Clio Talks Back

I.M.O.W.'s debut blog, Clio Talks Back, will change the way you think about women throughout history! Be informed and transformed by Clio Talks Back, written by the museum's resident historian Karen Offen.

Inspired by Clio, the Greek muse of History, and the museum's global online exhibitions Economica and Women, Power and Politics, Karen takes readers on a journey through time and place where women have shaped and changed our world. You will build your repertoire of rare trivia and conversation starters and occasionally hear from guest bloggers including everyone from leading historians in the field to the historical women themselves.

Read the entries, post a comment, and be inspired to create your own legacies to transform our world.

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Oh, That Explains the Difference? or Why is Equal Pay for Equal Work so hard to translate into reality?

Women’s demands for equal pay for equal work are as old as history. European societies provide abundant documentation of such claims. Why? Because male authorities decreed that women who worked for pay should only receive one-half to two-thirds the pay of men. This was long before the "male-breadwinner model" began to be explicitly laid out.

Already in the year 1348, municipal authorities in Marseille set the wages for workers: 4 sous a day for men and 2 sous 6 deniers for women. [Such laws also dictated what women could or couldn’t wear in the way of gold, silver, and jewelry].

Flash forward! In 1869, in the first issue of Le Droit des Femmes, the feminist Maria Deraismes claimed equal pay as one of the objectives for the French women’s rights movement, a claim that would be repeated incessantly for the next 75 years.

When the Swiss women’s rights publication Le Mouvement féministe first appeared in Geneva in 1912, its motto was “A travail égal, salaire égal.” In translation: “for equal work, equal pay.” There was nothing hard to understand about this demand.

The Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I, founded the International Labour Organization and contained a proviso guaranteeing equal pay for equal work. All signatories to the Treaty promised to support this proviso, among many others.

In France, the principle of equal pay for equal work was finally instituted in 1946, by the decree of 30 July 1946. Other European countries have also agreed, at least in theory, to this principle. But enforcing it has been another story.

At the United Nations in March 1948, the Economic and Social Council approved “the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value for men and women workers.”

In December 1948 Eleanor Roosevelt insisted that the principle of equal pay for equal work be included in Article 23.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. “Everyone without any discriminhation, has the right to equal pay for equal work.”

In 1986 The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on the role of women in society, in which (among other provisions) it invited member states “to encourage such social and economic development as will ensure the equal participation of women in all spheres of work activity, equal pay for work of equal value, and equal opportunities for education and vocational training.”

So why are American women today still having to demand equal pay for equal work? Why in 2011 do we need to designate a day (April 12, 2011) as Equal Pay Day?

Clio would like your ideas: Why is it taking so long to write Equal Pay into the laws of the United States? Why in other countries, even when equal pay for equal work is mandated by law, is it so difficult to enforce this law? What are the obstacles that stand in the way of this eminently fair demand?


United States

I decided to do some googling on this topic and found these interesting stats from the following link:

"Equal pay has been the law since 1963. But today, women are still paid less than men—even with similar education, skills and experience.

The gap between men's and women's earnings widened slightly between 2007 and 2008, from 77.8 percent (generally rounded to 78 percent) to 77 percent. In 2009, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median weekly earnings of $657, or about 80 percent of the $819 median for their male counterparts. Economist Evelyn Murphy, president and founder of The WAGE Project, estimates the wage gap costs the average full-time U.S. woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her work life.

These figures are even worse for women of color. In 2009, the average weekly earnings for African American women were $582, some 68.9 percent of white men's earnings. Latinas' earnings were $509, some 60.2 percent of white men's earnings."

Karen Offen
Karen Offen
United States

Yes, Jennifer -- those are telling figures. We're just commemorating Equal Pay Day in the U.S. -- somewhere along the line, the message has not gotten through. So why is that? And what can today's generation of young women do about it? s/Clio

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