Closing the Gender Pay Gap: A Closer Look at Equal Pay

September 18, 2023
Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan

The global effort to promote gender equality, empower women and girls, and combat gender discrimination is at the cornerstone of the Agenda 2030 and, more specifically, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5. SDG 5 underscores that gender-based discrimination hinders progress towards a more just and equitable world. A crucial aspect of this ongoing endeavour lies in securing equal compensation for work of equal value, irrespective of gender. Furthermore, SDG 8 which focuses on Decent Work and Economic Growth sets forth ambitious targets to be achieved by 2030, including full and productive employment for all women and men, as well as equal pay for work of equal value. Every year the global community observes International Equal Pay Day on September 18, signifying the importance of this objective and the lengthy journey ahead of us.

Even though there has been substantial progress in advancing women’s rights and their equal participation in the labour market and economic activities, the disparity in income between men and women continues to be a prominent issue. The gender pay gap, which is often expressed as a percentage, refers to the difference between the average earnings for men and women who perform similar work and hold positions of equal value within an organisation. While the gender pay gap varies by region and occupation, it persists across the globe at around 20 per cent, demonstrating a systemic issue that transcends borders and industries. Unfortunately, no country has successfully closed the gender pay gap.

Kazakhstan shows progress in reducing the gender pay gap by reducing it to 21.7% in 2021 from 34.2% in 2018. However, the gap rose back to 25.2% in 2022, indicating the need to put more effort into addressing the problem. According to the Bureau of National Statistics in 2022, women earn less than men in almost all economic areas and occupations with very rare exceptions.

Unequal pay for women results from a complex interplay of personal choices and societal norms. Women’s career decisions, such as choosing lower-paying professions or taking breaks for family responsibilities, contribute to income disparities. These choices are often influenced by traditional gender roles and societal expectations that encourage women to prioritise caregiving and family life over career advancement. Societal norms emphasise the importance of women maintaining work-life balance, potentially diverting them from demanding careers that typically require long hours or extensive travel — factors often associated with higher-level positions and salaries. Consequently, biases in hiring, promotions, and salary negotiations persist, perpetuating the gender pay gap.

The gender pay gap often widens for women who become mothers. This phenomenon, known as the motherhood penalty, occurs due to factors like reduced work hours, career interruptions, and discrimination against working mothers. Mothers are frequently perceived as less committed to their jobs, leading to reduced opportunities for advancement. 

Furthermore, women worldwide dedicate 2.5 times more time to unpaid care and domestic work than men, with statistics from the OECD indicating an average of 4.73 hours for women compared to 1.84 hours for men. In Kazakhstan, the most recent data from the World Bank in 2018 reveals a similar trend, with women spending an average of 3.2 times more time on unpaid domestic work compared to men—4.56 hours for women and 1.44 hours for men. 

Occupational segregation stands out as another factor contributing to the wage difference. It’s common for women to be disproportionally represented in lower-paying jobs, such as nursing, teaching and administrative roles, while higher-paying fields like engineering and finance are dominated by men. For example, Kazakhstan statistics suggest that in thirty-three sectors of the economy one will hardly find any male secretaries. This occupation is almost entirely represented by women. 

Equal pay is not solely a matter of fairness but also a fundamental human rights issue with wide-reaching implications for society and the economy. According to a Moody’s Analytics report, narrowing the salary disparity can boost the world’s economy by about 7% — or $7 trillion. To harness this potential and address the gender pay gap issue, a comprehensive approach that recognises the intricate relationship between individual choices and societal norms should be adopted. 

While personal decisions undoubtedly play a role, it’s essential not to overlook the systemic biases and expectations that influence these choices. To achieve true gender pay equity, we must strive to provide equal opportunities for women in salary negotiations and career advancement. This entails challenging traditional gender roles, promoting a more inclusive and flexible work environment, and actively working to eliminate biases in hiring and promotions. By valuing and respecting individual choices while fostering an environment of equal opportunity, we can move closer to a world where gender no longer dictates one’s earning potential or career prospects.