Editor’s Note May 2018

In Australia, according to the latest census figures, the average woman does 14 hours of housework and family organisation per week; the average man does fewer than five. Women do three quarters of the child care, and 70 per cent of caring for elderly or disabled family members or friends.

As Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek pointed out earlier this year, “The Australian economy, Australian society, rests upon women’s unpaid work.”

Plibersek referenced the influential work of Marilyn Waring, the New Zealand feminist political economist and former politician. Waring’s pioneering thinking, which Anne Manne writes about this month, illuminated the dangerous inequities of mainstream economics and deserves to be considered anew.

“What we don’t count, counts for nothing,” Waring has said – and it’s not just a neat aphorism. Gross domestic product, the universal measure of economic progress and a nation’s wellbeing, also regarded as “the total market value of all goods and services produced in a given period of time”, excludes much of the work women do. Human activities of which women bear the largest share are made invisible, treated as valueless.

So, what is included in GDP and, more to the point, what is excluded? Why is it that, as Manne points out, GDP “counts the work of drug dealers but not of hospice volunteers”? Who decides? Waring calls the economic measurement “applied patriarchy”.

Manne’s essay is an essential contribution to contemporary thinking on social equality.

“Every International Women’s Day,” she writes, “or when Australia Day honours are handed out, we ruefully observe that, despite decades of feminism, equal opportunity laws and a higher percentage of female tertiary graduates than male ones, we still have a gender pay gap and far fewer women in positions of power. We consider overt and covert discrimination, sexual harassment and other barriers to women’s advancement. Yet the central reason that the revolution is unfinished is right there under our noses in everyday life: women’s unpaid work.”

Coincidentally, Helen Garner is also writing about unpaid work this month. In the first instalment of her new bi-monthly column, The Courts, Garner looks at the essential services provided by Court Network volunteers, the majority of whom are women. We are delighted to welcome Helen back to our pages.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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