International Women’s Day is an a great time to celebrate women and our contribution to the world in all its many and varied forms. It is also a day when we reflect on past struggles and the current state of women’s progress towards equality.Invariably in the lead up to IWD a number of reports are released on the gender pay gap. The continued significant difference in earnings between women and men across the workforce and within industries is a consistent and stark reminder of the oppression women still face in the workforce and the world.

This year was no exception. Gender Equity Insights: Inside the Gender Pay Gap, a report complied by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and Curtin University found that:

“The persistent gender pay gap is an economic, political and social issue. Gender pay gaps do not always signal direct discrimination, but remain problematic for a number of reasons. They represent poorer outcomes for women in terms of economic and personal freedoms; lost human capital potential and investment; and an impairment of economic growth for a nation looking to remain competitive on a global scale.”

The report’s finding that companies with more women on the board have a small gender pay gap has garnered most of the attention. But the gender pay gaps identified within and across industries and professions clearly demonstrate how this form of discrimination drives income inequality.

The ACTU also released a report, The Gender Pay Gap over the Life Cycle, which touches on how the disparity in earnings starts in childhood, continues through work, is magnified when women take time out of the workforce to have children and culminates in significantly lower retirement incomes.

One thing these reports don’t do is offer solutions. It can often seem like this is one of those problems that has no solution. There are certainly no easy solutions. And when even small measures such as 26 weeks paid parental leave with superannuation, or an enforceable right to flexible work seem too difficult it is disheartening to say the least.

The upshot is that pay equity is still a long way off. Despite the formal equality women have won, the structural inequalities prevalent in our society are replicated in the workforce. Women are less valued than men. Women’s work is less valued than men’s work.

Today childcare workers in Victoria have “locked-on” outside the Prime Minister’s Melbourne office to protest their low pay and call for better federal funding of childcare to ensure better wages. Radical actions calling attention to the systemic ways women’s work is devalued and the impacts this has on our society is an important part of generating positive change.

It is only through shifting our society’s values will we see the gender pay gap start to conclusively close.

PS if you are in Melbourne we’ll see you at the IWD rally and march and later at the #WRAW festival at Trades Hall organised by AIER’s former director Lisa Heap!