All’s Fair in Love and War… but not Women’s Pay.

The Box Factory*

I’m wondering if I may have done my older daughters a disservice. I raised them to believe that with an education and belief in their abilities as a person, they could achieve success and realise their ambitions.  Whatever they may be. I didn’t think I needed to warn them that as they entered the workforce they would be fighting gender inequity, the boys club and sexual harassment. These were in the past, battles already won by women strapping on their Armani armour and conquering the male-dominated world of work. That women as individuals and workers would be afforded the same intrinsic value as men. Feminists could quietly retire and leave the new generation to get on with their lives.

If only it were true.

Here are some sobering statistics about the reality of Australian women’s lives.

Women make up 45% of Australia’s workforce. But according to the Australian Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (AEOWWA), only 3% of CEOs are female, 8% of senior executives and 13% of the board membership of Australia’s top companies are women.

Women’s average full-time weekly earnings are now 17.2% less than their male counterparts and the gap is widening. When part-time and casual work is taken into consideration, the total earnings gap is 34%.

Australian women are 21/2 times more likely to live in poverty during their old age than men. By 2019, women will have only half the amount of superannuation than men.

And if you think we’re not doing too badly by world standards, think again. The World Economic Forum released its Fifth Annual Report on World Gender Equality in October 2010. Overall, Australia scored 72% for gender equality. Iceland scored 85 %, Norway 84% and New Zealand 78%. Surprisingly, The Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Mozambique all ranked higher than Australia.

  • Economic Participation and Opportunity – Australia ranked 24th, New Zealand 9th
  • Political Empowerment – Australia 39th, coming in behind Bangladesh, Angola, Nepal, Malawi and New Zealand (8th)
  • Health and Survival. Well, we should be fine here shouldn’t we? Um, no. Australian women ranked an appalling 73rd. Who’s healthier? Moldova, Mongolia, Guyana and Kazakhstan. But at least we do much better than New Zealand, they ranked a lowly 91st.
  • Not so surprisingly, Australia ranked equal 1st (along with 22 other countries) for providing educational opportunities for our girls.

So, if we are investing in the education of our girls, what goes wrong? The AEOWWA cites stereotypical views about women’s abilities and roles, the often segregated work of women, the unequal distribution of overtime, discretionary pay and allowances and promotions, caring responsibilities and the low value placed on the work women do.

The minimum wage in Australia is $15.51. The basic hourly rate for a childcare worker is $17.65.  We place little worth on the most fundamental of roles, raising our children. It is primarily viewed as women’s work, as are domestic chores in general. It is still men, or the perceived masculine role, to enter the workforce and undertake ‘real’ work. Until we honour and respect the carers of our children, the elderly and disabled (overwhelmingly women) then I don’t believe women will be treated as equals in the workplace.

Women do the work that is at the heart of our society for free, but often at considerable cost to their careers and sometimes their own emotional well-being. If women were to be paid for running their households, raising children, taking time off or early retirement to look after elderly parents, what value would we give it?

Australia has a long way to go. Australian women still have a fight on our hands. It really isn’t much to ask that we be compensated fairly for the work that we do in the workforce and respected for the work we do in our homes.

*Image Credit

The unofficial Part One to this Post can be read here.

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