Editor’s note: The United States Women’s Soccer Team powered past an unbeaten English team with a 2-1 victory on Tuesday evening to claim a spot in the World Cup Final on Sunday. When they return stateside, the team switches to a “longer term” game as they work towards mediation in an equal pay lawsuit. The team, and co-captain Megan Rapinoe who sat our Tuesday’s game, have become symbols for equal pay as described in the column below written earlier.
By Guest Columnist MELITA EASTERS, founding chair and executive director of Georgia’s Win List
U.S. Women’s Soccer team co-captain Megan Rapinoe scored two goals during the June 28 match against France, giving her team a stunning victory over the host country and a semi-final July 2 match-up with England.
“Purple-Haired Lesbian Goddess Flattens France Like a Crepé,” read the headline for a Deadspin story about the win. The victory comes at a time when the women’s team is suing for wage discrimination and during a week when Rapinoe’s off-field political opinions created perhaps more headlines than her world-renowned athletic ability.
Indeed, Ms. Rapinoe became a foil for and target of the presidential “Tweeter-in-chief’s” commentary prior to the match after saying she (and some teammates) would not accept a White House invitation because the president is clearly “against” many of the issues she and her teammates hold dear.
As the top-ranked United States team heads into the World Cup final rounds, it carries the dreams of many young women, and some young men, who proudly wear team jersey replicas as a show of respect for the three time world champions and four time Olympic Gold medalists who now dominate the sport internationally – unlike their male counterparts on the United States national team.
The United States women’s team is not just a symbol of athletic grace and superiority; players have now become a powerful example of standing up for equality in all forms, particularly equal pay for equal work.
Once the excitement of the World Cup is over, representatives of the USWNT are scheduled for mediation arising from a lawsuit filed in March which alleges “institutionalized gender discrimination” by the U.S. Soccer Federation over a period of years, according to a report by si.com. Among the allegations are both pay and working conditions including an argument the women play more games than the men’s team, win more of those games and still get paid less, according to a story in nytimes.com.
“We very much believe it is our responsibility not only for our team and for future U.S. players, but for players around the world – and frankly women all around the world – to feel like they have an ally in standing up for themselves, and fighting for what they believe in, and fighting for what they deserve and for what they feel like they have earned,” Ms. Rapinoe was quoted in the March 8 story in the nytimes.com, as the lawsuit was first filed.
One great disparity between men’s and women’s teams are the multi-million dollar bonuses the world soccer governing body pays teams for participation in the World Cup – a pool of $400 million divided among 32 men’s teams versus a pool of $30 million divided among 24 women’s teams, according to the nytimes.com story.
The lawsuit filed by the soccer stars shines a spotlight on pay inequities that are rampant across the globe, across all educational levels and in most professions. Women across the globe are paid 63 percent of what men earn, according to the World Economic Forum.
This pay gap would take 200 years to correct if the pace of change remains at the current level. There is not a single country where women are paid as much as men and Laos, in Southeast Asia, comes closest to parity where women’s wages stand at 91 percent of those paid men. Women in Iraq, Syria and Yemen face the largest pay gaps, with women in those countries earning only 30 percent of men’s wages, according to a report in guardian.com.
In the United States, even though women are now receiving more college and graduate degrees than men, women make only 80.5 cents on the dollar for the same work performed by white men. On average, women earn less for every single occupation tracked by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Women of color generally fall behind white women when wages are compared, with African American women earning 65.4 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women earning 53.8 cents on the dollar.
Georgia women fare better in state-by-state rankings for employment and earnings than several surrounding states and 24th in the nation overall. In Georgia, women 82.6 percent of the salaries earned by men, based on figures from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The highest ranking salaries in the nation are paid in the District of Columbia with the states of Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York rounding out the top five. The lowest ranking states are Alabama, Louisiana, Idaho and West Virginia, with Mississippi ranking dead last.
One root cause for continuing pay inequities is representation in the political sphere, where laws that could mandate equal pay are passed. Of the 149 countries surveyed by the Global Economic Forum, only 17 currently have women as heads of state. Women comprise 18 percent of cabinet or ministerial posts and 24 percent of legislative posts internationally.
When it comes to women holding political office in legislative bodies at least, the United States falls just below the international average, with women holding 23.7 percent of the seats in Congress, despite 2018 having been a record setting year for the election of women nationwide. Many are surprised to learn Georgia beats the national and international average, with the 30.5 percent of female legislators giving Georgia a ranking of 20th nationwide.
Simply put: When there are more women making laws, laws will provide equal pay protections for women. In the meantime, women must hope for court intervention, suing employers that pay them less — following the example of the United States Women’s Soccer team. It is safe to say, as women cheer the United States team for their next games, they also hope they will prevail, and set a new worldwide standard for pay equity in the outcome of their lawsuit.
The 1967 Aretha Franklin version of Otis Redding’s song became an anthem for both the feminist and civil rights movement. These days as women demand equal pay for equal work, perhaps the 50-year-old anthem should be spelled in a slightly different way:
Note to readers: Melita Easters is a former journalist who last wrote about sports as a features “stringer” for The Macon Telegraph during her college days. She is founding chair and currently serves as executive director of Georgia’s WIN List, a political action committee, which seeks to elect more women to legislative and statewide office in Georgia.