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Are women being economically punished for their gender?

Are women being economically punished for their gender?

Almost a year ago in October 2016 hundreds of thousands of women across Iceland got up from their desks and took to the streets at 2.38pm. It’s an oddly specific time isn’t it? The reason being that according to government figures women earn 14-18 percent less than their male counterparts for doing exactly the same job. This figure effectively means that women across Iceland are working for free from 2.38pm every single day.

Iceland has a reputation for an extremely healthy democracy with protests a regular feature across the country when the people are unhappy with the government of the day. Famously in April 2016 a wave of protests forced former Prime Minister Davíð Gunnlaugsson to resign following the Panama Papers scandal which revealed he once owned, and his wife still owned, an off-shore bank account which profited from the failed Icelandic banks as a result of the 2008 financial crash.

Following on from the women’s protest in Iceland, the government has since announced tough new plans to legally enforce equal pay across the nation’s businesses. As reported by the BBC back in April, parliament is examining a bill that would require companies to prove they offer equal pay to employees.

Companies face auditing and possible fines if they do not comply. Iceland was ranked first in the World Economic Forum's 2015 Global Gender Gap Index, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden. However, according to Iceland's statistics for the same year, the unadjusted gender pay gap remained at 17%.

Is Iceland’s prominent issue something that could be applied across the Western and wider world? It certainly seems so. Despite the best efforts of egotistically damaged, powerful white men who explain that women can’t work in mines or building sites, as though this is indicative of a wider problem with lazy and weak women, the gender pay gap remains a real problem.

It was revealed over the summer that prominent BBC employees earn much more, or less, money dependent on their gender. The salaries, published in the corporation's annual report, revealed two-thirds of its stars earning more than £150,000 are male, with Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans the top-paid on between £2.2m and £2.25m.

Female news readers and presenters, doing identical jobs to their male counterparts, were earning on average 9% less. The revelations sparked fury from most and mansplained indignation from a not insignificant conservative right.

Further revelations by the FT revealed that ‘Financial services has a median gender pay gap of 31 per cent, according to analysis by data analytics company Staffmetrix. The figure is based on information lodged by companies and public sector organisations on the government’s website.

Electricity and gas suppliers had the second highest gap, at 26 per cent, followed by the construction sector at 23 per cent.’

Clearly there is an issue with gender pay gaps. On the back of the announcement of the Icelandic legal change to enforce companies to pay their employees equally, many derided the decision as political correctness or cited that the gender pay gap was ‘a myth’. A myth propagated by who remains an unanswered question. It also leaves us asking; if the gender pay gap really is a myth, then why would a law making it illegal make any difference? Surely the result would a continuation of the status quo.

It’s not just the job market that appears to discriminate, either, with many sanitary products in the UK subject to regressive taxes and some of the UK’s largest retailers accusing women of being untrustworthy if it was to charge a reasonable price for contraceptive products.

In a Guardian article from earlier in the year, it was revealed by them that girls from low-income families across England are struggling to afford sanitary protection, with many teachers buying tampons for their students or seeking help with supplies from charities and voluntary groups, the Guardian has been told.

Charities, campaigners and teachers say that the problem is happening in cities and rural areas across the country, describing girls missing school, using donations, or wearing makeshift protection during their period.

The issue came to light after it was reported that a charity in Leeds, Freedom4Girls, was contacted by a local school who were worried about truancy among teenage girls when they had their period. The charity, which provides products to women in Kenya, agreed to do the same for local girls.’

Whether or not you think that the 5th richest country in the world forcing its female population to rely on charity for a basic human right is a disgrace may rely on your political leanings and we’ll allow you to decide for yourself, but would urge some further research.

It was revealed that, as tampons are subject to a 5% ‘luxury’ tax, those taxes were also used to fund anti-abortion lobbies who often protest outside abortion clinics. As Suzanne Moore of The Guardian wrote, “Sanitary products such as tampons are taxed as non-essential, luxury items at 5%. So are maternity pads. Some products remain exempt from this tax – such as edible sugar flowers and alcoholic jellies – but tampons are our little treat, aren’t they? We spoil ourselves silly with such luxury.”

Further to this, Boots was caught in a misogyny row earlier in the year after it essentially accused women of being untrustworthy of being provided cheap contraceptive products. The chain faced criticism after refusing to reduce the cost of the morning-after pill over fears it could incentivise its use.

As reported in The Independent Boots charges £28.25 for Levonelle emergency contraceptive and £26.75 for its own version, while Tesco charges £13.50 for Levonelle and Superdrug £13.49 for a generic product. The row erupted after Boots UK chief pharmacist Marc Donovan had said: “In our experience, the subject of [emergency hormonal contraception] polarises public opinion, and we receive frequent contact from individuals who voice their disapproval of the fact that [Boots] chooses to provide this service.


“We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product.” He added that the chemist wanted to avoid the pill “being misused or overused”.

Are women economically punished for their gender? If you trust facts and figures it would seem the answer is unquestionably – yes.

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