Closing the Gender Pay Gap: A Call to Action on International Equal Pay Day

Closing the Gender Pay Gap: A Call to Action on International Equal Pay Day

By Martha Da Costa-Sherwood, Senior Consultant

International Equal Pay Day, observed on September 18th each year, serves as a poignant reminder that gender pay inequality persists on a global scale, transcending borders and economies. Despite strides towards gender equality, the lingering gender wage gap continues to be a pressing issue for nations worldwide, impacting women’s lives and societal progress. In the European Union, women continue to earn approximately 13.0% less than men in gross hourly earnings, according to Eurostat’s 2020 data. This gap is indicative of broader global trends where, despite advancements in women’s education and workforce participation, wage disparities persist.

Numerous factors contribute to the gender pay gap. Occupational segregation, where women are often channelled into lower-paying professions and excluded from higher-paying ones, is a significant concern. Moreover, inflexible working hours, limited parental leave, and policies that mandate early retirement for women can force women into part-time employment or extended periods of absence from the workforce, hindering their earning potential. It is vital also to acknowledge that the gender pay gap is not uniform; it intersects with race, ethnicity, and disability. Women from marginalised backgrounds often experience a wider pay gap. This underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to address pay inequality that considers the intersectionality of discrimination.

A UK Case Study: The Battle for Equal Pay

In the United Kingdom, as in many parts of the world, the gender pay gap has long been a contentious issue. One glaring example of this inequity is the case of 174 women employed by Birmingham City Council as cooks, cleaners, catering staff, and care workers. These women, who left their positions between 2004 and 2008, initiated legal action against the council, alleging that they were systematically paid less and denied benefits compared to their male counterparts performing equivalent tasks.

This landmark legal battle has far-reaching implications not only for the affected women but also for gender pay equality efforts across the UK and the EU. The Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority in the UK, upheld a previous ruling that extended the time limit for making equal pay claims against employers from six months to six years.

Despite this legal victory for the women, the Birmingham City Council’s decision to challenge the claims sends a troubling message. It underscores the systemic resistance to rectifying gender pay disparities, prolonging the struggle for justice for these women and countless others facing similar challenges.

The Broader Implications:

1. The Urgency of Equal Pay: The persistence of gender pay inequality in the UK exemplifies the pressing need for legislative and corporate action to bridge the wage gap. The affected women, like many others, deserve equal compensation for their contributions.

2. Legal Repercussions: The Supreme Court’s decision to extend the time limit for equal pay claims sets a crucial precedent. It empowers thousands of women, even those who left their jobs years ago, to seek justice and compensation for past pay discrepancies. This could potentially result in significant financial implications for employers.

3. A Call for Employers to Act: The Birmingham City Council case highlights the importance of proactive measures by employers to rectify pay disparities. Businesses must take the lead in ensuring equitable compensation, not only as a legal requirement but as a fundamental ethical principle.

4. A Broader Wave of Equal Pay Claims: This legal victory has the potential to inspire more women to come forward with their own equal pay claims. The resulting wave of claims could lead to greater scrutiny of gender pay gaps in both the public and private sectors.

Key Actions for Achieving Equal Pay:

1. Legislation and Enforcement: Governments all around the world must enact and enforce laws and regulations ensuring equal pay for work of equal value. Employers are also pivotal in addressing disparities within their organisations through pay equity audits and corrective measures.

2. Balancing Work and Family: Policies such as paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements are critical in enabling women to participate fully in the workforce without sacrificing family responsibilities.

3. Redistribution of Unpaid Care: Unpaid care and domestic work must be recognised, reduced, and redistributed. This includes investing in the care economy and encouraging men to share caregiving responsibilities.

4. Formal Employment and Social Protection: Initiatives aimed at transitioning women from informal to formal employment, combined with comprehensive social protection measures, can uplift vulnerable workers, offering better wages and benefits.

5. Breaking Down Barriers: Discriminatory laws, social norms, and policies that hinder women’s access to specific professions and leadership roles must be dismantled. 

International Equal Pay Day is not just a symbolic date; it is a call to action – to renew our commitment to address the systemic disparities that persist in remuneration and opportunities for women across the international community. The case of the Birmingham City Council workers illustrates the ongoing struggles for pay equity and the need for concerted efforts to address this global challenge. As we observe this day, we must remember that achieving equal pay is not just a legal obligation but a moral imperative. Equal pay is not solely a women’s issue; it is a commitment to building a fairer and more equitable world, where every woman is compensated fairly for her work, regardless of her job title or when she left her employment. 




UN: Equal pay for work of equal value (,discrimination%20against%20women%20and%20girls. )

UN Women: Photo essay: Changing world, changing work (

National Today: International Equal Pay Day – September 18, 2023 (

European Parliament: International Equal Pay Day (

Birmingham Council: Birmingham City Council statement on Equal Pay update  ( )

Littleton Chambers: Supreme Court decision could open floodgates for employers in historic equal pay claims  (

BBC News: Birmingham City Council loses equal pay appeal bid (

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