to ask when they will see the changes they desire, SADC cannot afford to leave the balancing of the scales to market forces.

There is a need for deliberate efforts to ensure that the wage differential between women and men is closed. As the SADC Secretariat and Heads of State consider the adoption of the revised Protocol on Gender and Development, it is imperative that this is accompanied by broad- based consultations and planning on taking women out of the gap and, more importantly, closing it permanently. This will require the involvement of multiple sectors not least ministries and departments responsible for labour, economic planning, research and development as well as finance.

There are other steps that must be taken to address this inequality, but before that, there are several matters that need to be put in perspective.

In Southern Africa in 2016, the persistent wage gap is discussed against the backdrop of slowing economic growth across the continent. 2016 economic indicators noted in the SADC Barometer demonstrate a regression in the rapid growth in the widely and loudly touted, boom of a short five years ago for the continent. Rapid and consistent economic growth should have resulted in an expansion in economies that would also result in increased economic prospects and opportunities for SADC citizens, not least for women, who would certainly have more chances of accessing waged employment.

On the contrary, sluggish economic growth has meant less investment, fewer employment opportunities, and increased unemployment and under employment as well as freezing of salaries and wages across the board. This has left little to no room for adjustment in women’s earnings and begs the question what will states do because the economic outlook suggests continued slow growth.

In a similar vein, the development of regional and national normative frameworks and polices to guarantee and facilitate women’s economic empowerment has been entrenched and provided some hope.

For example, SADC developed a Women’s Economic Empowerment Framework that amongst upholding various principles such as affirmative action, recognises the principle of equal pay for equal work and aims to pull women out of situations of poverty. Women are yet to see the shift from policy on paper to practice in their day-to-day realities. The promised reversals of inequality between men and women in the market place have failed to pull women out of poverty.

Moving forward, it will be important, while acknowledging some of the gains that have emerged from introducing progressive policies, to learn lessons from these and innovate around them to a achieve a substantial multiplier effect. SADC states must find ways of harnessing the positive aspects within their economies. For instance, while women and men earn sometimes vastly differing salaries, in six countries the numbers of men and women in technical and professional employment are almost equal. In Botswana, Namibia and South Africa there are more women than men in these roles, thus suggesting an urgent need to close and get rid of the gap.

Failure of countries in the region, especially those with progressive affirmative action and economic empowerment polices such as South Africa, sends a very loud message to women that their service and labour is significantly less worthwhile and valuable than that of men. This message is in direct contrast to women’s abilities, capabilities and achievements in the labour market. The stubborn wage gap thus shows that women continue to be undervalued in the workplace.

Women are stuck in the wage gap and economic leadership is desperately needed to get them out. -) Genderlinks

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