Proof and Accountability
07-Jan-2018


For women in 2018, it’s going to be all about proof and accountability. Equality for women is not just a slogan or vague concept but a goal, which means that it must be translated into concrete action. Politicians can easily say that they want to promote women, and may put forth a strategic plan or agenda. However, just as they are held accountable for meeting other goals, governments (and industries, and other groups) need to start showing the results of their promises. 2018 is not about empty words, it is about proof.

One country has started the New Year off swinging: Iceland, already well advanced in terms of gender equality, is determined to make sure women receive equal pay. It is so determined that the country has made it illegal to pay women less than men for the same job. And while many countries have passed Equal Pay legislation, Iceland’s new law stands out because it demands accountability. It demands proof—or else there are consequences. Icelandic employers with 25 or more workers must obtain a “pay equality certification” every three years from a government-approved certifier.

While it is strange that the law leaves out smaller businesses, Iceland’s law is different than, for example, the Equal Pay Act in the United States because it is mandatory. It uses mechanisms to make sure it is enforced, with noncompliance resulting in fines. While companies in the US can get in trouble for unequally compensating employees, no one will catch them unless an employee speaks up. In effect, the burden of enforcing the law falls on the very people it is trying to protect instead of the government. In Iceland, the government enforces the law, with the companies bearing the “burden of proof” having to submit their certification.

The burden of proving that companies or individuals are breaking the law—whether it is regarding equal pay, discrimination in the hiring process, sexual harassment, etc.—should not have to solely lay with women. Why not? There are several reasons, one of the main ones being that women are often not taken seriously (especially in the case of sexual harassment). Thanks to a history of discrimination, women may be afraid to come forward or to appear that they are being a “difficult” employee. By establishing mechanisms to enforce compliance, gender equality laws will have more of a chance of succeeding.

The strong rhetoric that marked 2017 in regards to women’s equality will hopefully be followed with concrete action in the new year. Concrete action that can be followed up with concrete proof.


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