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International Women’s Day: Why the fight for female equality begins and ends with economics

Written by: Romi Savova
Women around the world will be celebrating their accomplishments on 8 March but the pay and gender gap remains. The inequality begins and ends with economics but there are ways for women to take charge.

On just one day each year, the advancement of women’s rights is celebrated around the world, and this Sunday the theme for International Women’s Day is “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights”.

Not to be a party pooper, but if the latest statistics on the gender pay and pension gaps is anything to go by, the only right women seem to have consistently realised is the right to be poorer than men.

Women make up 50% of the world but this year are predicted to control just 32% of its wealth. That’s up from 30% five years ago so technically we’ve made progress. But to put the pace of said progress into perspective, imagine how excited you’d be by a 0.4% annual salary increase. Exactly.

Oxfam published a report in January looking at this global economic inequality and concluded, “today’s extreme wealth is founded on sexism….the economic system was built by rich and powerful men, who continue to make the rules and reap the lion’s share of the benefit”.

Wealth inequality mainly comes down to two things; 1) what work men and women are encouraged or unquestioningly expected to do 2) how that work is valued by society.

Men continue to disproportionately exist in positions of political and economic power; just 18% of ministers and 24% of parliamentarians globally are women; they hold only a third of managerial positions, according to the World Economic Forum.

For those who attribute the drag to poorer countries, two-thirds (65%) of managers, directors and senior officials in the UK are men, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Care work and zero-hours contracts

By contrast to these well-paid roles, women and girls around the world put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day  – equal to an £8.4 trillion a year cash injection into the global economy, more than three times the size of the tech sector.

Even where care work is paid, it is paid badly, stigmatised and overwhelmingly done by women, aspects which are not unrelated. Earning less and spending more time on unpaid care in the home, means saving less and building up fewer assets – property, a workplace pension, investments – storing up problems for later.

One in every 27 women in Britain is on insecure zero-hours contracts compared with one in 40 men, according to ONS statistics from February, and in the North of England, where low pay is most prevalent, one in three women is paid less than the real living wage compared with one in five men.

Analysis by PensionBee into regional differences in retirement savings tracks the employment data almost exactly. Outside of Northern Ireland, the North West has the worst pension gap in the UK, where men have a pot of £19,974 for every £10,704 women have, a 46% difference.

The data shows that a gender pension gap exists in every UK region, with the average man having saved £23,423 towards their retirement compared to just £15,066 for the average woman – their safety net to avoid penury in old age is smaller by a third.

Life expectancy at birth in the UK last year was 79.3 years for men and 82.9 years for women. A man aged 65 today can expect to live another 18.6 years. For women this rises to 21 years. Women live longer, but after a lifetime in less valued, lower paid professions, and on reduced earnings due to time out raising children and caring, they are not saving what is needed to prepare for later life.

To avoid a less than certain financial future women must be encouraged to make additional contributions to their pensions on a regular basis, otherwise they may have to work longer than anticipated or may become reliant on the State Pension alone to make up for the shortfall.

The onus, however, shouldn’t be on women alone to make up the deficit. This International Women’s Day the government must consider introducing dedicated initiatives to bridge the gap and level the pensions playing field in recognition of women’s enormous and often uncompensated contributions to society.

Romi Savova is CEO of online pension provider, PensionBee

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