Do we still encounter a gender-based wage gap in the year 2014? Some agree, blaming the patriarchal (according to them) world we still live in. Others claim the opposite, postulating that the so-called glass ceiling doesn’t really exist.
So what are we actually dealing with here?
Professional and educational equality is achieved when any person is allowed any type of education, when all career choices are open to both sexes, and when equal pay is attributed to an equal amount of labour. Though this sounds how it should be, it is unfortunately still not the reality. Popular culture demands a trade-off here: you can either have a flashing career, or be ‘supermum’ and accept a lower income. Moreover, it is more accepted for men to work full-time ‘despite’ having children. Assuming that women cannot stand up for themselves in achieving income equality only aggravates the situation, as it perpetuates the social construct of women being less capable than men. As long as a double standard prevails in our minds, we cannot resolve the issue; our thinking becomes the root of the problem.
Do we want to even this wage gap discrepancy out? If so, we will find that just like the socially engineered society does not exist, neither does the policy as the ultimate solution. This is because all policies are logically matters of prioritisation: remedying the symptoms, yet circumventing the core issue and thus only creating new problems yet to be discovered – because humans are too unique to be captured in something as generally applicable as a policy. Portraying women as helpless victims of a patriarchal society who need assistance in attaining equality will not encourage social progress either. By opting for affirmative action and quotas, we can mitigate the consequences of our biased thinking to a certain extent. Yet, in it, we also create an aversion against those who receive this preferential treatment. Moreover, we risk no longer selecting the best person for the job.
Evidently, the movement for women’s equality is not a done deal (like democracy, there is a perpetual strive for improvement), and equality necessarily implies that we take responsibility for our own actions, career – and otherwise. As such, it is only fair that women who opt for temporarily exiting the workforce will have to accept lower wages upon re-entry. Telling women to keep working in order to prevent this will not tackle the core problem however, because dictating people how to live and what to want eliminates free choice (now that’s patronising).
To sum up, we can say that persistent wage inequality is a layered issue, which finds its core at least partly in the societal mindset. Introducing levelling-out policies are therefore only makeshift measures to make for short-term solutions. Rome wasn’t built in one day: we have come a long way and need to take into account that change takes time. Let us therefore strive for true equality wherein we all earn what we deserve and bear the consequences for our actions as well as our cultural convictions.
Kaya van der Meulen is a regional intern at the World Youth Alliance Middle East.