25 per cent in 2025 – wrong call: quality not quantity gender work

Associate Professor Georgina Murray

The clarion call for feminists — male and female — from the G20 summit and the subsequent International Dialogue on Women in Leadership was the triumphant 25% for 2025. That is, we will get women to be 25 % of the paid workforce by the year 2025. We are not saying how we will do it, but we will do it.

And why not?

Isn’t it emancipatory to get women into the paid workforce away from the drudgery of the kitchen, unpaid child-care and the penury of unpaid domestic labour?

Maybe-maybe not.

Maybe the reality of having a tough domestic situation would be made twice as tough, overlaid by a challenging paid work situation where you have to work anti-social long hours or undertake anti-social work — a brothel, for example, is one of the few relatively well paid jobs for working women.

This is the current deal:

  • Household, Incomes and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey shows that workforce participation in Australia has gone up between 2001 and 2008, labour force participation rates of mothers with children under the age of 15 increased from 63% to 69% for partnered mothers, and from 52% to 61% for lone mothers.
  • Amongst mothers whose youngest child was under the age of two, participation rates increased from 40% of partnered mothers and 30% of lone mothers in 2001, to 52% of partnered mothers and 40% of lone mothers in 2008.
  • Families were able to claim 30% of their out-of-pocket costs for approved childcare, and the subsequent increase in the rebate to 50% of out-of-pocket expenses in July 2008.
  • BUT in 2008, 20% of working mothers and fathers said they felt worried about what goes on with their children while they are at work and both mothers and fathers noted lower levels of life satisfaction.
  • There is a 17.5% gender gap between what males are paid and what females are paid (ABS).
  • In 2010, single men’s wealth was on average 23% higher than single women’s wealth holdings. This is a doubling of the gender wealth gap since 2002, when it was 10% (HILDA).
  • Women, even in top jobs — such as university jobs — are paid less.
  • About 40% of households have little or no wealth. However, in 2010, single female households in the top-quartile of the wealth distribution achieved, on average, a net worth of A$814,900 while single males in the top quartile had wealth of close to A$1 million (HILDA).

Why don’t we go back to giving men and women real choices?


First we do not blame the victims, as in Julie Bishop’s words –

“Women can also hinder themselves by their own attitudes. Senior women should not be waiting around for the right male mentor to come along, but they do need support to network and create their own opportunities.” Or “[s]ometimes perception is part of the problem. Women need to put themselves in the centre of the picture, or the business problem.”

Or have an Abbott paid parent maternity leave scheme that gives to the rich disproportionately.

But look instead to structural solutions such as –

Having a single non-means tested lump-sum payment per child. This would give mothers or fathers a real chance to stay at home with the child or get high quality child care. This could be assisted by having a single family unit based tax as currently allowed in other OECD countries.

How do we pay for all of this I can hear the Neo-liberals cry: through a Robin Hood tax or the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), or as referred to in this case, to the European Commission’s proposal for a tax of 0.1% on the transfer of shares, bonds and other financial instruments, and 0.01% on derivatives.

Making real well funded choices for women and men with excellent child care means that women would really have a choice not be driven by necessity as they currently are into a workforce that continues to exploit their labour and stress their home lives.

(This opinion piece is by G20 International Dialogue on Women in Leadership delegate and Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing member, Associate Professor Georgina Murray).