The Ugandan Chapter of the International Association for Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) hosted this year’s regional conference at the Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel in Entebbe. I attended the opening event on October 2, 2018. The meeting brought together delegates from 20 countries. One very sticky issue that caught the attention and clearly enraged General Duties minister Mary Karooro Okurut, who was representing the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, as the chief guest was that of gender pay gap in the Ugandan media.
The Ugandan Chapter reported that one of the challenges for women in media was getting less pay than men. Karooro said it was unacceptable today and promised to look into it. Gender pay gap, is when men and women hold similar positions and do the same work, but are paid differentially, women getting lower pay, for no other reason than that they are women.
It got me wondering, what can the minister or government actually do? We have no shortage of laws declaring equality before the law in our Constitution and other laws. In fact, we signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The question is, why do we still live with unspeakable discrimination based on gender on a daily basis? I am reminded of a book by two German sociologists, Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim.
Their account of the changing gender roles in society in the Normal Chaos of Love is very instructive. The authors unpack how the struggle to harmonise family and career, love and marriage, motherhood and fatherhood replace class struggle. They potentially rekindle the “family values’ debate, which we should be having conversations about if the struggle for gender equality is to be meaningful. The main idea is that individualisation, an important mark of a capitalist society, means that men and women are released from the gender roles prescribed by industrial society for life in the nuclear family. But then, our gender roles are prescribed for a traditional society of pre-conditions to take off - the peasant society.
They also speak of a striking lack of change in the way men and women behave, particularly on the job market- that the more equal the sexes seem, the more we become aware of persistent and pernicious inequalities between them. More importantly, they demonstrated that while the field of education had been feminised, the educational revolution had not been followed by one on the labour market or the employment system. Thus, the doors opened for women by better education were slummed shut again in the employment system and labour market. I relate to the normal chaos of love, because there is too much resemblance of that German society described in the normal chaos of love with our own evolving society. Their follow up book, Distant Love, enters into the globalisation arena with the family in view.
As a student of gender studies, I try to look beyond gender, because most often than not, gender is complicated by cultural, socio-legal or politico-economic questions. It is rarely just gender. Afew years ago, I was contracted with a gentleman to undertake some assignment for an organisation that declares itself gender sensitive in a country that shall remain nameless. We were both at similar educational and experience levels. We did exactly the same amount of work for the same number of days. I later learnt that he had been paid twice as much as I was for that assignment. Just in case you are wondering, the contract manager was a woman passionate about gender, a self-professed feminist. Yet, she sanctioned a pay gap of 50 per cent. I wondered if this was just gender.
If we look beyond the media, we will be surprised. Gender pay gap is a complex matter, often laced with many other issues such as competition, narratives formed of our individual performances, education, including the schools we attended, networks, experience and the reasons for which we are hired. I have seen outrageous pay gaps within same gender. The problem is, where women are concerned, they are judged as less capable because of pre-existing stereotypes and perceptions, even when they are better qualified. Women are also more likely to be treated badly compared to men. We need to critically study our employment system and the labour market to get answers to the pay gap question or the need for it.
We must, therefore, always interrogate how the role of government in development, economic liberalism, the profit motive in the private sector and the resultant commodification affect human resource decisions beyond the media. Increasingly, some cases also exist where women get paid far more than men, because they are considered exceptional or for whatever reason that is difficult to comprehend. Maybe we should address pay gap, not just gender pay gap. If we justify pay gap for any group that does similar work or even have similar qualification for other important reasons, there will surely be good reasons from the perspective of those who institutionalise pay gap for gender.
Dr Maractho is an academic and researcher. [email protected]