I recently managed to see Hollywood smash-hit The Hunger Games. I had heard so much about the movie and it seems adolescents around the globe enjoy this drama about young women and men fighting for their beliefs against the odds. I particularly enjoyed the performance of the film’s star, Jennifer Lawrence. I admit I am a fan of hers and her powerful performance was no surprise. What is surprising however is that Jennifer Lawrence earns far less than her male co-stars.
Sadly this pay gap puts her in good company with most women in this world – and not just other stars like Meryl Streep who earns far less than male actors, even after three Oscar wins. Women all around the world earn less than their male colleagues and there are a variety of reasons for this.
The pay gap has its roots in early stages of girls’ and boys’ lives, starting with different opportunities in education and later in differences in accessible jobs and industry. In every country there are jobs which typically go to men rather than women, and many countries identify different jobs with different genders (some countries in South East Asia even have this differentiation written into their constitution or laws).
Just look around: who are the teachers and who is the headmaster? Who is the doctor, who are the nurses? Who holds the job of the manager and who are the majority of the garment workers? All this tends to be aggravated by discrimination in hiring and differences in salary negotiations.
Jennifer Lawrence said in an open letter how upset she was with herself that she didn’t negotiate for equal pay. She felt that she might have been ‘punished’ for asking and accused of not being ‘nice’. Differences in amount of work experience and breaks in employment are the icing on the cake for the income pay gap. Sadly, the annual pay for women today is equal to what men were earning ten years ago.
Progress for children
But there is fantastic news. Data shows that there is great progress towards equal school attendance of girls and boys in the South East Asia and Pacific region. We even see girls outnumber boys in attending and graduating from high school in some countries.
If girls are becoming equally educated and qualified, does this provide us with the chance of working and running the world together, equally by men and women? I guess we can answer this with a careful ‘maybe’. There are too many inhibiting factors.
When women give birth they can drop out of the workforce, bulked down by the double burden of professional and domestic workload based on traditional views of labour division. Working mothers find it hard to cope without flexible work schemes, appropriate child care options, or partners committed to equal parenting and sharing domestic chores.
In addition, entrenched doubts about girls’ and women’s leadership or management potential and capacity can, in many cases, bar them from elected positions, government jobs, business leadership, management or simply supervisory roles. While more girls may graduate from high school, most will still not be able to access the jobs of their choice or climb the career ladder beyond the infamous glass ceiling.
What can we do to change the trajectory into gender inequality for the girls and boys of today? We don’t have to fight like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in The Hunger Games, but we need to strive harder towards fairness and self-esteem for girls and boys in all areas of opportunity, pay, position, and power.