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Dayna Berghan: Now I Want Some Commitment

I've Sniffed Your Flowers, I've Eaten Your Chocolates. Now I Want Some Commitment.

An Opinion Piece Dayna Berghan
National Women's Rights Officer
New Zealand University Students' Association.

Sunday is Mothers' Day. The Florists, the card companies and the confectioners all fervently remind you whilst hawking their wares. However simply buying into Mothers; Day is not enough. Parents and mothers especially are one of the most financially unrecognised contributors of society.

Susie Orbach in her book, "Fat is a Feminist Issue", first published in 1978, takes us for a walk as to why the term "fat" in social history has become stigmatised and used to control women. She is also worth quoting at length about motherhood and the social controls that have built up around it to control women.

"The current ideological justification for inequality of the sexes has built on the concept of the innate differences between women and men. Women alone can give birth to and breast-feed their infants and, as a result, a primary dependency relationship develops between mother and child. While this biological capacity is the only known genetic difference between men and women, it is used as the basis on which to divide unequally women and men's labour, power, roles and expectations. This division of labour has become institutionalised. Woman's capacity to reproduce and provide nourishment has relegated her to the care and socialisation of children." (Introduction, page 23, ISBN: 0-09-927154-0).

Mothers, for the essential functions that they provide are unpaid in New Zealand. "Around the Clock", is a report just launched this week by the New Zealand Statistics and Women's Affairs. The report analyses how New Zealanders spend their time, drawing on information from New Zealand's first national Time Use Survey, conducted in 1998/99. According to the report men and women on average spend approximately the same amount of time working, but while the majority of men's work is paid, the majority of women's work is unpaid. Both males and females aged 12 and over work an average of seven hours a day or 49 hours a week. However, while approximately 60 percent of men's work is paid, almost 70 percent of women's work is unpaid.

The report broke down Unpaid work into several categories such as, household work, caregiving, purchasing goods and services for households, and voluntary work outside the home. Women spent more time than men on all of these activities, averaging 4.8 hours of unpaid work each day, compared with men's 2.8 hours. Household work is the most common type of unpaid work. In this category, the most time-consuming activities are food and drink preparation and clean up and indoor cleaning and laundry. Women spend an average of 62 minutes a day on food and drink preparation and clean-up, and 61 minutes a day on cleaning and laundry, compared with men's 29 minutes and 15 minutes, respectively.

The report also had a break down by ethnicity. Maori on average spend less time than non-Maori on paid work, but spend more time on unpaid work. Maori females aged 12 and over average five hours of unpaid work each day, compared with 4.7 hours for non-Maori females. Maori males average 3.1 hours of unpaid work compared with 2.8 hours for non-Maori males. This reflects the fact that Maori spend more time than non-Maori on caregiving within the household and on caring for or helping non-household members.

So where does this leave New Zealand? The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty on women's rights. It was adopted by the United National General Assembly in December 1979 and ratified by New Zealand in 1985. CEDAW defines discrimination against women and obliges counties to take concrete steps to eliminate discrimination against women. In ratifying CEDAW the Government promised that it would deliver equality and human rights for women in New Zealand. Article 2 states that "Government will prohibit discrimination, ensure that women are in fact equally and abolish laws and customary practices that discriminate against women." And Article 5 stipulates that "The Government will challenge ideas of inferiority or stereotyped roles for women and promote the equal responsibility of men in raising children."

It has been 16 years since New Zealand signed CEDAW. This year there are plans in the budget to provide for Paid Parental Leave. Surely this financial recognition would help to achieve Article 5. The question remains for how long and how much. If set at a decent rate for a decent length of time surely Paid Parental Leave would help advance Article 2. Instead of the expectation that women relinquish their jobs, there would be increased scope for men to become caregivers.

Women's unpaid contribution to society is one of the hidden cogs that keep our capitalist society running smoothly. Unpaid caregiving provides for a supply of healthy future workers and ensures the care of the aged and infirm does not cost the State. In New Zealand we may give our Mums flowers, and gifts, but it seems we are slow to give her the economic recognition she deserves.


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