Monday, 15 August 2016

Women’s unpaid care is pivotal factor in gendered economic inequalities

Dr Ursula Barry and Dr Maggie Feeley: Despite the issue of gender inequalities being well-aired in the past decades, current evidence shows that women in Ireland still experience immense economic disadvantage.

Encouraging social change is therefore a feminist and egalitarian undertaking for all of us who reject inequality. In Chapter 4 of the recent TASC report: Cherishing All Equally 2016 – Economic Inequality in Ireland, we outline the current data in relation to various ways in which material disadvantages accumulate and impact on women. Women workers still earn less than men by an average of 14% even though they attain higher qualifications at school and college.

Ireland has the fourth highest proportion of low paid workers in the OECD and the majority of low paid workers are women. Over a third of women work part-time hours, which in turn limits their earnings.

The cumulative impact of lower pay and part-time work is that, at the end of their working lives, women are less likely to have an occupational pension and for those that do, it will be on average 37% lower than that of men. The pay and pension gaps for women are a stubborn and lasting reality.

For those dependent on income from welfare, the minimum social welfare payment has remained the same since 2011 and the basic rate of welfare for a single person is €22.00 below the poverty line. Aikidwa and the Irish Refugee Council have researched the realities of women living in Direct Provision and they emphasise the detrimental impact of extreme economic deprivation and inequality on already vulnerable women and children.

Women’s unwaged care work largely unnoticed and unrewarded
Women’s vast social contribution of unwaged care work goes largely unnoticed and unrewarded. Without adequate or affordable State care structures, women’s continued position as society’s default caregivers means that they have less power and influence in the public sphere. Their absence from the tables where pivotal decisions about social structures and social and economic policies are made means that gendered inequalities remain largely unremarked.

A growing body of international research identifies inequalities in the division of care work as central to shaping other gendered inequalities, including those related to materially determined resources. These are deeply embedded cultural determinants of the multiple inequalities that (mostly) women experience in Irish society and that include and move far beyond economic issues.

Women as managers of poverty
Disparities in the exercise of the State duty to care equally for all citizens exacerbate the trenchant cultural burdens of care placed on women. Lone parents’ availability to work is directly linked to the age of their children where the absence of adequate State childcare prevents them from joining the workforce and deprives the community of their skills and talents.

State disregard for those working in the area of sexual and domestic violence means that services suffer as a result of inadequate levels of funding. Service providers have insufficient resources to respond to all emergency telephone calls for support, refuge places are too few to meet demand and the complexity of women’s needs for rehousing as a result of male violence needs to be understood and acted upon.

These are serious gendered resource issues rooted in a persistent lack of recognition and neglect of the core issues. Violence against women comes at a high cost to society and responses need to be located within a gender equality framework. There can be no real equality between women and men (economic or otherwise) while women experience gender-based violence on a large-scale and while state agencies and institutions respond inadequately.

Deeply embedded gendered division of care
Efforts by women and their allies to influence change in the unequal gender order are hampered by durable stereotypes and the failure to see gender equality as something that is in all our interests. Perhaps (with some just cause) construing the problem as men’s exclusion from care might provoke greater outrage and better outcomes…

Undoubtedly, where there is the will, there are resolutions to gendered economic and related inequalities. Ultimately we need greater investment in State care infrastructures, the deconstruction of limiting gender roles, the ending of the unfair division of unwaged care labour and serious and consistent commitment to educate and to mobilise for greater gender justice.

Dr Ursula Barry is Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head of School of Social Justice at University College Dublin. Dr Maggie Feeley is a research and teaching fellow at the School of Social Justice, UCD.

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