Too often gender inequality is seen as a wrong from the past, a problem for third world countries to worry about, or a “women’s issue.” The truth is the issue is still alive and should be everyone’s concern. Women, who make up 40 percent of the global workforce, possess only 1 percent of the world’s wealth, according to the World Bank. This is definitely more than a women’s problem.
It’s a problem that is costing everyone. As a female Mexican-American growing up in the U.S., — the land of freedom, liberty and equality — I’ve grown up knowing the sad truth that equality is a subjective term. A couple of weeks ago I was watching a film with a friend set in the 50’s. Charmed by the glamour of the film she turned around and asked me, “Wouldn’t it have been great to live during that time?”
I thought about it for a few seconds and answered laughing, “Yes! As a white man.”
Unfortunately just because we’ve come a long way from the way things were 60 or 100 years ago doesn’t mean the job is done. The illusion that gender equality is behind us is one of the main problems. Both men and women of all ethnicities should be concerned with advancing in this issue. Just like the civil rights movement in the ‘60s failed to produce a race-free utopia, so too has the women’s rights movement created a false sense of security. The latest World Bank World Development Report contains enlightening information regarding gender inequality around the world.
Clearly, there’s a problem in regards to wealth distribution. And, yes, these are numbers from the world, but the U.S. is still a contributor in this. The U.S. may have addressed gender inequality more than other countries, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done. Last year President Barack Obama established the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force. The primary focus of the group was to work on gender inequality in the workforce. One of the main obstacles ignored by current legislature is that career paths among men and women inevitably change with the arrival of children. This will be the case whether the child comes to a family or a single parent. Expectations change for men and women when the pitter-patter of tiny feet enter the picture. If a woman has a child she is going to lose money while a man who has a child will make more than one who does not. The wage gap will only get worse as more children are born. Many will say that women will always make less than men because they will have to go on maternity leave.
Better insurance programs for women on maternity leave and giving fathers the opportunity to take leave would lift the burden. Unlike countries such as France, Spain, and Germany that give too much time off, sometimes close to a year of partially paid leave, we could adopt a more moderate solution. The time off wouldn’t have to be more than what is already provided. The average maternity leave is six weeks and would also include a paternity leave. If a mother can return to work knowing her spouse is at home with leave, or choose to take the six weeks for herself and allow him to work, we could put a dent in this issue. The UN Population Fund said, “gender inequality holds back growth of individuals, development of countries, and the evolution of societies, to the disadvantage of men and women.”
Maybe if the imbalance caused when having children was the only contributor to the wage gap there would be no need for alarm, but it is not. Often women lose money simply because they are women. According to the Center for American Progress, a woman makes 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. We can’t afford for women to make less especially when it comes to single mothers. Fair payment would reduce poverty among single mothers nearly 62 percent. This would then relieve the government and other aid organizations who help single mothers. As a student, it’s hard to see that the more a woman studies the wider the wage gap gets. The career wage gap between a man and a woman without a high school education is $270,000. The gap is $392,000 between high school graduates, and $713,000 between college graduates.
It is important women graduating and embarking on their careers communicate with employers and colleagues to avoid being underpaid. Most importantly, both men and women need to stay aware that gender inequality in the workforce is still an issue affecting our society as a whole.