Share and value care this 16 Days of Activism

November 26, 2020

Day 2 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence

By Melissa Rowland, WHGNE Health Promotion Worker

In a gender equal society, caring and domestic work enjoy the same cultural value as paid work in a boardroom. But in 2020, this is not the case. 

With women taking on far more of the unpaid labour and additional education and child caring responsibilities during Victoria’s lockdown compared with men, the Covid-19 pandemic has un-done decades of progress, setting us back in our fight for gender equal households and a gender equal society. Some commentators are labelling the lockdown the ‘Return of the 1950s Housewife’. 

The gender gap in unemployment and earning capacity has also widened, with more women losing their jobs or reducing their hours compared with men during the pandemic. The social and economic burden of the Covid-19 lockdown has been disproportionately felt by women. Women make up 61 per cent of Victorian Covid-19 job losses and have unfairly taken on the increased, unpaid workload that has come with a full house and home-schooling responsibilities. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted existing issues with the Australian early childhood education system – an already expensive and inaccessible service for many families. With very few vacant, affordable places for regional children to attend childcare, many women across our region have already been forced to make the decision to stay home with their children and forgo a formal wage. Not only does this choice – if you could call it that – effect the ability for the individual woman to participate in the formal workforce, earn a fair wage, and develop her professional skills, but it reinforces the lack of value that is placed on caring and domestic work.

Women contribute $205 billion in unpaid labour to the Victorian economy alone.

“But Australian men are too busy working full-time to be able to provide for their families!”

Not only does this support the unhealthy stereotype of men being the sole financial providers while women take on the role of emotional providers, but it is simply untrue. Compared to men working full-time, women in full-time employment are twice as likely to do at least 15 hours of unpaid domestic work per week 

In a recent workshop, we challenged a group of young people to think about this problem from a different perspective – what if women were not expected to take on caring and domestic work, and they were supported to participate fully in the formal workforce?  

One way in which this could become possible is through the introduction of universal free childcare. The Victorian Government have already committed to funding free kindergarten for children in 2021 in a positive first step on the road to recovery from Covid-19. Early childhood education and care is essential for the positive development of young children, and should be an available option for all families, regardless of their ability to pay.  

Another way in which families can be supported is through the implementation of workplace policies and practices that support all parents, regardless of their gender, to take time off work to care for children. With men and fathers given the green light to take time off to care for their children, we create opportunities for their female partners and peers in the workplace. 

Outside of the home, the care workforce is predominantly female and entirely undervalued. In Victoria, four-fifths of employees in the health care and social assistance sector are women yet there is still a 15.2 per cent gender pay gap in favour of men. In addition, this workforce is made up of mostly part-time and casual workers, further impacting their ability to earn a full-time wage. 

Looking closely at the education sector, and in particular, preschool education – 86.7 per cent of the workforce is female, more than two-thirds (70.2 per cent) works casually or part-time, and the full-time gender wage gap is 28 per cent, in favour of men. What was that about being undervalued? 

This year, in recognition of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, we call on you to share and value care in your homes, families and communities. In your workplaces, we ask that you make it possible for others to share the care – talk to your workforce and understand how you can better support men, women and gender-diverse people to participate equally in care and domestic work.