Women earn 15% less than men and it’s unconstitutional

It’s official: South African women earn 15 percent less than their male counterparts. This emerged after the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP) published the SABPP Women’s Report for 2015: Equal Pay for Equal Value in August – which means 21 years into democracy sexism is still being practised in the workplace... despite it being unconstitutional.

The fact that women are paid less for work of similar or equal value is an indictment of the founding values of our constitution. The report rightly suggests that the situation should be corrected by executive board members calling for audits to address inequalities.

And if this is not done, recourse should be taken through the appropriate channels outlined in the Employment Equity Regulations.

The constitution spells out the values of non-racism and non-sexism. These values are meant to be the foundation South Africans live their lives by following decades of suppression and exclusion.

The apartheid regime benefited white males in particular, making it racist as well as a sexist. As a result, the values set out in the constitution serve not only as the inalienable point of departure for legislation but also as a moral guideline.

Interestingly, the SABPP report pointed out that Charlize Theron successfully negotiated an additional $10m for her role in her movie The Huntsman after it emerged her co-star, Chris Hemsworth, was to be paid more simply because he was a man.

The lesson here is quite clearly that women have a role to play in curbing inequality. We need to be active in maintaining a fair and just society – participation is key to constitutionalism.

On 17 August, the Wits SRC launched the Pretty is the Last Thing on My Mind campaign. The objective is to get both genders thinking about how women are portrayed. Campaign organisers welcome the prospect of criticism as this still means awareness is being raised and the issue is being funnelled into public discourse.

We must talk about equality in order to practise it.

As South Africans, we have little tolerance for racial discrimination and are unafraid to speak out against it, yet we seem to have some way to go in terms of discrimination on the basis of sex. This could be for any number of reasons – perhaps we are not conscious of this being problematic and deem it culturally acceptable.

Alternatively, the prospect of earning less than men is better than the risk of not earning at all. In which case the structural inequality that is unequal pay amounts to willing exploitation for fear of scarcity.

Either way, the first step is to begin to consider ourselves of equal value.

More on gender equality:

WATCH: Emma Watson speaks to fashion's greatest about achieving gender equality

Equal representation for women in SA politics is still far away

The fight for gender equality needs men

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