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Women & Economy

Many Chilean Women Keep Mum About Unequal Wages

SANTIAGO, Aug 2 2012 (IPS) - “I know that my male colleagues earn more than I do and work the same amount or even less. And my employers keep me in a non-managerial post, even though I do tasks at that level,” said Pamela, a Chilean professional who holds a doctorate in economics.

But the 39-year-old married mother of two admitted to IPS that she had not complained about the unfairness of the situation because she was afraid of losing her job if she did.

She said her work environment was sexist, even though nearly all of her colleagues had graduate degrees. “You tend to think that the more you study, the more you reason things out. Sometimes I can’t understand that my colleagues aren’t capable of competing with me as equals.”

“The most incredible thing is the arguments that my boss uses: he says I don’t play the role of breadwinner because I have a husband who also works, while my male colleagues have to support their whole family. It’s completely unacceptable,” she said.

Studies show that in Latin America, many women become the economic mainstay of their households at times of crisis.

CASEN, a national socioeconomic survey carried out by Chile’s Ministry of Social Development, found that one-third of the households surveyed were headed by a woman – a proportion that rose to 43 percent among poor families and to just under 48 percent among the extremely poor.

A study by Chile’s Dirección del Trabajo (labour office) states that “elimination of the gender-based income gap would reduce extreme poverty by eight percent and would increase per capita income by two percent.”

CASEN statistics indicate that women earned 20.1 percent less than men on average in 1990 and 15.8 percent less in 2009

But although the figures show that the situation is improving, the gap remains wide.

And among people who hold graduate degrees, the difference between the salaries of men and women is as high as 37 percent, according to the Dirección del Trabajo study.

One of the main arguments given for paying women less and hiring fewer women is that they play so many roles: they are responsible for raising the children and taking care of the home, while men are seen as providers and workers.

“The consequences of the discrimination that women face in the political, economic, labour and sexual spheres, etc, have a direct impact on the development of our nations,” former minister of women’s affairs Laura Albornoz told IPS.

Albornoz said “the lack of access or scarce participation of women in the labour market and the sexual division of labour fuel the general view shared by employers that women must play certain roles in terms of domestic responsibilities and caring for their families.”

Unfair wages

Remuneration is a key aspect of work, and a central dimension of labour relations.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says that paying women less is one of the most visible forms of discrimination, and that “the achievement of gender equality, including pay equity through application of the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, is fundamental to promoting decent work and social development and also essential to successful poverty-eradication strategies”.

Albornoz said it is “inadmissible” for someone to be paid less “simply because she is a woman and has to carry all the burdens that are culturally assigned to her, even though she has the same qualifications as a man, and performs the same work with the same level of efficiency and effectiveness.”

The ILO estimates the average global gender pay gap at 15.6 per cent. That means a woman must work one month and 22 days more per year to earn as much as her male counterparts.

A stride forward

A law on equal wages sponsored by the government of then socialist president Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010) was passed in 2009 to mitigate the effects of gender discrimination.

The legislation requires all companies with more than 10 employees to have regulations in place that enable female workers to seek redress if they feel their rights have been infringed.

If the company does not respond within 30 days, or the complainant is not satisfied with the response, she can turn to the justice system.

The law also states that men and women have the right to the same wages or salary for the same work, although it adds that it is not discriminatory to pay a male employee more if he proves to be more suitable, qualified or responsible than his female counterparts.

But this raises the question of how such qualities can be measured.

Moreover, not many companies or employees are familiar with the law.

The second Encuesta Voz de Mujer (Women’s Voice Survey), carried out by ComunidadMujer – a local non-profit women’s group – with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and published on Jul. 26, found that only 50 percent of women wage-earners interviewed knew what their male colleagues in the same posts earned.

Andrea Betancor, director of studies in ComunidadMujer, told IPS that this information was essential for taking legal action.

She added that the law only obligates companies with more than 200 employees to provide job and salary descriptions, and said without that information “it is impossible to move forward with complaints.”

Nonetheless, Albornoz defended the legislation, because it launched debate on the issue and established the principle of equal wages in the Labour Code, in line with the ILO treaties to which Chile is a signatory.

“It was a good first step, even though it is still insufficient,” she said.

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