Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Michael Abrahams | Abolish pay inequality

Published:Monday | January 15, 2018 | 12:40 AM

One day at my practice last week, while walking to the front office, I noticed one of the receptionists leaning over a counter adjacent to the waiting area. There young woman appeared to be uncomfortable, and as I approached her, I asked if she was okay. She informed me that she was having menstrual cramps.

I told her I was sorry about her distress and asked if any medication was being taken for it. She said that painkillers were being administered and that she would be all right.

The next morning, I arrived at Andrews Memorial Hospital and made my way to one of the operating rooms. My patient, a young woman in her 20s, had an ovarian cyst and was scheduled to have it removed.

When I entered the room, however, it was not the patient, but my colleague, a female gynaecologist who was to assist me with the operation, who was in distress. She had been experiencing severe menstrual cramps, and the anaesthetist had to assist her by administering an injection to her to ease the pain, enabling her to assist successfully with the major surgical procedure.

The operation was successful, and as I left the operating theatre, and walked through the adjoining ward, I cheerfully greeted the ward clerk, but noticed that she seemed to be out of sorts. She would usually smile with me, but this morning her face was expressionless. I could tell that something was wrong. Concerned, I enquired about her sombre mood, and she told me that her period had just ended, and that it took a lot out of her, leaving her feeling drained.

I gave her a comforting hug and told her that I was sorry about her experience. Later, at the end of that day, I visited the supermarket to buy a few items. As I walked along one of the aisles, perusing the various brands of coffee on the shelves, a woman, recognizing me, called out to me. “Hi, Bruce,” she said, referring to my satirical portrayals of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding on the comedic television programme, The Ity and Fancy Cat Show. I laughed and told her, “Hi." But when I reached the end of the aisle, I noticed that her left hand was holding her trolley, but her right was rapidly and rhythmically slapping her right thigh. I jokingly asked her why she was beating herself up. “Pain,” was her reply. “Is it that time of the month?” I enquired, and she answered in the affirmative, telling me that her periods are usually horrendous, causing pain not just in her pelvis, but also in her thighs and buttocks. I encouraged her to have a serious talk with her doctor about her issues, as nobody should suffer like that every month. The conversations with these women were brief, but significantly impacted me. I encounter these issues while attending to women in my practice, but these ladies were not being seen by me as patients. I just happened to interact with them and noticed their distress. The exchanges caused me to think seriously about the struggles women face, and once again brought my thoughts to the topic of pay equality. Today, the practice of women being paid less than men, to do the same work, unfortunately still exists. If you consider the issues women are forced to confront, that are unique to them, such as menstrual, pregnancy and menopause-related issues, as well as the fact that many are required to use some of their income to purchase products to manage feminine hygiene and pregnancy, paying them less than men is obviously unfair. Add to that the fact that women are more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse, sexual assault and gender-based violence, just the thought of paying them less is, in my opinion, egregious. I remember the first time I witnessed a menopausal woman experiencing a hot flash. I was working at the University Hospital of the West Indies, and was having a conversation with a senior nurse in a parking lot, when she suddenly said, “I feel it coming.”

I watched in amazement as her face suddenly became drenched with sweat, plunging her into obvious discomfort. This was in the middle of the day, and she was at work, and expected to perform as well as anybody else.

I will concede that there are specific situations where pay inequality may be justified. For example, if male athletes in a particular sport are attracting more spectators, and bringing in more revenue than their female counterparts, a reasonable argument may be put forward to defend paying them more.

But in other scenarios, such as in the corporate world, where a woman and a man are doing the same job and have the same qualifications and level of experience, it is unconscionable to pay the women even one cent less than the man. Women need to unite and call out organisations that still engage in this archaic practice, but they need the support of men as well. After all, we are the ones who institute these systems, and we have the power to end them, if we really love our women the way we say we do.