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Issue #1905      March 2, 2020

IWD

More Needs to be Done on Women’s Issues

There has been an insidious erosion of women’s rights over recent decades in line with the ascendancy of the extreme Right and Labor’s drift from its former social democratic values. Under the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison governments this process has accelerated, driving increasing numbers of women into poverty, homelessness, and putting them at risk of violent partners.

Photo: Josephine Donnolley

One woman dies every week at the hands of her partner or former partner. This is not acceptable. One death is too many. The recent tragic death of Hannah Clarke and her three young children by her estranged partner brought home the failure of governments to take the need for preventative measures seriously.

Instead, governments have cut funding to women’s refuges, legal services, mental health services, safe housing, and other important programs to assist women and their families attempting to escape the terror of domestic violence.

Even when they do flee, the obstacles facing them are at times insurmountable due to over-demand on support services and income loss if they take time off work.

At present all employees are entitled to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave per annum under the National Employment Standards. The trade union movement is pushing for paid domestic violence leave and has had some success in the Victorian public sector.

Trapped

“Paid domestic violence leave is an important universal right all workers should have access to,” the Australian Services Union (ASU) says on its website.

“Women need to know that their workplace has a commitment to supporting them through paid leave to speak out, seek help and take action if they are affected by domestic violence. Economic dependency traps people in violent relationships.

This important workplace right will save lives.”

Fear over the consequences if they leave and are tracked down by the abusive partner also traps some women. Women need the full range of support services to be able to leave in safety to safety.

Paid Leave

Clause 48 of the Victorian Public Sector agreement – Family Violence Leave – commits the Victorian government departments and agencies to providing support to staff that experience family violence.

“Leave for family violence purposes is available to Employees who are experiencing family violence to allow them to be absent from the workplace to attend counselling appointments, legal proceedings and other activities related to, and as a consequence of, family violence,” the agreement states.

The paid leave is for up to twenty days per annum and is flexible as to when it can be taken. The definition of violence includes physical, sexual, financial, verbal or emotional abuse by a family member.

The agreement also includes a number of measures that an employer should take to support the person upon a reasonable request. It was negotiated under the Labor Andrews government.

Economic Inequality

As the ASU pointed out, economic dependence can be a factor in whether women leave for safety. Government payments to single parents are punitive and judgemental, as though it is the fault of the woman who was abused and left for the safety of herself and her children.

Women are far more likely to be in casual and other forms of insecure, low-paid work. At the same time, they carry the main responsibility for caring for children. Early childhood education is prohibitively expensive, despite all the hype by the federal government about subsidies.

Australia’s workforce is still highly segregated, with women largely concentrated in low or lower paid jobs – “women’s work” – which includes some highly skilled professions.

As for the much-touted “glass ceiling,” the majority of working class, single parent, and Indigenous women are more worried about crashing through the rotting floor boards of capitalist exploitation.

Erosion of Support Mechanisms

The government has cut funding to a number of organisations providing important services to women. The cuts run contrary to an increasing demand for services.

At the same time the government is quietly introducing its own perverse notion of “equality” by redirecting some of the funding from women’s programs to organisations to assist men.

The Family Court is on the chopping block, waiting to be axed by Parliament. While the Family Court could benefit with some reforms, abolishing it is not the answer. It is women who will be disadvantaged.

On paper women might have equal pay but in reality it is far from the truth. In the occupations where women are concentrated, wages are lower for work and skills of equivalent value. Historically, no capitalist state has ever achieved equality for women. Not even the most progressive of them. Inequality is built into the capitalist system at all levels.

According to Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), on average the gender gap between men and women working full-time in 2019 was $25,679 or twenty-one per cent. The WGEA also found that the proportion of women in traditionally female-dominated industries (Health Care and Social Assistance and Education and Training) has increased.

Within the female workforce, there are also huge inequalities. Indigenous women are the most disadvantaged followed by migrant women and visa workers. Sexism, racism, and xenophobia are all tools of the ruling capitalist class to create divisions in the working class and weaken unity.

Racial and sexual discrimination, while in theory are outlawed, in practice are still prevalent. In the workplace women are also subjected to humiliating and offensive practices such as sexual harassment. Unfortunately, the law means little when it is pursued and the victim is the one who loses her job.

As Lenin pointed out: “Capitalism combines formal equality with economic and, consequently, social inequality. This is one of the principal distinguishing features of capitalism, one that is mendaciously screened by the supporters of the bourgeoisie, the liberals, and that is not understood by the petty-bourgeois democrats.”

“The working women’s movement has for its objective the fight for the economic and social, and not merely formal, equality of woman. The main task is to draw the women into socially productive labour, extricate them from “domestic slavery”, free them of their stultifying and humiliating resignation to the perpetual and exclusive atmosphere of the kitchen and nursery.

“It is a long struggle, requiring a radical remaking both of social technique and of customs. But this struggle will end with the complete triumph of communism,” Lenin concluded.

Next article – Editorial – International Women’s Day

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