A Long Road Ahead to Bridging the Gender Pay Gap

September 17, 2021

In December 2019, the United Nations General Assembly declared 18 September International Equal Pay Day. In 2020, at the height of pandemic, the world marked this day for the first time.

The symbolism of a new date appearing in the international calendar of events in 2020 will be explained below. But let us start with providing the answer to the question of at whose will and for what purpose International Days exist. Currently, the UN General Assembly  decides on the selection of international days (weeks and years). By creating special observances, the United Nations seeks to emphasize the significance of specific historical events or aspects of people's lives. The topics of International Days are related to the UN activities in the maintenance of international peace and security, in sustainable development, the protection of human rights, in compliance with international law and the provision of humanitarian assistance.

Thus, proclamation of International Equal Pay Day means that the international community, represented by the 193 Member States of the United Nations, is concerned about the gender pay gap. This chasm is defined as the difference between the average earnings of men and women as a percentage of men’s earnings. This indicator is often used for assessing women’s position in the economy. However, various methods exist for calculating the gender gap. Depending on the method of calculation, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates the global gender pay gap to be in the range of 16 percent  to 22 percent.

The World Bank report Women, Business and the Law – 2021, published in March 2021, notes that 90 economies around the world, including the economy of Kazakhstan, have adopted laws on equal pay for men and women for work of equal value. But, as is known, the adoption of a law represents only a part of a long road ahead. For its comprehensive implementation, existing legal norms and mechanisms are required and law enforcement practice must be developed.

To assess the effectiveness of a law in practice, it is important to establish the collection of data disaggregated by sex for subsequent production of statistical indicators. In turn, the availability of these indicators will signal the need for further policies in the sphere of labour and employment. The elimination of the gender pay gap creates incentives for the more active involvement of women in the economy. And according to ILO estimates, narrowing the gender gap in the labour force by 25 percent  by 2025 could add 3.9 percent, or US$5.6 trillion to the global gross domestic product.

What results will Kazakhstan mark on International Equal Pay Day? According to the Office of  National Statistics of the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms of the Republic of Kazakhstan, in 2019 the gender gap in wages was 32.2 percent. (In contrast, the global gender gap is in the range of 16 percent  to 22 percent). The average wage among the female population in Kazakhstan stood at KZT 150779 against KZT 222514 for their male counterparts.

It is worth a note that Kazakhstan has been keeping the data for the average monthly wages of men and women by regions since 2000. Thus, the largest gap is observed in Mangistau (48 percent to 59 percent in different years) and in Atyrau (48 percent to 58 percent) regions. The lowest gap in 2019 was recorded in the Almaty region (12.4 percent) and in the North Kazakhstan region (13.2 percent).

Unfortunately, official statistical data on earnings differential between males and females in Kazakhstan is limited. More data is needed to depict gender pay gap situation in Kazakhstan by sector or by professional occupation. But the study of the gender discrimination problem in the area of labour and employment in other countries, including post-Soviet economies, allows conclusions that the pay gap varies widely by types of economic activity and by occupational groups. For underskilled workers, the gender gap, on average, is significantly lower than for highly paid skilled workers. As a rule, professions with predominant male employment demonstrate a high gap rate. Mangystau and Atyrau oblasts are confirming this trend. A number of studies have also found that the gender gap is also dependent on the marital status and age of women.

The reasons for the persistence of the gender gap lie in already known gender stereotypes and prejudices in the recruitment of personnel and decision-making regarding payment. In this regard, it would be interesting to get access to data from recruitment agencies. For example, how do the salary expectations of men and women differ, or who is more successful in negotiations with the employer on promotions?

Other reasons include interruptions in women's professional careers, part time employment and unpaid work, including housework to care for family members. Obviously, these reasons are closely related. We have previously written about the inverse relationship between the length of time spent on unpaid care work, the participation of women in the labour force and the quality of female employment.

To a large extent, the gender gap is sustained by occupational segregation, in other words, the employment of men and women in different sectors of the economy, the feminization of specific sectors and industries. Here it is time to return to symbolism. For the first time, International Equal Pay Day has been marked in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected women disproportionately more than men, including through its impact on female-dominated sectors. This year we celebrate the recognition of women for their contributions to the pandemic response and crisis management, and accelerate efforts to close the gender pay gap.

Reducing the difference in average earnings between men and women is possible by addressing gender segregation in education and in the labour market. Society should discard patriarchic stereotypes and encourage each of its members to make their own gender-neutral decisions at all stages of their lives.