The gender pay gap threatens to undermine the efforts of thousands of men and women who have fought for freedom in this country.

“A woman is human. She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man. Likewise, she is never less. Equality is a given. A woman is human.”

― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

Despite all the progress in equality and women’s rights, the gender pay gap threatens to undermine the efforts of thousands of men and women who have fought for freedom in this country. While laudable progress has been made, men are still paid substantially more than women over their lifetimes. But what does this mean?

Is it because more women work part-time more than men do? Or is it because women have more caregiving responsibilities? The South African gender pay gap is estimated to be between 15 percent to 17 percent. This means that for every R1 a man earns, a woman only earns about 85c. It seems absurd that women are being paid less than men in South Africa for the same work.

If this gap persists, women would never catch up with their male colleagues. Over and above the financial losses incurred, the emotional fairness of the pay gap is quite hard to accept. Employers are profiting unduly from a historic system of undervaluing women’s skills and contributions.

One of the foremost reasons why there are so few women in leadership positions is because the business world is simply not designed to fulfil the needs of women throughout their different life stages. All things considered, it is a man’s world.

Many argue that the primary reason so many women drop out of the workplace after becoming mothers is that it becomes almost impossible to balance a full-time career and family, both mentally and physically.

Men are therefore paid more than a woman to ensure that the company gets a greater return on the investment made in the development of an individual. Employers perceive the long-term value that a woman would add to an organisation as lower than that of a man who does not have care obligations outside the workplace.

All too often we remain passive when faced with the unknown. Remuneration is one such unknown. We know there is a definite gender pay gap. The size of the gap depends on, among other factors, the country, industry, job role and level. Hence, addressing this relative unknown by women is tough, and it possesses its own challenges and risks.

Recently there was a call in Britain for companies that have more than 250 staff members to publicly declare what their employees earn, aggregated through the gender lens. South African companies should do the same.

If the pay scale vs pay actuals became more transparent, it would be the first step to addressing the gender pay gap. The clandestine way it is currently handled has made the matter hard to address. A pay gap audit will offer a way forward with quantifiable facts.

In South Africa, the Employment Equity Act sets out non-discrimination legislation, the principle of equal pay for equal value. Men, women, different race groups and those with disabilities should not be earning differently for the same work. An audit will expose those who are in contravention of the Employment Equity Act.

What is clear, is that South Africa needs a real paradigm shift if the gender pay gap is to be addressed.

Fazlin Fransman, Senior Researcher at Moja Research Institute

Article first appeared in the Huffington Post UK