I hope that before I die Coalition governments recognise the importance of women to society. Actually, scrap that - it's too ambitious.
I hope that Coalition governments recognise the importance of women to the economy.
My cynicism stems from the widely touted review of how the party treated women, built on the Banks of the departing Julia, who now runs her own consultancy. That was nearly two years ago, and not a sign of the review any time soon. Apparently some high flyer drafted something and it ended up in the bin.
I know, I know. Coronavirus! And dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 is really important. That is, the impacts on everyone at every level of society.
So, if you can't keep your own party in good shape, does it bode well for the country, for the economy or for society? Short answer: unlikely.
Women are in trouble. Multiple disasters in Australia have reinforced gender stereotypes. Women are the ones bearing the load of teaching at home, juggling like crazy trying to keep the domestic and the work in balance. I see women in the park with their kids, late in the afternoon, trying to entertain and parent while talking emphatically to their bosses or their colleagues.
It's fine for Scott Morrison to say he wants the economy to snap back - but some of us have lost our ability to be resilient in the face of endless pressures: the bushfires, pollution, air quality, hailstorms and now COVID-19. I'm terrified the plague of frogs is about to descend.
A bunch of brilliant women have come together to form the Snap Forward Feminist Policy Network, convened by the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra. They are making a submission to the Parliamentary COVID-19 inquiry. Snap Forward because we need to be "moving forward", a notion I thought this government might embrace.
We know we have a chronic shortage of social and public housing. Let's get JobMaker to start right there. Direct the stimulus to invest directly in improving the lives of those in poverty.
The submission's purpose is to ensure a COVID-19 response which considers women, a response which contributes to gender equality. I wouldn't consider this to be a high priority for the Morrison government. I don't see evidence of a group of people which takes into account the needs of the marginalised. Please note that JobKeeper and JobSeeker only got real when "people like us" were impacted.
But there is clear evidence that all women are impacted. Melbourne University's Lyn Craig has already got a first cut of research she's conducted on the impact of COVID-19 on households. There's an extra six hours of work caring for kids. Women are doing twice as much as their male partners. Think that's no biggie? That has a direct impact on the time women can spend on their paid work, which may indeed impact on whether they keep their paid work.
A report released by ACOSS this week is concerning - and remember, it was undertaken before the impact of the coronavirus. ACOSS acting chief executive Jacqueline Phillips says poverty hits hardest where women are the main income earners. Those households are twice as likely to live in poverty as those where men are the main income earners with the gap even higher in households with children.
But hasn't that all been fixed by the COVID-related extra payments for JobSeeker in particular? Not exactly, considering all those benefits run out in five minutes. Phillips points out that more than a third of single mothers and their kids are living in poverty. You don't need any imagination to know what will happen after the increases disappear (thank Gaia for Philip Lowe, the governor of the Reserve Bank, who keeps explaining that the government needs to do more to support the economy).
So, what to do next for women, who are over half the population?
University of NSW Social Policy Research Centre director Carla Treloar says doubling unemployment benefits has improved the lives of those who've lost jobs, but asks: "What will we do to provide the safety net that's needed to lift these households out of poverty?"
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As ACOSS's Phillips says, women are the first affected and the worst affected - and we know that in Australia, unemployment has hit women harder than men. The April unemployment figures saw female employment drop by 8.1 per cent, while male employment fell by 6.2 per cent. And God knows what fresh horrors will emerge when JobKeeper ends. Snap Forward urges the government to support the many faces of women's economic contributions to this country. Support and encourage women-led business (and maybe give a ready-set-go fund to women-led startups, or as they used to be known, small businesses).
Protect the precariette, the women who work as casuals and keep our lives together, the retail and hospitality workers, the nurses called in at the last minute. The government wants to do a wholesale review of industrial laws? Make sure they consult those who are done over time and time again: the women who keep the country ticking. Focus on protections for feminised workforces (hello childcare!). And while you're at it, value the contribution of women's unpaid labour to the Australian economy.
The Snap Forward team recommends mandating a gender-responsive budgeting to be applied across the COVID-19 response and recovery, supported by a Treasury-funded Gender Equality Budget Group and increased investment in public service capacity and accountability for gender analysis. This is precisely what Canberra's legendary Marie Coleman of the National Foundation for Australian Women has been demanding for years. I reckon once that happens, the matrix of women's needs will be apparent - not just in employment support but across childcare, family violence services, health and education. The list is long and mostly it's stuff we needed before COVID-19. Now women need it more.
Can we trust the Morrison government to deliver for women? I've been surprised before, and I can only hope I will be surprised again. I'm not holding my breath.
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.