Has increased participation in the paid workforce emancipated women and challenged gender stereotypes?

Women’s increased participation in the global labour market from the mid 19th century has brought about great social, political and economic changes. However, ingrained gender stereotypes and cultural norms mean that labour is still highly gendered, and women still face large-scale institutionalised discrimination in the workplace and beyond. The Oxford English Dictionary describes emancipation as “the fact or process of being set free from legal, social or political restrictions” ("Emancipation," 2015). In the majority of the world, it is not necessarily legal or political restrictions that are the greatest barrier to women’s liberation; it is instead globalised social institutions and norms. Due to ingrained, socially constructed gender roles women, even those in full time paid-work, still bear the brunt of domestic duties and care for children and elderly parents. Similarly, women are more likely to be in precarious casual, part time, or contract work with limited job security and lower wages then their male counterparts. Finally, the individualistic, neoliberal ideology of the globalised world ignores the systemic barriers that women face, meaning that women are underrepresented in high-level positions and overrepresented in poverty.

The increase in women’s participation in the paid workforce over the course of the 20th century saw a shift in the political and legal landscape as women moved from the private into the public sphere. Globally, the beginning of the 20th century marked a huge event for women’s emancipation as women’s suffrage came to the fore in many Western countries and some women began to be recognised as equal citizens before the law (Markkola, Nevala-Nurmi, & Sulkunen, 2009). Today, there is only one state that does not allow women the right to vote, with Saudi Arabia passing an equal voting act in 2015, which shows that women’s emancipation has grown alongside workforce participation (Zarya, 2015). As more women have entered the global workforce through the process of globalisation they have been able to mobilise in order to further challenge existing “social and gender arrangements”(Moghadam, 2015, p. 386). Despite an often-disparaging lack of political representation in formal institutions, women have been able to challenge existing legal and political frameworks in order to improve their standing in the workforce in many countries. This can be seen through the introduction of policies and laws such as the Equal Pay Act in Australia, maternity leave schemes, and improved childcare subsidies in many nations (Henderson & Bartlett, 2013; Markkola et al., 2009). However in the developing world women’s participation in the labour market is often in the informal sector, with little legal protection from exploitation, and thus this legal and political emancipation is limited. Ultimately, however, the greatest barriers to women’s emancipation are not legal or political but rather are caused by societal constructions of gender and gender roles.

The ideology of ‘separate spheres’ that emerged out of 19th century Britain was one that promoted an idea of women destined only for motherhood and marriage and saw their place as inside the home, rather than in the workforce (Bythell, 1993). This meant that while it may be acceptable for young spinsters to join the workforce before marriage as a way of supporting themselves, it was unacceptable for married or widowed women to do the same. This norm of a ‘male-breadwinner’, with a wage that must support a family, is one that still permeates society with women still seen as secondary earners (King & Sweetman, 2010). This has resulted in large wage gaps between both women and men as individuals, and between industries designated as “either men’s or women’s work”(Bythell, 1993, p. 36). Moghadam (2015) cites “social relations of gender” as the cause of the pervasive income gap between male and female workers with women earning, on average, 75 per cent of men’s wages (p. 375). While differing levels of education and access to employment can account for some of that gap, gender bias especially in the private sector accounts for a large proportion of it (ibid. 2015). The traditional, socially constructed, gender roles that place women in the home and men in the workforce have created large disparities in the conditions, opportunities and pay between male and female workers. While it must be recognised that these issues can have a political or legal element, with equal pay legislation aiding somewhat at reducing the wage gap, they are largely caused by societal expectations and norms that have been slow to adapt despite women’s increased participation in the workforce.

Globally there has been a ‘feminisation of labour’, with women making up a larger percentage of the workforce then ever before and with flexible jobs that are more often taken by women becoming a norm (Standing, 2011). However, with women much more likely to be in part-time, casual or insecure work with poor conditions and reliance upon a female breadwinner is seen as a large indicator of household poverty (King & Sweetman, 2010; Moghadam, 2015). With the neoliberal economic policies of limited state-intervention and significant cuts to welfare that were popularised in the 1980’s, as labour has become feminised, so has poverty (Kingfisher, 2013). Without a significant decrease in the wage gap, and a lack of welfare, many female breadwinners disproportionately bore the burden of structural readjustment. The rapid tide of globalisation that offered new opportunities to women in the developing world in the form of paid work, often limited those opportunities to poorly paid, highly female-dominated industries (Moghadam, 2015). These industries are predominantly focused around reproductive labour (aged care, childcare, domestic work etc), manufacturing, and services, and are often poorly waged with negligible protection from exploitation (Kingfisher, 2013). The type of labour desired by many corporations, i.e. expendable and cheap, is readily found in women whose employment is seen as simply a precursor to marriage and children, an idea stemming from Victorian times (Bythell, 1993). Women and girls make up the majority of the worlds poor, and socially accepted gender discrimination is a major cause of this poverty, something that has been exacerbated by economic globalisation and despite increased female participation in the workforce (Moghadam, 2015).

Women who participate in the paid labour force are subject to a phenomenon known as the double or triple burden. This burden is their expected contribution to domestic work, childcare and aged care all while performing paid work as well. This burden, which according to Sullivan and Gershuny (2013) has only seen a minute decrease since the 1970’s, is due to the fact that domestic and care work, otherwise known as ‘reproductive labour’, is highly feminised. There are marked gender differences in socio-cultural beliefs regarding work and family roles with women who have children, for example, performing twice the amount of housework then their partners (Bratberg, Dahl, & Risa, 2002). Similarly, according to sociological research, men’s contribution to domestic work increased by only one minute per year between 1972 and 1992 despite a rapid increase in female workforce participation (Sullivan & Gershuny, 2013, p. 452). Therefore it can be assumed that while women have taken on more in the workplace they still retain their domestic responsibilities, especially in terms of childcare and care for elderly relatives. This double or triple burden places huge time constraints on women; constraints that their male counterparts are not required to bear. This exposes the huge gender role differentiations and expectations still present in society, despite increased participation in the workforce that are severely limiting to women’s emancipation.

The largest barrier to women’s emancipation is the societal gender norms and expectations that have remained, despite certain legal and political protections. Ideologies that promote women as mother and wife above all, left over from the Victorian era, have become embedded in global society. This has meant that women are paid less, often work in casualised, feminised labour, and are still expected to perform the role of dutiful wife through domestic and care work. While a majority of nations have reduced the political and legal restrictions placed on women over the last century, the social institutions and norms that prevent emancipation are still firmly in place.

Gender and Respectful Relationships: Real experiences of Victorian students and teachers

The articles shared this week have covered lots of debate surrounding Respectful Relationships education in Victoria. We have explored research on whether (particularly male) students and teachers will be alienated by the curriculum, and what potential the education has to actually address gender-based violence. In all this research, however, what has been the real experiences of school students and teachers who have been through the program?

Shared today is a video from the Victorian Department of Education and Training that explores just this.

In the video, students and teachers from different schools in different areas and from different year levels share their views on the curriculum. While many do talk about gender-based violence, most of the students actually talk in quite simple language. They use phrases like ‘respect’, ‘equality’ and ‘being nice’. Students from an all-boys secondary school talk about how the curriculum has allowed them to help each other out and tease each other less.

Based off these interviews and this week’s article series, will Respectful Relationships really lead to a war between the genders? Or will it teach kids (and even teachers) how to respect one another more, irrespective of things like gender, sexuality, or even ethnicity? As Victorian schools prepare to roll out the new curriculum, only time will tell, but the current evidence-base gives us a reason to be optimistic!

Department of Education and Training, Victoria 2016, Respectful Relationships, Department of Education and Training, Victoria, viewed 8 November 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3kmDAkd0tQ

Gender and Respectful Relationships: Will the curriculum reduce gender-based violence?

The controversy surrounding the Victorian government’s introduction of the new Respectful Relationships curriculum begs the question of whether the program will actually have a great benefit. One of the main worries of people who oppose the program is that discussing gender-based violence explicitly will merely cause a rift between genders.

The article shared today is a research paper on trialling the Respectful Relationships program in 2010. It discusses what preceded Respectful Relationships, and what the program covers today. The main difference between the past and current approaches, the article suggests, is the addition of the underlying value of respect. The paper states that most researchers agree that education to prevent gender-based violence must focus on both the actions of individuals and the influence of broader social structures (like gender roles) in creating violence.

The bulk of the paper discusses the experience of both the students and teachers involved in the 2010 trial of the Respectful Relationships curriculum. While experiences were mixed, the research ultimately shows that discussing gender-based violence did not, as recent controversy suggests, lead to disengagement of either teachers or students.

So if war between the genders will not result from the Respectful Relationships curriculum, will it be a positive force for education in Victoria?

Ollis, D 2011, ‘A ‘respectful relationships’ approach: Could it be the answer to preventing gender-based violence?’, Redress, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 19-26, viewed 21 October 2016, http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=131439535270219;res=IELHSS

Gender and Respectful Relationships: Gender-based violence

In the paper shared yesterday by violence prevention organisation Our Watch, one of the main benefits discussed was Respectful Relationship education’s potential to prevent gender-based violence. But what is gender-based violence? Today’s article – taken from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) website – will answer this very question.

On its website, the UNFPA gives a broad overview of what gender-based violence is. This helps us to understand why measures like the Respectful Relationships curriculum might be needed. As the UNFPA states, violence against women and girls happens regardless of socioeconomic status or nationality. The website shares statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2013 that shows one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused, and one in every five was abused as a child. Gender-based violence can thus take many forms, and can affect many different types of women and girls.

While focussing on the work that the UNFPA does to eliminate gender-based violence, the statistics the website shares also has relevance for this week’s discussion on respectful relationships. According to the UNFPA, gender-based violence (often also perpetrated by a partner, called intimate partner violence) is incredibly widespread, occurring across the entire world. Given this, can comparatively small-scale measures like the Victorian government’s Respectful Relationships program help to prevent it?

United Nations Population Fund 2016, Gender-based violence, viewed 21 October 2016, http://www.unfpa.org/gender-based-violence

Gender and Respectful Relationships: Implementing the curriculum in schools

Given the recent controversy surrounding the Respectful Relationships curriculum, understanding what it is, and the evidence behind it is important. The article shared today is an evidence paper issued by the organisation Our Watch at the end of 2015, and explores these topics.

Based on extensive research, Our Watch’s paper establishes what Respectful Relationships education can look like, and what best practice is (that is, the best way to go about it).

A large part of the paper is dedicated to justifying Respectful Relationships education. Our Watch contends that the initiative is necessary to prevent gender-based violence (a term used instead of violence against women that includes more elements of how women and girls can be harmed in society).

According to Our Watch, gender-based violence is not inevitable, and primary prevention measures (that is, measures that work to address societal attitudes that make violence seem okay) like Respectful Relationships can work. The paper argues it is particularly important to do this in schools early when formative education is already occurring, while also ensuring that broader social and cultural change happens too.

Ultimately, Our Watch’s paper outlines lots of potential benefits that Respectful Relationships can have. Given the evidence the researchers share, will Respectful Relationships in Victorian schools prevent gender-based violence? What will be necessary for this to occur?

Gleeson, C, Kearney, S, Leung, L & Brislane, J 2015, Respectful Relationships Education in Schools: Evidence Paper, Our Watch, viewed 7 November 2016, https://www.ourwatch.org.au/getmedia/4a61e08b-c958-40bc-8e02-30fde5f66a25/Evidence-paper-respectful-relationships-education-AA-updated.pdf.aspx

Gender and Respectful Relationships: A new curriculum

The Victorian Labor government’s announcement of a new curriculum exploring respectful relationships at the end of October this year was met with controversy. Some claimed the program – which seeks to develop school students’ social and emotional skills, their understanding of positive relationships, and gender norms that may influence these – would create war between the genders. Our first article shared today is from The Conversation, arguing that providing this education will not lead to a gender war.

The article outlines the curriculum content, broadly covering social and communication skills, and challenging gender norms that limit all kids regardless of gender. The article also describes why the program is necessary given the harmful perceptions young people often have regarding violence, relationships and consent. The Conversation argues the curriculum will have ramifications beyond heterosexual relationships, because the respect it encourages will also benefit GLBTIQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) students who are often victims of bullying and abuse. Finally, the article outlines the positive impacts of such programs.

Given this recent controversy, our article series this week will explore the Respectful Relationships curriculum. What are respectful relationships? What do they look like? Will teaching them in schools actually lead to a reduction in violence and harmful behaviours? Let’s find out!

The Conversation 2016, Respectful relationships education isn’t about activating a gender war, The Conversation, viewed 20 October 2016, http://theconversation.com/respectful-relationships-education-isnt-about-activating-gender-war-67296

Introducing our Article Series

Chalk Circle is proud to create conversations surrounding gender literacy in Australia and empower the next generation with our work. As part of this mission, we are passionate about a program model that is strongly evidence-based. With this in mind, we are excited to announce a new article series that will explore gender in society. Using current research, articles and interesting content from the web, this regular series will turn a gender lens on various aspects of society and hopefully inspire some interesting questions and conversations along the way! Feel free to share your insights and perspectives with us on our blog!