In 1995, I joined hundreds of women from around the world in Beijing, China, to attend the UN conference on women. It was the third conference of its kind after one in Mexico City and Nairobi, each a decade apart.
So are things any better for women, worldwide, 15 years after the Beijing Declaration and the Beijing Platform for Action?
First the bad news. Women’s nominal wages are 17 per cent lower than men’s. Women perform 66 per cent of the world’s work, produce 50 per cent of the food, but earn 10 per cent of the income and own one per cent of the property, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
While much deserved criticism is lobbed at the Arab world (where I am from) for its abysmal record of women’s rights — women’s economic participation is at a lowly 33 per cent, for example -- the lowest in the world — industrialized countries can’t brag too much either when it comes to women and the economy.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) told rich nations in a report it issued to coincide with International Women’s Day that they should do more to cut the pay gap between men and women. Its report showed that women in rich nations on average earn nearly one-fifth less than men.
The pay gap was widest in Korea and Japan, where men earned more than 30 per cent more than women; Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom were the next worst performers with a pay gap of more than 20 per cent. Belgium and New Zealand, which had pay gaps of less than 10 per cent, performed the best.
The good news is that the OECD found the percentage of working women had increased to 62 per cent in 2008, from 45 per cent in 1970. But women in nearly all countries spent at least twice as much time as men taking care of children or other relatives, leaving them with shrinking schedules that allow for only part-time or lower-paying jobs.
Work at home or involving family care is not remunerated, of course, and so as long as women remain primary caretakers and those who sacrifice careers for home, that lower pay cycle will continue both outside and inside the home.
I have lived in the U.S. for 10 years now. How does my new home fare when it comes to equal pay for equal work? Quite badly. Today, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid. In 1972, it was around 49 cents to the dollar.