Venus Williams earned her place to be one of the most privileged women in tennis (if not in the world), but even her privilege did not always equate to equal income. As the tennis legend wrote in an editorial for British Vogue timed in tandem with Equal Pay Day for Women on March 24, her own battle to close the gender pay gap in tennis paralleled that of women around the world, who, on average, earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.
“When I first won Wimbledon in 2000, the men’s singles champion received £ 477,500 while the women’s singles champion won £ 430,000,” Williams recalls. “From that moment on, I felt compelled to campaign for women’s equality. “
As Williams notes, this battle didn’t start with her but began to rage in tennis when the sport became fully professional in the late 1960s. It was trailblazer Billie Jean King who also spearheaded the conversation about equality across sport. , not only by playing in the famous “Battle of the Sexes”, but by forming the Women’s tennis association (WTA) to give voice and collective strength to female tennis players around the world. Still, it would take 39 years to reach parity in prize money for female players, with Williams becomes the first to do so in 2007 — on her Fourth Wimbledon Championship.
“I firmly believe that sport reflects life and that life reflects sport,” she writes now. “The lack of equality and equal opportunities in tennis is a symptom of the obstacles women face around the world”,
Williams’ argument is supported by grim statistics in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. In 2019, a World Economic Forum study estimated that it would take about 257 years to close the wage gap. An October 2020 report between The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress revealed that the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women – who have been forced out of the workforce at a rate four times that of their male counterparts – could stunt the progress of another generation unless drastic measures are taken.
“Closing the economic gender gap requires action at the national and international level as well as at the corporate level,” Williams writes, adding:
Some fixes can be implemented faster than others. For starters, while women are often under-represented in management positions in companies, they are overrepresented in low-paying jobs increasing the minimum wage is therefore a priority. Then there is the urgent need for transparency; if women don’t know they are not being paid fairly, how can they do anything about it? Child care and medical leave must also be extended to create equal opportunities for women as they are more likely to take time off work to take care of their families.
And just like calls for racial justice, injustice over the gender pay gap is not a woman’s job to fix, Williams postulates. “Sexism is no more a women’s problem than racism is a black problem,” she said. “Men need to understand that gender equality is about equal opportunities for women rather than the relinquishment of power by men. “
Most importantly, it benefits everyone. While women still bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities, and Black women are more likely to also be the head of the Housework but even further behind in terms of equal pay (62 cents to the dollar, to date), one thing is clear, says the tennis champion: “When women are well, the family is well and the economy too. , we all win “