UN Women, the international organization focussed on the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, declared Monday that the global wage gap between men and women is "the biggest robbery in history."
The declaration came at the start of the 61st UN Status of Women meeting and the launch of a new campaign to focus attention on the global wage gap between men and women and achieve equal pay.
"There has been a normalization for centuries of a bias against women, an acceptance that we are less than…there is no woman that [the wage gap] does not affect," said filmmaker Kamala Lopez who is a spokesperson for the campaign.
On average women around the world are paid at least 23 percent less than men, with the numbers in some countries and for certain women being much worse.
In the U.S., African American women earn only 60 cents, Native American women 59 cents and Hispanic women 55 cents for every $1 that white men earn. For trans women and trans women of color, the numbers are even worse.
Anannya Bhattacharjee, who is the president of the garment and allied workers union and another spokesperson for the campaign, noted that most of the world’s clothing companies reap vast profits by maintaining this gap.
She told the audience gathered in New York at the U.N. headquarters that in Bangladesh alone, textile companies make more than US$25 billion a year off the backs of the majority female workforce.
"The workers of this industry who are mainly women cannot access their basic human rights…industries that are dominated by women tend to be lower paid, which means that millions of women and generations of families live in poverty," she said.
Bhattacharjee — while describing the key role that militant labor needs to play in closing the gap — noted that it was these conditions that galvanized thousands of female garment workers to strike in December in Bangladesh, demanding better wages.
The fact that the strike was crushed — with wage demands dismissed, 1500 workers fired and over 40 arrested — is a reminder of how far the world needs to come to address the waged work, let alone the vital unpaid labor, many women perform taking care of families and communities.
Indeed, a recent World Economic Forum report said that at present rates, it will take 70 years to close the gendered wage gap, and 170 to achieve economic equality among men and women.
At the U.N. summit, many pointed to the recent move by Iceland to pass first-of-its-kind legislation requiring equal pay as a means to close the gap.
While Iceland hopes the new law will eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022, its representatives noted that anti-discrimination laws alone will not achieve the goal.
"We had laws banning pay discrimination since 1961 in Iceland. Still, even though we are leading in equality, we still have a gender pay gap of around 7 percent. And that’s absolutely intolerable," said Thorsteinn Viglundsson, Iceland’s social affairs and equality minister.