20 November marked the day when women effectively started to work for free this year.
Every year, the Fawcett Society calculates, according to gender pay gap figures, Equal Pay Day — the day on which women “effectively, on average, stop earning relative to men”, which this year fell on 20 November.
Not only do women tend to get more precarious and poorly paid jobs, but they are also paid less when performing the same tasks as men. Women end up taking more part-time, not career-oriented jobs, because they are also expected to take care of all the unpaid domestic, emotional, and mental labor. Women’s work has been historically framed as a natural resource, used as a prop for capitalism and its need for a low paid workforce that has to be fed, cleaned, cared for and reproduced.
The pandemic has clearly made present and visible what was barely shielded from view.
A system that celebrates masculinity and heroic acts of accumulation and concentration of wealth over anything else, at the expense of what has historically has been naturalised as exploitable. The vulnerability of women and their wage status has spiraled into view as we see front-line workers that are disproportionately made up of women, migrant domestic workers, and people of colour.
UN chief António Guterres warned that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are falling “disproportionately on the most vulnerable: people living in poverty, the working poor, women and children, persons with disabilities, and other marginalized groups.” With many organisations and companies forced to downsize or file for bankruptcy, women are the most affected by these changes.
Women have been the first to lose their source of income, while women-led or industries that are mostly attributed to women (food service, retail, entertainment, hospitality, etc.) are the sectors that were the hardest hit by the pandemic. Aside from the negative effects on women’s employment, the reorganization of the division of labor has shifted heavily towards women.Unpaid care work has exploded, with women taking on most of the responsibility. The impact of the pandemic has been made present along gender and racial dimensions.These consequences will probably outlast the pandemic, but unfortunately the core issues of unpaid precarious labour, and the marginalization of women in decision-making roles are not new. They have been the focus of the DiEM25 Green New Deal for Europe which proposes a just and sustainable transition. Initiatives such as the Green New Deal for Europe could have a direct impact on the kind of systemic inequalities that create pay gap disparities along gender lines.
Discourse around gender parity in pay tends to come up with crumbs: since last year for example, women, according to the same research, have had to work 6 days less for free. Meager results attained through pure struggle.
So how does this whole structure stand up? Gender disparities have been a major colonial export, restructuring colonized peoples and societies along systems of power that excluded women from decision making processes and further entrenched disparities through systemic violence in order to govern the distribution and use of resources (material and social). This has contributed to the naturalisation of the exclusion and exploitation of women to this day. Boardroom feminism showed itself to be a parody of male supremacy and its games of privileges in the workplace: it was never meant to question the system that elevated people, like Sheryl Sandberg, to the top of the game. In fact it’s in her best interest to leave what she conquered exactly as is, confirming her access to power and status as result.
During COVID-19, it has become palpable that this old system has collapsed.
The fight for equal pay is a catalysing distraction, meant to dissipate resistance and change. Redressing balances and injustices using mechanisms such as equality and parity dissipates the production of anomalies and deviations, frustrating new possibilities and potentials inherent in the “interstices of institutions, in counter practices and new forms of community… existing concurrently and in contradiction.” (De Laurentiis, The Technology of Gender). Such is the potential of grassroots movements like DiEM25 and its potential to address systemic imbalances with narratives that are built from the ground up.
Fighting over who gets paid less or more is not going to get us the change we need.
The system throws us crumbs and we fight each other over them, and in that fight we reaffirm that same system of inequalities. DiEM25 proposals for care income go some ways at redressing historical imbalances in distribution of wealth through income disparities. However, we need to push for systemic change that combats the way transnational liberal economies justify the exclusion of women and girls from key economic decision making bodies therefore ensuring its continuity.
We need to bring women into formal political and economic decision-making processes if we want to ensure a future built on different premises. An interesting development is the Feminist Green New Deal and how it puts feminism centre stage as a necessary component in the decision making process that looks to ensure the end of silencing of women.
So while we have to coexist with a system of pay gaps designed to antagonise and exacerbate disparities (like throwing salt on a wound, a slow torture that weakens and dissipates our resolve) it is not imperative we negotiate with it.
Achieving equal pay is not enough.
We have to break the very system that pits two genders against each other in all their performative qualities, as well as recognise and compensate the invisible labor that has been holding society together if we want to see other possibilities, and have an idea of the horizons that are available to all of us. As mentioned the Green New Deal goes some way to addressing this through the introduction of care income.
We can go further and deeper. Formulating policies with a feminist and transectional perspective (along all historically feminised and racialized sections of society) will free up potentialities and create opportunities.
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