Coming Of Age: The Sex Discrimination Act, Women, Men, Work And Family

Pru Goward, Sex Discrimination CommissionerThe federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, says it is time to put paid and unpaid work and family responsibilities in the spotlight.

In an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Ms Goward said there was a need to closely examine these issues to better understand the pressures facing men and women and the barriers to balancing work and family in Australia today.

The Commissioner used the occasion to launch a new Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission project titled Striking the Balance: Women, Men, Work and Family.

  • Listen to Goward’s Address to the National Press Club, including question and answer session.

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  • Human Right and Equal Opportunity Commission – Sex Discrimination

This is the text of a media release from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward.

PUTTING WORK AND FAMILY ISSUES IN THE SPOTLIGHT

It’s 2005 – and it’s about time we put paid and unpaid work and family responsibilities in the spotlight, federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward said today.

In an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Ms Goward said we need to closely examine these issues to better understand the pressures facing men and women and the barriers to balancing work and family in Australia today.

The Commissioner used the occasion to launch a new Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission project titled Striking the Balance: Women, Men, Work and Family.

“This new project is about how men and women manage their paid and unpaid work and the impact this is having on us as families, as communities and as a nation,” Ms Goward said.

“The project is about the time that money doesn’t want to buy. It is about avoiding the inevitable consequences of sharing our unpaid work as unequally as we do.

“The national debate over paid maternity leave was described as a ‘barbecue stopper’ – well I’m here to tell you this will stop those barbies again. These are conversations long overdue.”

The Commissioner said that for 21 years the Sex Discrimination Act, and indeed women throughout Australia, have focused on the world of work. Governments have responded: they have legislated for equal pay and maternity leave entitlements; worked to ensure greater access to traditionally male occupations and industries; and spent billions on child care subsidies.

“This has all been to the great advantage of the Australian economy and the Australian people. It has enabled us to expand our workforce, raise family living standards and economic growth,” Ms Goward said.

“But a day for a family is 24 hours, not merely those we spend at work. And for 21 years the Act has been almost silent on the remainder.

“We cannot continue to agitate about inequality between men and women in the workplace when many of its seeds are sown in the home. Unpaid care is priceless; it’s time we said so and shared it better.”

This is the transcript of Pru Goward’s Address to the National Press Club.

Coming of Age: the Sex Discrimination Act, Women, Men, Work and Family

Thank you for those introductory remarks Mr. President.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I would first like to thank those dozens of men who have already contacted me to tell me how much they do at home. They are not SNAGS either – they are middle aged doctors, MPs, men in their fifties and sixties as well as younger, men who like fishing and shooting and men with sons they say are just as good at changing nappies or whipping up a meal as their wives.

Since The Weekend Australian has so thoroughly outed my domestic arrangements, I’ve also had a few calls from men willing to swap their cooking tips with my husband – apparently Patak’s curry paste is not the only way to make a mouth watering meal without being able to cook.

I have yet to hear from any man who thinks sharing the domestic load is a bad idea. So that is an excellent beginning to my new project; there is hope.

There needs to be.

It’s 2005 – and it’s time we put unpaid family responsibilities under the microscope. This new project, Striking the Balance: Women, Men, Work and Family is about how men and women manage their paid and unpaid work and the impact this is having on us as families, as communities and as a nation.

It is about whether we could better share our unpaid caring responsibilities – for not only ourselves and our families, but for economic prosperity, the challenge of ageing and indeed the very sustainability of Australia’s population.

While we know a lot about who is doing the caring and why, and carers receive more government assistance than ever before, there have not been the policy interventions, community debate or serious consideration of the economic imperatives that would drive change in attitudes and, significantly, in practice.

What this project is not about is blame. It’s not about how unfair it is that men don’t clean the bathroom and women don’t die at 65 of heart attacks because they’ve spent a lifetime flogging themselves for ungrateful employers.

This is, I hope, the beginning of a bold and honest conversation at the barbecue, around the kitchen table or in the car, polite but pointed conversations between the churches and their flocks, bosses and their staff, policy makers and departments, even between members of cabinet, all about the value of time and of caring.

The national debate over paid maternity leave was described as a ‘barbecue stopper’ – well I’m here to tell you this will stop those barbies again.

Because these are conversations long overdue.

It’s about that quarter of all Australian men who work more than 50 hours a week and don’t know what to say when told they need to be mentors to their sons and daughters.

It’s about teenage children with nobody home, or mothers anxiously sitting on the bus worried about getting to the child care centre before it shuts, or picking a sick child up from school before they vomit again.

It’s about husbands and wives angrily confronting each other over who does what – or not confronting each other and walking out.

It’s about the half of marriages which end in divorce over a 30 year period – with who does what at home often to blame. It’s about fathers and custody after divorce, and male role modelling.

It’s about frail elderly parents ringing their children at work to tell them they’ve been robbed or need to see a doctor, and middle aged children unable to come because all hell is also breaking loose at work and it’s a 40-minute drive each way.

It is about grandfathers who say they have spent more time with their grandchildren than their own children.

It is not about all families all the time, and certainly it is true that many families manage to avoid these stresses almost entirely, but it is the reality for countless others.

It is not the fault of women, or of men. Rather, we are at the half way point of the crossing, the most vulnerable, deepest part of the crossing that is the huge social change Australia started out on thirty years ago, when women first joined the workforce on a permanent and equal basis with men.

This project is about the time that money doesn’t want to buy. It is about avoiding the inevitable consequences of sharing our unpaid work as unequally as we do.

To begin with, you could say the way couples divvy up their unpaid caring responsibilities is not even good for the world of paid work, the economic world. Although 60% of Australian women are in paid work, by Western standards we are low to middle of the range. Try almost 90% percent in parts of Scandinavia.

Australia currently has a record low unemployment rate of just over 5% and the pressure is on – on wages especially, with interest rate rises yet to come.

In the OECD’s 2004 Economic Survey of Australia, unsurprisingly it was recommended that Australia increase the size of its workforce, especially its older worker numbers, to maintain economic growth.

And we could, easily. Australian women over the age of 55 have, by Western standards, only average participation, 40%. A bit lower than Portugal, not as low as Turkey and Greece and Italy, but much lower than northern Europe, the UK and the US. In Sweden, 70% of women 55 to 64 are in paid work.

But as the Treasurer, Peter Costello, has recently reminded us, it is also about encouraging younger women to work. Australian women between 35 and 44, the peak child bearing years, work far less than their foreign sisters. More than half young Australian mothers don’t return to work before the child is six.

Many will say that is a good thing for many Australian families; evidence from the rest of the world however suggests that it is possible for more of us to successfully combine paid work with parenting than we do, and there are great risks for families today in not having two working parents.

The reasons women don’t work more in Australia are clear – while some just prefer it, others consider they have caring responsibilities for their partners and children and increasingly, responsibilities for the elderly which, when combined with paid work, would make their lives impossible. In fact, 88.5% of parents receiving informal primary care are cared for by their daughters.

It’s no wonder women work less here than they do elsewhere – there’s only so much they can fit in a day.

Yes, they have subsidised child care and one of the highest part-time work rates in the Western world, but between their kids, their parents and their jobs, they are working not a double shift, but a triple one.

On average, Australian women do 12.58 hours of paid and unpaid work a day all up, compared with men on 10.7 hours of paid and unpaid work combined – and we’re counting washing the car, mowing the lawns and getting the petrol in here.

Sixty percent of women in full time work also do more than twelve hours housework a week – and don’t think they scrub the bath for love.

Mothers in paid work also sleep less; have less time for personal grooming and less child free leisure time than anyone else, even working dads. And for all this effort, they end up as poor old ladies, living on half the retirement savings of men.

None of this means it is men’s fault, but it does mean they need to be part of the solution.

Because at a certain point women are going to start challenging this uneven allocation of unpaid work. They are already getting snappy, if the talk back I’ve taken since the project was announced is any guide. You might say it is amazing that Australia’s got away with it for so long.

Women today can barely afford to drop out of work and stop paying into superannuation so they can care for their elderly parents – yet at the moment employed women make up a third of all primary carers.

This will change fast. Increasingly women instead will insist that responsibility for their parents is shared with their brothers and partners. And if nobody does it, how does a declining percentage of tax payers foot a bill for formal care alone which is predicted to go up 2 and a half times faster than Australia’s GNP over the next 40 years?

Increasingly women won’t give up their jobs or promotional opportunities, increasingly they won’t stay at home or work part time when the children need them – instead they’ll seek to share that load with their partners, or just not have children.

It is quite a dilemma – definitely barbecue stopper material.

While economic growth and the need for decent superannuation will drive women to work more, the pressures of elder care and unsupportive work environments will drive them to work less.

No wonder half of Australian marriages break up in a 30 year period. They must be a frequent early casualty of the battle between work and family. As labour economist Barbara Pocock’s research shows, the ‘hidden costs’ of these pressures for women are significant, being a source of anger, tiredness and relationship strain in many marriages, and for some constituting grounds for divorce.

As it is, 50 percent of all marriage break ups are instigated by women. That means there must be a lot of surprised men in Australia who thought the division of unpaid caring responsibilities in their households was just fine as they worked their 50 hour weeks until the night they came home to an empty house and a note telling him she had decided to leave, along with their children.

The next surprise is when they start talking to counselors or the Family Court about having their children with them for more than weekends. They are unable to claim the depth and strength of bonds their children have with mothers who, by contrast, spent hours each day with their children and have part time work that suits them.

Fathers in these situations are destined to become weekend Disney dads, at great loss and sadness for all concerned – their children, their grandparents, themselves. And don’t forget the mothers, who frequently become impoverished single parents with limited opportunities for paid work. Not always, but often.

It is impossible to look at the division of unpaid caring responsibilities without also considering what it means for Australia’s fertility rate. For so long as motherhood means either greater economic risk, more, not less housework and no leisure time, why would you be surprised to find Australian women choosing to have fewer children?

In the 20 years since 1980, only-child families have gone from being one in five of all Australian families to one in three. In Sydney and Melbourne you can find primary schools where half the classes are made up of one child families.

This has huge social implications.

Nobody to fight with, be picked on by, share with, learn to negotiate with. No aunties and uncles or cousins either.

You might be interested to know that China is already living with the consequences of a one child policy – and recently they’ve changed the rules so that only children of only children may now have more than one child.

There used to be a joke that if men had children there might be one child but there would never be two. You don’t hear that joke so much anymore, because the same is now true of women.

If we make anything too hard, if we don’t support it enough, we shouldn’t be surprised if fewer and fewer people do it.

Today’s birthrate of 1.75 children per woman, well below the replacement level of 2.1, is even lower than the birthrate during the Depression. There is absolute agreement that it is unsustainable.

However, Australia’s only now starting to take the fertility challenge seriously – employer-provided paid maternity leave, the government’s maternity allowance, subsidized child care and a range of industrial flexibilities are necessary responses. But there are as yet no initiatives that encourage men to be more engaged as parents, to share the load – and so long as this remains the case, there has to be a limit on how many children a woman is prepared to have.

Very few women are prepared to embark on motherhood alone or with a man who cannot contribute unpaid time.

Of course, many men say that those who do take time out for their family responsibilities are immediately moved to the never-to-be-promoted daddy track, doomed not to reach senior ranks.

Surely this must change?

Especially in this day and age, when we have working lives of 50 years looming before us, a couple of years of less intense work should not be a death sentence.

Because when it comes to increasing fertility there is a limit to how much employers can accommodate families; there is a limit to how much money governments can give families; and certainly a limit on the necessity of doing so in a country which does not have an agreed population goal.

In the end, how many children we have is up to us.

Australians need to start taking on board the consequences of squeezing and stressing domestic life until it bursts at the seams and childlessness, or fewer children than people want, become the easy option.

However you look at it, relationship breakdown, custody arrangements, the feminization of poverty, care outcomes for our elderly, the fertility rate and economic growth are directly related to how well we divvy up our unpaid caring work between men and women. It goes without saying that it also has a bearing on equality between the sexes.

There’s no debate about who is bearing the lion’s share of the unpaid burden, with of course, honourable exceptions, because government national time use statistics tell the story.

Time use surveys show Australian men do more with their children than ever before, but rarely instead of working. For example, Australian men are more likely to take bereavement leave than carer leave – for either a sick child or a sick parent, even though both are paid.

And for those men watching this broadcast with a broom in your hand or a sick child dozing in your lap – and you know how much you are doing at home – just remember before you ring me, that on average, men in full time work do one and a half hours less work, combining paid and unpaid work, than women with full time jobs.

So if you’re doing a lot, it means there must be plenty of other blokes who aren’t.

Maybe you could speak to them?

Maybe you could tell them how wonderful it is to be with children; how housework isn’t so bad when it’s shared, you find rubber gloves that fit and use dinner winners like Patak’s curry paste; how you still do your 40, but not 50 hour week; how you managed dad at home after his by-pass with your sisters so none of you had to give up your jobs; and in the meantime your wife has just had a promotion at work and is so much nicer to be with.

There is a strong case for encouraging more men to do more at home – it need not mean they reduce their working hours, but instead reduce their leisure hours in the way working mothers have done. It could well mean she increases her working hours, or even takes a promotion.

It is of course, excellent for children to have both mum and dad around. Hanging around the kitchen or sorting out the washing isn’t as exciting as working those extra unpaid hours of over time, or having a drink after work, or going to the football without the children on Saturdays, but it is much more likely to pay off in the long run for your marriage, your wealth and in particular your children.

According to the Household Income and Labour Dynamics survey, HILDA, it is men with less than year 12 education who are the least likely to accept a non traditional sharing of responsibilities and are most attached to the male bread winner model, with the woman at home.

Amongst younger men, they are also likely to have fewer children than any other male group – perhaps because of these beliefs.

This suggests that education and awareness raising plays a role in changing male expectations about what they and their partners do.

(Note to self – women who think only they know the right way to look after their children or how to cook and clean, need to also let go through a bit of awareness raising of their own.)

But I would not be here at the National Press Club today to launch this project if it were only to restate the facts and declare it a matter of better communications between men and women, husbands and wives.

Of course there are national public policy questions that need to be at least asked: what can governments do to improve the sharing of unpaid work? Or if they choose not to, how do they plan to deal with its consequences …. divorce, at risk children, expensive aged care, falling fertility, rising tax rates, slowing economic growth and so on?

Whether they do or do not actively address the challenge, you can be sure it will end up being a matter for governments.

In the same way that special measures were made available to women seeking to enter certain sectors of the paid work force, perhaps governments have to consider special measures to men to enable them to enter the unpaid work force. A number of Scandinavian countries, for example, provide paid paternity leave that can only be taken by fathers, otherwise it is lost.

The British have recently gone a softly-softly route with legislation that requires employers to reasonably consider requests for part time work from fathers and mothers.

Relationship programmes could promote active fathering as a means of assisting families stay together. Both single parents and non custodial single parents who wish to increase their contact hours could be assisted with part time work options. The family responsibilities provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act might need to be reviewed.

These are all possibilities, and the experiences of other countries who have tried them will be an important part of this project.

The project will also consider any other proposals that the Commission’s widespread community consultations process draws out.

For 21 years the Sex Discrimination Act, and indeed women throughout Australia, have focused on the world of work.

Governments have responded – they have legislated for equal pay and maternity leave entitlements, worked to ensure greater access to traditionally male occupations and industries, spent billions on child care subsidies.

More recently, women have been agitating for paid maternity leave, flexible working hours and access to part time work options beyond retail or hospitality. Increasingly, Australian employers and governments come to the party; women are, slowly, getting what they say they want in the world of work.
And it has all been to the great advantage of the Australian economy and the Australian people.

It has enabled us to expand our workforce, raise family living standards and economic growth.

There are very few who believe we would be better off without women in the workforce.

A range of international economic studies confirm that countries which do not educate women, or allow them to be in paid work, are those with low growth rates. This even goes beyond the countries of the Arab world to traditional European states like Italy and Spain.

But a day for a family is 24 hours, not merely those we spend at work. And for 21 years the Act has been almost silent on the remainder.

We can no longer afford the cold war going on in private time and what this is doing to so many of our families and our collective future as a nation.

We can no longer afford to ignore the need to get right the sharing of responsibilities for our aged, before the baby boomers overwhelm their daughters.

We can no longer afford to accept the high divorce rate when its causes are clearly not rocket science.

We cannot continue to agitate about inequality between men and women in the workplace when many of its seeds are sown in the home.

Unpaid care is priceless; it’s time we said so and shared it better.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you.

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