Thursday, 27 October 2022

Equality for women?

The Prime Minister is now telling us that he is putting "equality for women centre of the budget". Apparently he is doing this with "cheaper child care, investing in women's safety, and six months paid parental leave". 

I am not sure how this works. We have already discovered that the "cheaper childcare" item is nonsense. That is nothing more than spreading the cost further. 

Investing in women's safety? The initiatives came from the previous government, indeed before that. We had a previous Prime Minister - one famously accused of being a "misogynist" - who actually tried very hard to get more done while spending part of his leave working with indigenous people. One of the reasons for doing that was to try and better understand how the problems arose so that any programs would be more effective. There is nothing new about this investment. The programs are simply being rebranded and the "new" funding is just coming from other sources. That is not to say that these things are not important or necessary. They are. Just don't say they are new initiatives concerned with the equality of women.

And "paid parental leave"? The government is not paying for that. Employers are paying for it. Yes, of course every employer will be happy to pay out for twenty weeks, rising to twenty-six weeks. 

Don't get me wrong. I think it is a very good idea for parent and child to be together that way. If it encourages bonding and breast feeding and other positives then it is a good thing. I am not sure however that it will really mean everyone will be able to take it. There will be pressure to return to work - especially if  "cheaper childcare" is also in the mix.

And to my way of thinking there is a great deal more to equality for women than these things. The idea that "going to work" somehow represents "equality" is something I find difficult to understand. 

My mother went back to work full time when the Black Cat was three. It was not something she intended to do. The Education Department asked her to return. At the time they were so desperately short of teachers they were doing "pressure cooker" courses for women - six months of intensive training - and then sending them out into the classroom. My mother, as a fully trained and certificated teacher, was considered too valuable to stay at home. Negotiations were made. The Black Cat could go to school too. In the two teacher rural school (the Senior Cat had the upper classes) my youngest sibling could wander in and out of the classroom while her mother taught. My mother was paid at the same rate as those women with six months of training - a rate less than men. Was this equality? No, of course it wasn't. 

That in itself was bad enough but my mother also had to deal with keeping house and bringing up a family. The Senior Cat always worried that he did not do enough to help. In reality he did far more than most men of his day but women still did more. They still do more. Even in households where the activities of daily living are supposedly shared women still seem to do more than men, often much more. This is what the "equality of women" returning to the work force really looks like. It's a much more complex issue than being able to go back to work and have someone else help to pay to care for your children while you earn the same wage as your partner. 

Of course some people want to go back to work. Others believe they need to go back to work. Is going back to work about equality for women though?

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