Today marks the commemoration of the International Equal Pay Day and although during the last sixty years women’s equality in the labour market has made enormous strides, globally, us women still receive only 80 cents for each dollar earned by men for doing the same job.


When I think of all that we are losing when we leave women behind, it baffles me how little that makes sense, even just at an economical level. There is no sustainable development without women.  And even now when humanity is facing probably the greatest challenge of our time, a multi-layered crisis with clear long-term health, social and economic repercussions due to the COVID-19, women are still lagging behind.


We recently published a paper where we found appalling facts, when I say that this crisis has the face of a woman, I am not exaggerating. For our latest paper, we analysed the impact of the crisis in labour markers in 16 countries in the region as well as its impact on gender under four lenses: youth persons, persons in conditions of poverty, persons living in rural areas and its impact on heads of households. As expected, we found that the crisis negatively affected women more than their male counterparts. In general, close to a third of both men and women have been unable to work due to general or targeted lockdowns, this is equivalent to 78 million jobs lost, which translated into a loss of income of 22% for women compared to 26% for men.


But wait Diana, you must be thinking, didn’t you say that women are more affected by the crisis? Well yes, but just have in mind that women double or even triple the time men spend in unpaid care work. The invisible work that more men are now, thanks to this crisis, are starting to feel so close, so real.  There is no invisible hand that cleans the house, takes kids to school or to the doctor, or that cooks the food we eat and cares for our sick loved ones. It is usually women and girls who bear this undervalued burden. Consider this fact, there is not even one national account system in the world that has taken into account the value of unpaid care work to calculate the gross domestic product, most commonly known as GDP. How is that for invisible?


The fact is, someone has to do this job, we need to take care of our kids, of the elderly and now, more than ever, of our loved ones when they have contracted the virus. With all this time dedicated to care, women and girls have less time available to work on well paid jobs that will provide them with social security and pension protection. Time is one of the reasons why we earn 80% of men’s wages in general, which can keep women and their families in conditions of poverty. A cycle that remains through generations.


One thing that we noticed in our work was that while data is key, plain averages can be dangerous and hide the ugly truth in plain sight. When we started to use what we call the intersectionality lenses or the lenses of diversity during ours statistical analysis, we found that both poor women, girls, rural women and female heads of households have experienced a deeper impact in terms of loss of jobs and income compared to men. Just to give you a couple of examples, 49% of poor women were unable to work during the March-April 2020 lockdowns compared to 31% of men, which translated in a loss of income of 46% for women and 35% for men. While 38% of rural women compared to 20% of rural men were unable to work, which is equivalent to a gender gap of 90% against women when we take the loss of jobs of men as a base for the calculation, which in turn also translates into a loss of wages of 33% for women and 23% for men.


What keeps me up at night is that we, women, in general are at a constant disadvantage, even before any crisis ocurred. Even with all the progress made to date, there is still here is no such thing as a levelled playing field for both men and women when it comes to the labour market. That’s what we call structural inequalities, that have many varied expressions in the form of gender gaps in the labour force participation (47% women Vs 74% men globally), occupational segregation, glass ceilings (only 6% of CEOs of the largest companies in the world listed in the S&P 500 are women), access to financial services and assets (64% of women have a bank account compared to 71% of men globally), access to land and other collaterals and more.

Simply put we’re losing half of women’s brainpower and talents that could be used to crack the crisis, this is a luxury that as humankind we cannot afford. Economic empowerment is a crucial component crucial for women’s empowerment which is why we need urgent action to level the playing field, and there’s a lot of space for the business sector to jump in. We need the private sector to ensure gender equality as a key corporate value, by making all voices equally heard and giving all employees equal opportunities to grow and develop. Building a pipeline of female talents to lead and make decisions,  having a gender balanced composition of their boards, and ensuring equal pay for men and women for comparable value of the functions and responsibilities, what we call equal pay for equal value, can help us get closer to achieving equality and women’s empowerment. Long lasting sustainable development, long lasting recovery cannot be achieved without women’s empowerment – and equal pay is a start.