The official theme of International Women’s Day this year is “Inspiring Change”. It’s a little vague, a little aspirational, not too confrontational – fairly typical for this kind of awareness-raising exercise.
But it is 2014, and it’s an election year, and the way we talk about women, and women’s work, does have the potential to inspire change in New Zealand.
Right now Kristine Bartlett, with the support of the Service and Food Workers’ Union, is breaking new ground. She’s worked in elder care for years, doing incredibly important, physically and emotionally demanding work, for $14.32 an hour. I think everyone can agree those kind of wages are pitiful. But the argument is bigger than that. It asks not ‘should a woman be paid the same as a man for the same work?’ – a question which, I’m sorry to say, is still not settled for some employers – but this:
Should a traditional ‘woman’s job’ be paid the same as a traditional ‘man’s job’ which involves the same skills and experience?
There are difficulties and complexities and all kinds of side issues which get raised – Kristine’s employer Terranova just wants to make the whole issue about how much funding they get, and a lot of armchair experts will opine that it’s comparing apples and oranges and this lets us ignore the fact that a lot of traditional ‘men’s work’ gets paid a lot better than ‘women’s work’.
But the fact remains that we’re talking about ‘women’s work’. We’re talking about the terrible wages a woman-dominated workforce is paid to do a vital job in our society. Take the gender issue out of the picture, and we’re talking about how capitalism exploits people who have such compassion and caring in their hearts that they’ll look after others for $14.32 an hour – and that’s not right.
And as Jan Logie has noted in her blog, our current government has a terrible track record on ‘women’s issues’ – along with everything else. On this International Women’s Day, let’s inspire a change – of government!
(I do note that the concept of a “women’s day” isn’t perfect. There are still a lot of women who are marginalised or erased in discussions of “women’s issues”, and a lot of people who reject the man/woman gender divide. Their lives deserve recognition too.)