We cannot expect the Minister for Women to lead the changes for gender equality

May 2, 2022
Marise Payne
Senator the Hon Marise Payne is the Minister for Women, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Image: Flickr / Department of Foreign Affairs

A federal election in sight always creates feminist optimistic hopes that long-term inequities will be on agendas and addressed. But gender equality policy making in 2022 isn’t working.

There are multitudes of gender biased inequitable policies that need to be fixed so how do we achieve attention and action? The problem may be labelling these as targeting women reduces their importance by expecting Ministers for women to promote them,

For example, the gender wage gap continues to deliver lower pay rates for feminised jobs that may reflect care and other feminised roles in the wider society. This causes unfair continuing gaps in the financial. So nursing, teaching, personal care and other such jobs are lower paid and feminised, so . creating visible gaps in pay for masculine and feminine work skills and contributions and create the unfair gender pay gap and female poverty.

Legal changes, finalised in the eighties to ensure the rights to equal pay did not identify the need to fix continuing problems of male gender biased skill assessments still used to define the equal value. The prevalence of very high proportions of male and female workers in different jobs and industries has made it easy to maintain big gender differentials of pay rates. The unfair gender bias in valuing skills continues and the only corrections on offer are programs that assist women to train for higher paid jobs in male STEM areas. Interestingly, there is now some evidence that the more women in some such jobs is reducing the pay levels! There is no serious recognition that the unfair low pay in feminised areas is creating major social and financial issues, despite the pandemic results showing that low pay threatens effective care services. Ergo this is a broad social issue not just women’s needs.

So, this election comes at a time the problems of unfair pay differences are creating serious problems in health and aged care services plus. There are staff shortages and more care skills in demand. Most workers in health and related social services such as aged and disability care need higher valued care skills and services. As these are badly paid, there are shortages and a seriously delayed wage setting process. Were this needed set of changes not seen as ‘women’s stuff’ would there have been these ongoing delays?
The continuing gender wage gap has a long history, originally from a gender differential in the Basic Wage (1908) that assumed men were the breadwinners, so underpay women workers! It took a long time to create small steps to formal equal pay for work of equal value. Since the eighties the gender gap had stuck around 14%. The aged care crisis and the pandemic illustrate the difficulties this unfair gendered issue causes mainstreamed crises so needs to be addressed it fast.

Were it already identified as a crisis caused by unfair wage rates, preventing a good health delivery rather than a women’s issue, it is more likely to have been prioritised for change. So, this is a good current example of the dangers of classifying policy items as being women’s issues by putting them under a Women’s Ministry. This issue urgent, with Aged Care being a crisis on the election agenda of both major parties competition. So the gender wage gap should be the responsibility of a senior Minister maybe the Treasurer to ensure funding and the Health Ministers, with full agreements from the states and territories, to fix this current serious issue urgently,

There are many other issues that need to put on priority timing. Feminism has seen new effective political action by young women as they added their presence and voice to fixing the risks and workplace examples of assault by men. The focus on the workplace and home as sites in which victimisation occurs, Multitude of reported assaults, rapes and harassment are very serious but most of the services are for victims with few aimed at perpetrators/macho cultures socialisation.
Domestic violence and rape were part of the agenda of the second wave that revived feminist activism 60+ years ago so why have these issues not yet been curtailed and properly addressed? The incidence does not seem to be reducing, and serious changes to better gender relations and less aggro behaviour is not evident, Some services for victims post the incidents have improved, the aggressions and potential ones are not reducing,

We have had formal responses to male behaviours in certain workplaces, extra leave for victims at work, and other such actions. Despite now having three women as Ministers with responsibilities for aspects of ‘women’s needs’ these have other ‘more important’ roles as well. There are no signs that the necessary changes to the wider society attitudes to partners, co-workers and strangers are being discussed. Should these issues be put under the Minister of Education or Health?

Portfolio Responsibilities
• Senator the Hon Marise Payne is the Minister for Women, Minister for Foreign Affairs
• Senator the Hon Anne Ruston is Minister for Families and Social Services, Minister for Women’s Safety.
• Senator the Hon Jane Hume: Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy, Minister for Women’s economic security

Maybe we need a Minister for Wellbeing, to make societies more civil and safe! We need to ensure that community cohesion and wellbeing is somewhere on the agenda and not assumed to be private! The above roles seem to leave the sectors of women even more powerless.

The last 20 plus years have seen some serious feminist advances but few of us challenge the core gender bias issues. Most gains have been limited to women improving their access to male defined power, So, there are now more women in high positions but the needed shifts to the wider serious gender equity goals are not included.

These include valuing our social contributions fairly, recognising the benefits of unpaid work to society and other more radical changes to what is social and politically valued. It is nearly 50 years since the UN IWY (The International Women’s Year) set equality goals. Women have made limited progress here and elsewhere because the extensive shifts to macho driven neoliberalism since the 90s have effectively limited social progress!

So how can feminists and supporters plan election action now? We thought in the 70s that having a Minister for Women and her advisors, a new option, would be useful as official access points for ideas and options. There were few senior women in positions of power then. It worked well for a while but by the 90s the shifts in the roles of the public services, more privatisation and fewer new social equity. fairness changes. So, it is time for explaining why it’s time to mainstream the social issues to return voter trust of democratic agendas via a social contract. This will reassure voters that governments are there to govern for all, not just for macho economic growth!

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