Motley contributor Ava Somers writes about how the Gender Pay Gap is alive and well in Ireland. 

What if I told you, you could earn less because you have brown eyes? Are less than 5’ 5”? Have blonde hair? Welcome to the world of women, where we earn less simply for not being given the correct gene.  

In the famous words of James Brown “It’s a Man’s World”. Nothing could be more obvious to a woman in Ireland in 2023, and the Gender Pay Gap is no exception to the man’s world phenomenon. Currently, the Gender Pay Gap in Ireland stands at 14.4 percent. While this is slightly lower than the EU average, this is still a stark statistic, when considering that men are being paid almost fifteen percent more than women, simply by being born male. This has fallen in the ten years from 2007 and 2017 by just over three percent, but this simply is not moving quickly enough. The fact is that women have been excluded and discriminated against on the basis of having two X chromosomes for about 10,000 years. The rise of societies, division in class and many other factors have been raised as reasons; smaller brains, broader hips, frailty, and housework that needs doing have been given as excuses. But in 2021, the Irish government finally passed the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill, enabling women to begin on their journey to correct this injustice. 

Not only is the lack of equal pay in equal roles troubling, but there is also the issue of male employees gaining better promotions within the workplace than women. This, however, has had in recent years, the kind of overhaul one could only wish to see in the Gender Pay Gap. The Promotion Gap within the EU in the ten years leading to 2011 stood at 36 percent but decreased to just eight percent after 2011 – a decline of about 80 percent. If there were to be a similar decline (of 80 percent) in the Gender Pay Gap, this would leave the Gap at only three percent. This would see the average monthly female wage rise from €2808 to around €3145, while the average male wage is currently at €3423. While women would still be receiving on average €278 less per month, it definitely would be a step away from the €615 less per month women receive currently. 

This huge gap in pay is detrimental in many ways to our society. Firstly, it discourages young women from joining the workforce. Why on earth would a woman of the same level of skill and knowledge to her male counterparts even attempt to join a workforce to do the same job as her male counterpart, for 85.6 percent of his earnings? This causes even further issues, as it also affects the education system; Why would a young woman strive to go to college or university, pay the same fees as her male counterpart, do as many lessons as her male counterpart, work as hard as her male counterpart- to go on to do a job where she will be paid less? This discourages young girls from joining the workforce. This may be the reason that only 43.9 percent of women are in full time employment, in comparison to 60 percent of men. 

This also has a massive effect on families and equality for children. Around 90 percent of single-parent households worldwide are headed by mothers; only 10 percent are headed by single fathers. The problem here arises where families are headed by a single mother and are then expected to get by on far less income than if the household was headed by a single father. Therefore, a household headed by a single mother, bears less of a chance of her children pursuing higher or further education, as their family will not have the funds to grant such access. They will obviously miss out on other opportunities throughout their youth, any activity being above the means of the family, such as foreign holidays resulting in less knowledge of culture, financial pressures may push them to drop out of school early, a need to provide for their families is a responsibility which they should not have to take upon their own shoulders. This is a vicious cycle: a single woman who cannot afford to raise her children due to the discrepancies between her pay and that of her male colleagues- has a daughter, that daughter must drop out of school as her mother cannot afford third level education and she must help provide for her family, she is paid less than her male counterparts, if she has a family without a male partner, she may have to ask her daughter to drop out of school or cannot afford to send her to college, and so she sends her out to work to provide for her family’s basic needs and the vicious cycle continues. This sets up a very troubling narrative indeed.  

This is also showing favour to some types of marriages over others. Taking lead from the averages outlined above, lesbian couples will bring in on average €337 less per month than a straight couple, and €674 less per month than a gay couple. This shows once again the huge discrepancy between families based on their gender alone. (Going on average figures, a lesbian couple has an income of €5616, a straight couple of €5953 and a gay couple €6290). So not only are we discriminating against women solely, but we are also actively discriminating against certain family structures too (i.e. single mothers and lesbian couples). 

How does one go about solving this? Well firstly, in my opinion, should men and women both be offered the same opportunities (while women are statistically less likely to apply, this may come from the current ideology that “it would only be given to a man anyway”), with the same pay checks, more women would be able to sustain themselves and their family. There would be no discrimination between same sex couples, or in fact any couples, because each person working the same job would be afforded the same salary. This would also close the gap between male and female headed single parent families, as once again, there would be equal pay for equal work. This would then encourage more young women to seek higher education and give children from single parent households (regardless of gender) a better hope of receiving third level education. Having more qualified young people in the country is better for building a better economy. If we had a better economy, we could afford to pay people more. The increase of women in the workplace would hinder any possibility of the re-emergence of a gender-biassed norm. Now is that not a much nicer narrative? 

According to Bunreacht na hEireann Article 40.1 “all citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law”. At least in this regard, the men and women of Ireland are not held as equal before the law. The Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000-2018 prohibit discrimination on the following nine grounds: gender, marital status, family status, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation, and membership of the travelling community. The Gender Pay Gap encroaches on at least three of these prohibitions (namely gender, family status and sexual orientation). This is also in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as under Article 2 “States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.”  

Women have technically had the right to equal pay – at least in theory – since the 1970s. The societal ideology of women as third-class citizens has diminished into practical non-existence; the wages we receive should reflect this. The thoughts of discriminating against people of ethnic minority, sexual orientation or belonging to another social minority, is revolting to the vast majority of society in 2023, but the grounds of gender have yet to be seen in this light. This affects so much more than women, this affects future generations, broadening the economic inequalities already present in the State.