Is Talking About Equal Pay During A Global Pandemic Insensitive?

My very dear friend who is a doctor has come down with the Coronavirus. She says, her symptoms are mild so she is self-isolating (I think she is being a woman and understating her symptoms) but when I rang this morning to see how she was, she didn’t take my call. She sent a text later to say she was still doing her clinics remotely and that is why she couldn’t take my call. She is a woman fighting as hard as her male colleagues to combat the virus, I wonder if she gets paid the same amount as they do. In my view she should get more!

31st March was equal pay day in the US. This is how long American women have to work into the year to earn the same amount as their men did in 2019. It happened the day before April fool’s day. The joke is not lost on anyone as we have been banging on about equal pay for ages and guess what, women globally still earn 28% less than men. Now you may say we are in the middle of a global pandemic and why would I be so crass as to talk about equal pay in these trying times?

This is exactly the time to highlight this issue because guess what? Women are at the forefront of battle against the coronavirus. Figures from the World Health Organisation show that, the 70% of health and social care workers are women, like my friend. Additionally, women bear the brunt of childcare and with the school closures guess who is taking a crash course in home-schooling while still trying to hang onto their day job. When it comes to the home front according to the International Labour Organisation women already do 76% of the unpaid work globally so with elder care soaring as a result of the crisis, women are simply getting no let up.

So again, dare I be so crass as to bring up the thorny equal pay issue in these times? Yes! Now is the time to bring it up because women are being hammered both economically and socially by this virus. For those who are not ‘lucky’ enough to be in possession of a job and therefore not at the forefront of the fight against the virus, they are busy losing their jobs in the hospitality, personal services and other female dominated sectors which have been hardest hit.

As a result of the gender pay gap, and women historically earning less than men, it means they are less likely to have a financial buffer for a rainy day; or shall I shall a coronavirus infested day.

In a more enlightened world, we would ensure that the people at the forefront of our much-needed health and social care services (and therefore shouldering the burden of care in our society) are better protected and equally paid. This is because they underpin society and any fragility in their status destabilises society as whole. Giving a round of applause to NHS workers in the UK on a designated night is a nice gesture but doesn’t quite put food on the table for the millions of women who are going to be hardest hit.

Hopefully this virus will bring the important role that women play in our society to the forefront. We cannot afford to treat them as a subcategory to men. If we want a robust society, one that is resilient and can withstand global pandemics, we need to ensure that women have equal pay. This is not just simply a matter of economics; it is a matter of national and global stability. I have argued for the importance of the role that women play in my talks internationally, hopefully a global pandemic will now argue my case for me.

There has been a lot said about the type of society that will emerge out of this pandemic and how we will all change as result. The pandemic has pointed out what is really important and what really matters when the chips are down. The people putting their lives on the line day in and day out are not those who earn the most in our society, and who we have historically worshipped because of their fancy lifestyles. It has in fact been those who are at the supermarket tills, the delivery drivers, those emptying the bedpans in hospitals, the funeral directors, and the emergency services. Will we come out of the pandemic valuing these people more with our newspaper columns and glossy magazines covered with the lifestyles and what is important to them? That remains to be seen.