Two men and one woman in uniform working with wood.

Secretary-General's message 2020

Around the world, despite decades of activism, and dozens of laws on equal pay, women still earn less than 80 cents for every dollar men do. For women with children, women of colour, women refugees and migrants, and women with disabilities, that figure is even lower.

If you had told me this forty years ago, I would have been shocked. But according to the World Economic Forum, it will take 257 years to close this gap.

The early signs are that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will make the gender pay gap even wider – partly because so many women work in service industries, hospitality and the informal sector which have been hardest hit.

Women’s unequal status at work feeds inequality in other areas of their lives. Women’s jobs are less likely to come with benefits like health insurance and paid time off. Even when women are entitled to a pension, lower salaries mean lower payments in their old age.

Equal pay laws have failed to put this right. We need to go deeper and work harder to find solutions.

Raising the profile of the gender pay gap is an important step. So I welcome this first International Equal Pay Day, and I congratulate everyone who has made it happen.

We need to ask why women are relegated to lower-paid work; why professions that are female-dominated have lower salaries – including jobs in the care sector; why so many women work part-time; why women see their wages decrease with motherhood while men with children often enjoy a salary boost; and why women hit a ceiling in higher-earning professions. 

Some of the solutions lie in ending harmful gender stereotypes; removing institutional barriers; and sharing family responsibilities equally. We need to recognize, redistribute, and value the unpaid care work that is disproportionately done by women. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exploited and exposed inequalities of all kinds, including gender inequality. As we invest in recovery, we must take the opportunity to end pay discrimination against women.

Equal pay is essential not only for women, but to build a world of dignity and justice for all.

We need to ask why women are relegated to lower-paid work; why professions that are female-dominated have lower salaries – including jobs in the care sector; why so many women work part-time; why women see their wages decrease with motherhood while men with children often enjoy a salary boost; and why women hit a ceiling in higher-earning professions."

António Guterres