By JULIE MCKAY
We live in a world where women continue to be under-represented in leadership roles, have less economic security and frequently face violence in their homes. Despite all of the effort which is going into promoting gender equality, there still remain systemic and structural barriers to genuine equality. Women still bear the burden for the majority of child caring responsibilities and continue to take time out of the workforce more often than men.
The current comparison of the major parties’ paid parental leave schemes embed society’s acceptance of paid parental leave really only being an issue for mothers. We have even seen some of the most respected feminist commentators comparing the policies on the basis of which would be best for mothers.
Of course we need to be having a conversation about which policy works best for mums, I am the first person to argue that we don’t do this often enough. But, we need to also be having a conversation about shared-care and what might work as incentive for more men to take on primary caring responsibilities, rather than assuming that this will always be the role of women.
The Labor Government should be commended for committing to meeting Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and implementing Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme in 2012.
The Liberal policy extends the commitment to 26 weeks at full pay (capped at $150K) and includes superannuation. This goes some way to addressing the calls from the women’s sector to ensure that women’s long term economic security is not affected through taking time out of the workforce to have children.
What remains blatantly clear though, is that the conversation is still about supporting mothers to stay at home.
In fact, if we really want to progress gender equality we need to actively encourage more men to take primary caring responsibilities. Two weeks paternity leave does not reflect shared responsibility for care-giving.
Neither does the Liberal policy of inviting men to take the 26 weeks leave, but at the mother’s wage, accepting that by and large in Australia, women’s wages are lower.
If we accept that parents should be paid their normal wage when on parental leave, then this should apply to both parents, not just mothers.
What incentive is there for couples looking to share child care responsibility when one has to consider a pay cut the other doesn’t?