Written By: - Date published: 12:11 pm, June 27th, 2013 - 11 comments
Categories: business, capitalism, employment, feminism, john key, Left, socialism, Unions, wages - Tags: marilyn waring, unpaid work
I tend to regard anything launched by the Fairfax Media with suspicion, especially when it’s partnered with Westpac. However, I do think there’s something to be said for their last (Gillard-inspired?) initiative: their launch of the the Westpac-Fairfax Women of Influence NZ awards. On average, women are in less powerful an highly paid jobs than men. And the pay gap is stuck at women earning on average around 80% of that for men. Many women (along with some men) do not receive social recognition for their valuable (often unpaid or underpaid) contributions to society. However, the Fairfax awards put too much focus on an individualist approach that foregrounds money, profits and business.
The first problem I have with these awards, is that it is included in the business section of the Stuff website. And along with that, the main focus of the explanatory article by Fiona Rotherham is on women as leaders and as high paid executives. Furthermore, the focus is on individual women who have a major “influence” on the everyday lives of Kiwis.
The underlying, implied values are of an individualistic meritocracy, and more aligned with the male dominated “Networks of influence”, into which John Key has spent most of his life trying to insert himself.
However, another article about Marilyn Waring by Terje Langeland, which is included in the Stuff “Women Of Influence” section, does seem to point in a totally different direction. It focuses on Waring’s long time research and campaigning around the issue of unpaid work largely done by women.
Twenty-five years after she directed a broadside at the global economic order for ignoring the unpaid work women do, Marilyn Waring is still waiting.
Her 1988 book, “If Women Counted,” persuaded the United Nations to redefine gross domestic product, inspired new accounting methods in dozens of countries and became the founding document of the discipline of feminist economics.
For all that, Waring notes, men dominate most institutions that rule the economy.
“It’s a disappointment to still find ourselves in a pretty barren desert,” said Waring, 60, a professor of public policy at Auckland University of Technology, and a former MP and Reserve Bank board member.
Women who do rise to leadership in business, finance and politics often find themselves playing by rules that don’t suit them – and that don’t necessarily lead to good decisions for the planet, Waring said.
“You really need to be a testosterone junkie in lots of these positions,” she said. “And if you don’t want to be a testosterone junkie, then you’re left out of the game.”
Much of the world’s economic activity takes place in the form of unpaid work by women: from fetching water, carrying firewood and tending animals in subsistence agricultural countries, to caring for children, the sick and elderly in developing and developed nations alike. Much of this is still left out of GDP calculations and policy decisions.
“When you don’t have all of that in front of you, you just make really bad policy,” she said. “You make very bad policy about the next generation, about the environment.”
I think there is a huge problem in the way economists and related developers of government policies judge the economic value of work. They tend to ignore or undervalue the work (paid and unpaid) that has been traditionally done by women. Often this work makes a more positive contribution to the social and economic good than some highly paid jobs in the private sector- banksters who speculate on money and do nothing productive, for instance.
The exploitative nature of gender inequality, resulting in underpayment for work, is also highlighted in the current case being considered by a judge. John Ryall, Servo’s National Secretary, explained the issue in a post on The Standard on Monday. It has to do with the fact that female-dominated occupations suffer from the historical legacy of being paid less than male-dominated occupations requiring similar levels of skills and effort.
The case, taken by the Service and Food Workers Union supported by the Nurses Organisation, focuses on long-term caregiver Kristine Bartlett and whether her pay rate of $14.43 an hour is consistent with the Equal Pay Act 1972.
The Union’s argument is that the Equal Pay Act 1972, which extended the 1960 Government Service Equal Pay Act to the private sector, is designed not just to bring equal pay between male and female pay rates for the same work in the same workplace, but has provisions to apply a broader application.
It is envisaged in section 3(1)(b) of the Equal Pay Act, which says that in female-dominated occupations the Employment Court needs to assess what a male worker would be paid for the same skills, responsibility, service and degree of effort if the gender segmentation did not exist.
There may be some benefits to women in general by recognising achievements in business and leadership. However, until there are systemic changes, this will mainly benefit a small number of high-flying women, and reinforce the elitist values and power of the likes of Westpac and Fairfax Media.
A left wing approach to gender (and other) inequalities and exploitation, would be more focused on
And it wouldn’t be aligning itself with a celebrity culture approach to rewarding individual women (and men) in business.