Iceland could soon make it illegal to pay men more than women. Companies with more than 25 employees must prove that they pay women employees as much as they pay men, or face punitive measures, if the Bill that the Icelandic parliament is examining becomes law. The Scandinavian country was at the top of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2015 index, with a low 14-18% pay gap between the sexes. But the country now intends to close that gap completely. This comes in the backdrop of the protest last year in October in which women left work early, with remainder of the working day corresponding in terms of time to the average pay gap between men and women in the country. Now, juxtapose this with the US Department of Labor charging internet giant Google with paying its women workers, on an average, lesser than their male counterparts for the same work across board. The American labour department said that the “discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme”. The US Census Bureau found in 2015 that white women earned just 80 cents for the work that paid white men $1. To be sure, companies argue pays are based on merit and experience, but it is hard to believe that merit is the preserve of a particular race or sex as is reflected in the pay data.
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While Iceland is setting an example for the Western world—it has sparked similar discussions in the UK and France—India, which ranked a lowly 108 in the Gender Gap rankings, ironically, protects equal pay for equal work under the Constitution. But despite that, the gap on economic participation and opportunity, India’s score on the index is 0.383 (the closer a country’s score is to zero the more unequal it is with 1 representing complete equality). Female labour force participation in the country has stagnated at 26-28% in urban areas and has fallen from 57% to 44% in rural areas. Now, it is possible that women left the workforce voluntarily as household incomes increased, rather than because of discrimination. Their withdrawal remains a worry, nevertheless.