International Women's Day ties unequal pay to education

Updated: 2016-03-09 10:42


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"One day we will play in the major leagues," a young girl in a catcher's vest says into the camera. What follows are women in dozens of languages and lands delivering similar sentiments.

An African woman in front of London Bridge holds animated test tubes saying one day she will open her own lab. Primatologist Jane Goodall says: "One day I will discuss the environment with Pope Francis." And Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai: "One day we will see everyone in school."

Leave it to Google to come up with a show-stopper banner link to celebrate International Women's Day.

This year's theme is parity in the work place, and while there has been much progress to celebrate, there is also concern that the rate of progress is starting to slow.

The World Economic Forum in 2014 predicted global gender parity would not be reached until 2095 and a year later in 2015 revised that forecast to 2133.

"Women around the world earn an average of 60 to 75 percent of men's wages," former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard writes on the Brookings Institution website. "The labor force participation in developing countries is just over half of all women, and even when women are able to work, they face a ‘double burden' of work inside and outside the home."

Gillard explains that the inequalities can be traced back to early childhood and education, as too often boys and girls are raised and schooled differently.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization just published its eAtlas of Gender Equality in Education showing how countries compare on several indicators for gender equality in schools.

That study says that globally about 757 million adults and 115 million youths cannot read or write a simple sentence and two-thirds of them are women. There has also been "virtually no progress in reducing this figure, even though the global illiterate population has been shrinking."

At the White House in Washington, first lady Michelle Obama marked International Woman's Day by announcing new commitments to the Let Girls Learn initiative launched last year with a budget of $250 million. The joint Peace Corps program, which helps adolescent girls around the world attain quality education, will receive an additional $100 million in the 2017 budget.

The Office of the First Lady also released a list of private sector efforts underway to boost Let Girls Learn. It includes six-figure cash contributions from the likes of Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, promotional videos produced and displayed by Starwood Hotels and Jetblue Airlines and a tip-matching program by ride-hailing app Lyft. CSoft International said it will translate Let Girls Learn materials into multiple languages.

Other scholars at the Brookings offered new findings on why women make less than men — by their estimates about 80 cents on the dollar. Back in the 1980s, when the issue first started to be looked at carefully, the explanation was "shrouded in statistical mystery" and an "unexplained residual." In other words, flat out discrimination.

"By 2010, however, the ‘unexplained' element had shrunk," writes Richard V. Reeves. "Much of the gap can now be explained by the observable differences between men and women — in particular, their occupations and the industries they work in."

In so many sectors of the economy, there are still what are perceived as "men's jobs" and "women's jobs", Reeves explained. Men gravitate to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) jobs, while women head to what Reeves dubs HEAL jobs (Health, Education, Administration and Literacy).

"There is apparently nothing innate about these occupational preferences," Reeves said. "In fact, both men and women tend to select occupational fields that fit gender stereotypes rather than their own individual interests."

Women with business-related interests still pick careers in health. Men with interests in education still become engineers. Gender work stereotypes mismatch careers and interests across the board equally.

"So far, progress on gender pay equity has been driven by a combination of legislative action and shifting social norms on equal pay for equal work," Reeves writes. "Future advances are likely to require a fundamental rethinking of gender roles in relation to both paid and unpaid work — and as much for men as for women."

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