A new joint report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that women in the health and care sector face a larger gender pay gap than in other economic sectors, earning on average of 24 percent less than men.
The report analysing gender pay inequities in health finds that the pay gap has jumped from roughly 20 percentage points to 24 percentage points when accounting for factors such as age, education and working time.
Justification for the pay gap seems unexplained as women account for 67 percent of health and care workers worldwide, the report says.
“The health and care sector has endured low pay in general, stubbornly large gender pay gaps, and very demanding working conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly exposed this situation while also demonstrating how vital the sector and its workers are in keeping families, societies and economies going,” said Manuela Tomei, director of Conditions of Work and Equality Department at the ILO.
She noted that there will be no inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery without a stronger health and care sector, saying better-quality health and care services cannot be guaranteed without better and fairer working conditions.
The report also finds that wages in the health and care sector tend to be lower overall when compared with other economic sectors. This is consistent with the finding that wages often are lower in economic sectors where women are predominant.
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The gender pay gap in the health and care sector: a global analysis in the time of COVID-19 finds that, even with the COVID-19 pandemic and the crucial role played by health and care workers, there were only marginal improvements in pay equality between 2019 and 2020.
It also finds a wide variation in gender pay gaps in different countries, suggesting that pay gaps in the sector are not inevitable and that more can be done to close these gaps.
Within countries, gender pay gaps tend to be wider in higher pay categories, where men are over-represented. Women are over-represented in the lower pay categories.
Mothers working in the health and care sector appear to suffer additional penalties. During a woman’s reproductive years, employment and gender pay gaps in the sector significantly increase.
These gaps then persist throughout the rest of a woman’s working life. The report observes that a more equitable sharing of family duties between men and women could, in many instances, lead to women making different occupational choices.
The analysis also looks at the factors that are driving the sector’s gender pay gaps. Differences in age, education, working time and the difference in the participation of men and women in the public or private sectors only address part of the problem.
The reasons why women are less paid than men with similar labour market profiles in the health and care sector across the world remain, to a large extent, unexplained by labour market factors, the report says.
Jim Campbell, WHO director of Health Workforce said women comprise the majority of workers in the health and care sector, yet systemic biases are resulting in unfair pay penalties against them.
He urged governments, employers and workers to take effective action based on the evidence and analysis presented by the report.