If this pandemic has made one thing clear, it’s that there are certain people and professions that society simply cannot survive without, aptly named essential workers. They’re our nurses, doctors and ambulance drivers, cleaners and rubbish collectors, supermarket cashiers and pharmacists, people working in labs and carers looking after our elderly and disabled.
We wouldn’t survive without them, pandemic or no pandemic. And, turns out, the majority of them, particularly those in underpaid and underappreciated roles, are women.
In Australia, 80% of all staff in hospitals are women. In Shanghai, over 90% of nurses and 50% of doctors fighting Covid-19 are women. In Canada, women make up over 90% of nurses, 75% of respiratory therapists, and 80% of people working in medical labs. In the U.S, one in three jobs held by women has been deemed essential, and overall women make up 52% of the essential workforce keeping the country afloat. Most of the jobs that have been deemed essential in the United Kingdom and Scotland are female-dominated roles such as supermarket workers, carers, teachers, nurses and childcare workers. In New Zealand, healthcare and social assistance are the main industries that women are employed in.
While men still occupy most of the higher echelons of the workforce, it is primarily the more female-dominated roles that are on the frontlines - the ones interacting with the public at the ground level, exposing themselves to the virus more than everyone else. In New Zealand, most of these roles aren’t even paid the living wage. Like Rose, the cleaner at Otahuhu police station working 13-hour days, who was praised by Jacinda Ardern for her dedication and hard work. In response to this recognition, Rose asked the Prime Minister for just one simple thing: the living wage. “We have been crying out for so many years,” she said.
Even in those roles where our women on the frontlines do make a living wage for the hard work and bravery they put in day in and day out, they are not paid the same as their male counterparts, as the wage gap in New Zealand is far from closing. According to Rachel Mackintosh, vice-president of the Council of Trade Unions, if the gender pay gap in New Zealand continues to close at the same rate it has for the last few decades, women won’t be paid the same amount as men on average for another hundred years. And, of course, this wage gap is even more significant for Māori and Pasifika women in New Zealand.
Women make up the majority of those who are essential for the progress and survival of society. Women make up the majority of the people on the frontlines, putting themselves in danger to save lives, to help others, to keep society running so we can all get through this as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
And yet, women continue to be underappreciated and underpaid.
Around the world, women are forced into poverty at alarming rates, much more frequently than men. Many factors contribute to this - the wage gap, the lack of representation in higher paying roles, the lack of value placed on roles that are dominated by women, the fact that women are expected to undertake the majority of the unpaid work.
Coronavirus has brought into the spotlight the fact that, for a large part, our lives rest on the backs of the work of women, regardless of whether we’re in the middle of a pandemic or not.
Pay essential workers the living wage. Pay women equally to men. Place value on work that is done by women. Pay women. Value women. Society wouldn’t survive without them.Support Villainesse