May 15, 2007

women, work, babies and other big stuff

legal eagle and miss v have astutely brought to fore the current coverage of howard government rhetoric towards 'stay-at-home mums', and the apparent 'punishment' of women who choose to become parents.

the government's self-promotion as family-friendly leaves a lot to be desired. when looking at paid childcare - including costs, availability, quality, standardisation of learning etc - it's hard to see where the government actually assists in real terms; that can also be said of assistance to the stay-at-home mums howard refers to in this article. rg thinks the government believes women have partners with delicious incomes to take care of them like in the golden days of yore.

the human rights and equal opportunity commission chief john von doussa has said women are 'punished' in the workforce for creating the next generation. i prefer the term marginalised. women are financially marginalised in three key aspects: loss of income and job security; no standard for paid maternity leave, and significantly lessened superannuation contributions. as a general rule, women lose income for a substantial period of time, often re-entering the workforce at the end of their 12 months unpaid leave on a part-time basis. less money earned = less super = less financial independence. this is a colossal challenge as a feminist: embracing the maternal role, caring for your child, watching your career drift onto a different level and losing retirement security in the process. the world is geared toward double incomes; this loss of financial security effectively sentences women to partner-up in order to financially survive past their child-bearing years.

in lieu of paid maternity leave, the government has offered the baby bonus. the good news is, if you have private health cover the $4000 baby bonus might cover your obstetrics bill. true it is when you have a child all incoming money (note, not income) is to be cherished, but $4000 shows lack of reality. a lump sum also shows lack of commitment to women and mothers (it's noted not all carers are mothers); it's something that appears politically generous but isn't; there's no long-term thinking being applied to the situation. i view it more as hush money - here's your cash, now bugger off!

years ago the world health organisation stipulated paid maternity leave for 16 weeks should be compulsory for all women. 16 weeks is what the organisation believes is the minimum time a woman needs to physically recover from birth. this doesn't take into account how long it can take to psychologically recover from birth. for government to live up to its family-friendly rhetoric, legislation in line with the WHO recommendations, coupled with appropriate assistance for psychological recovery (seeing a psychologist is great, but when you're still out of pocket $80 after the medicare rebate, it can it financially prohibitive) would be a start.

generally, women earn less than men, have less superannuation, hold fewer executive positions, have less job security and have their careers paused with query for recovery and advancement. in addition, losing paid time at work for doctor's appointments, morning sickness, pregnancy complications not only mucks with money, but also with workplace relations. i have known women who have resigned months before their intended departure date simply because a healthy work environment had become completely untenable; sometimes it's easier to go and cut your losses. should the time to return to PAID work rear its head, that's when the real balancing comes in. taking into account daycare, transport costs, additional food expenses, stress and inflexibility as far as working hours due to childcare time commitments, the real cost of returning to paid work can be a break-even exercise, if not a financial loss. yet another way women are marginalised - the money/independence/career or the baby? what a crippling choice.

such are the ways women are marginalised, punished, isolated, challenged and disenfranchised due to their phenomenal biological ability to create, grow and birth another human being. let me say that again - their phenomenal biological ability to create, grow and birth another human being. RESPECT. it's a sad reflection of a society that doesn't see the value and power of that role, the strength that women discover and demonstrate when submerged in it. what a gift to our community.

why is it men telling women they are family-friendly? women are not a burden that need to be 'managed' or discreted away when they have children. women don't stop being women when they have babies; mothers are not creatures with no sense of self, dreams, wants and needs. most would argue children come first, but the balancing is constant. sometimes the mum needs to come first, and it's this point the government misses every single time.


missv said...

I like your description of the baby bonus as "hush money" very apt!

Legal Eagle said...

Three cheers for you RG, agree wholeheartedly.

RG - parental politico said...

despite not being delivered in a brown paper bag by hired goons, it's still buying something - whether that be a vote, silence, peace of mind or a confused idea the government really gives a toss.

missv said...

Now I have visions of hired goons turning up at the maternity wards across Australia and handing out the baby bonus (in paper bags) to confused parents ... I love it!

cherry ripe said...

Hear hear, from one mum to another. I'm about to have our second contribution to the next generation, so I'm facing even more years of poverty and being passed over for promotions and experiences. My boss's attitude? "Shouldn't you just stop trying to do everything and enjoy being a mum for a while?"


RG - parental politico said...

fret not, cherry ripe - there will come a day when people understand that motherhood involves actually doing everything and is often completely free of the luxury of sitting back and enjoying a single aspect of the role. it's just going to be a really frustrating time for women and carers until there's a collective scream of "ENOUGH!"

that said, congratulations on your second precious contribution!