Category Archives: Issues

"Women will suffer most from the next round of job cuts"

This article discusses the Tory-Liberal budget cuts to the public sector in England. It shows a clear division of labor as women are claimed by the author to be over represented in the public sector; which is set to be ruthlessly hacked at by the new government. While one may want to question the assumptions which the author makes in explaining this statistical discrepancy (or the stats themselves) the article gives a good example of macroeconomic policy having a gendered effect.

Original main article can be found at:

Secondary article discussing the same topic:

One could be forgiven for imagining that shadow welfare secretaryYvette Cooper is actually the only person in Her Majesty’s opposition at present, so busy is she, as she hammers away at the iniquities of the coalition budget. This makes it all the more unsettling that she is not herself contesting the Labour leadership. Still, Cooper has explained with perfect clarity the reason why she is not standing. She has small children, and it is a big job.

It is notable, of course, that the same small children are no bar to the desire of her husband, Ed Balls, to secure the same big job. But that’s only because this illustrates something that is perfectly well known – a “working mother” is someone who is fulfilling two roles, possibly to the detriment of both. A “working father”, by contrast, is so unremarkably natural and normal that the phrase “working father” hasn’t even had to be invented, let alone heavily freighted with socio-cultural significance.

Nevertheless, Cooper is the exception, rather than the rule. Only 18% of women work full-time while their children are younger than three, as Cooper did. The rest work part-time or not at all. This makes it all the more remarkable that there is now such a small difference between the number of men who work overall and the number of women. Office of National Statistics figures from March 2009 confirm that there is now a difference of 7.7 percentage points in employment rates for men and women, which is quite a change from the 27.6 difference of 1979. The bulk of that switch occurred in the 1980s, as male-dominated industries collapsed and female-dominated industries thrived. But the gap has continued to narrow, at a slower rate, ever since.

You could be forgiven for imagining, therefore, that the last 30 years have seen a huge increase in the financial independence of women. Sadly, that is not the case, as the diligent Cooper has inadvertently shown. This week she published a gender audit of the budget, commissioned from the House of Commons library, and showing that the burden of an astonishing three-quarters of the coming budget cuts would be shouldered by women. Cooper’s political point is that the budget is unfair, because it punishes women so disproportionately. But the really rotten thing that this analysis displays is the massive extent to which women have become dependent on the state, either for benefits (especially when they are mothers) or for employment.

Men lost more jobs than women in the recent recession because they tend to work in the private sector, which shrank, while women tend to work in the public sector, which continued to expand. Women will be taking the next hit, as jobs in the public sector start to be winnowed out. It’s a delayed consequence of the recession, but an inevitable one nonetheless.

It’s easy to explain why more women work in the public sector, of course. Largely, it is because the public sector tends to provide the vocational jobs – teaching, nursing, social work, child care – that women are still far more likely to do. But it is also linked to the fact that the public sector tends to be more progressive on flexible and part-time work, and in Britain’s part-time sector (which is disproportionately large in comparison with those in other similar countries), women dominate hugely.

It is interesting that part-time work among women is not as closely correlated to “working motherhood” as might be expected. About 44% of women who work part-time do not have dependent children. Further, women are over-represented in lower-paid occupations (and there are plenty of those in the public sector, despite the perception that wages are generous).

Of course, for decades there has been much concern over the gender pay gap, which has remained a stubborn problem, even though the Equal Pay Act came in 40 years ago. Likewise, it has long been acknowledged that mothers are more likely to hold down part-time jobs and lower-paid jobs. Still, Cooper’s analysis reveals the huge extent of female vulnerability in the workplace, and suggests that state support for unskilled working women has actually helped to create more low-skilled, low-paid jobs and more “in-work poverty”.

Greater access to education, a change in social attitudes that assumed that a woman would give up work when she married, more widespread provision of childcare: these were supposed to deliver equality, and independence – even liberation – for women. The reality is that while this has indeed been the experience of many women, another trend has pushed females into poorly paid, low-value, insecure work that offers little or no career progression. At this end of the market, increased female employment has expanded the unskilled jobs market and made it more downwardly competitive.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns that it is the nature of the UK jobs market itself that creates and fosters a “major barrier to further progress on poverty”. Its research suggests that the British jobs market is becoming increasingly “hollowed-out”, with the polarised development of one strata of jobs that are highly skilled and highly paid, another of jobs that demand few skills and are poorly paid, and with little in the middle offering progress up a career ladder. This is a dismal prospect, because it promises exactly what political rhetoric is always warning against, “a two-tier system”.

My feeling is that the expansion of the public sector over the last 13 years, and the focus on getting mothers into work, even if they need a great deal of state support, has merely disguised the degree to which such an economy has already developed. (Unskilled men have been left to their own miserable devices far more, in part because of the lack of cultural focus on fostering “working fathers”.)

There has been much fretting about gender inequality in the boardroom, or in the City of London, and much attention paid to how well or badly women are doing in the race to the top. At the same time, however, the influx of women into the labour market has been significantly characterised by a race to the bottom that has been hugely preoccupied with what single mothers and feckless fathers are up to, when the real problem is a horribly divided economy in which a whole swathe of unskilled men and women are blamed and pilloried because they live in a society that denies them any opportunity at all. Labour dressed this up with its financial interventions, which was perhaps understandable in the humanitarian respect. But it also helped to disguise the retrenchment of a class system as rigid and socially immobile as the one Labour was founded to dismantle. The disguise is being taken off now, and what’s underneath is pretty ugly.



The Paris metro

About a month ago, on a Saturday night, a man attacked me in the Paris metro. In the seventh arrondisement, a very chic and expensive area, no less. I had cursed at him as he and his friends whistled and looked my friend and I up and down. He grabbed the front of my dress and my arms and started yelling at me. Why had I said that, he demanded. I had had a few drinks and I was so shocked and confused that my French came out unclear. I tried to say because I didn’t want to talk to you. But what I really wanted to say was because I knew you were not a nice person as you’re demonstrating now. And because I didn’t like the way he was behaving towards my friend and I. When men whistle at you in the metro, and make sleazy comments, they don’t think they are going to seduce you. In my mind it does one of two things. It either implicitly states that you are an object and there to be perused or used by them. And the second thing it does, although it is not unrelated, is it scares you. It’s meant to scare you. It’s meant to say that despite laws or years of women’s rights assertions, somehow he might still be able to “get” me.

I didn’t apologise. Je suis désolée didn’t leave my lips by choice.

I shouldn’t have been rude and maybe I should have worn a longer dress. Something more conservative? Yet never ever is it a women’s fault that she is attacked. That was him. That was his choice. I can avoid it and discourage it, but the point is I shouldn’t have to. You may think me irresponsible, but I ought not to have had to have been responsible for the behaviour and choices of others.

My friend grabbed his phone and threatened to break it. She was smart and quite brave. It was at least two minutes before any other men or women arrived off another train. It was late at night. Yet it was frightening how alone we were for that whole stretch of time.

It was interesting that he was not at all interested in coming at my friend. It was me that he was angry with. I prefer that it was me. I would have been too upset and helpless watching my friend being hurt. Why was it he was so angry with me?

I had insulted him when I said f*** off. He had insulted me. I didn’t like being ogled. I didn’t like being an object for his viewing pleasure or the butt of his sexual jokes. You might ask why then do I wear short dresses? And you’re right to ask. I’m not sure. It’s a contradiction, to be sure. Fashion is one reason. Actually attracting boys is another – but only a particular kind of boy. And even then I get uncomfortable if they are looking me up and down.  I didn’t look trashy – I had a pretty, classy dress on. Short with heels, but a blazer and low key makeup. I was going to a club. But, the man in the metro did not have a licence to pull the front of my dress and grab my arms and neck. He might be allowed to whistle, but I don’t have to like it.

I think he was so angry because it seemed like I thought I was better than him. Actually I was thinking and feeling what I said above – scared, angry about being whistled at, confused about women’s fashion. To him it may have seemed like a rejection of his… manhood or his attractiveness perhaps. But he couldn’t really have thought that whistling was a wooing technique. So this doesn’t quite square up. On a deeper level, perhaps he thought it was a rejection of his self-worth. He may have seen it as though I didn’t think him worthy to talk to me or look at me. He was black. I am an Anglophone. Did I seem bourgeoisie – a white, non-French girl in the seventh arrondisement?

Virginia Woolf has written that men have the motivation to win wars and run countries, or even civilize the world, because their self-worth is kept intact by defining themselves as superior always to at least half of the people in a room. Women. The focus is not so much our inferiority, but their superiority. Ego is important to men. In her poetic and old-fashioned way Virginia was right to say that men’s self-confidence is somehow wrapped up in how women react to them and how they perceive themselves vis-à-vis women. I think in France there was a racial or even lingual layer to my experience.

I thought he might hit me. A blood nose wouldn’t have killed me – I mean it could have been worse. I shouldn’t like to be raped. Ever. But it wasn’t close to that. The power of the suggestion of rape was what weighed in his favour. It was what made me say f*** off in the first place. This suggestion in his whistle was what caused me to react. He didn’t like that I thought he didn’t really have that power. Again I suggest that whistling at women, the way some men do, is about scaring them or about power. Not always, but often. And rape is about power.

I chose not to hit him. I could have. Yet he didn’t need an excuse to get more violent. He did not seem to have many scruples about violence. I started to pretend to cry. I thought this might make him ease up. I thought this might be what he wanted to see or hear – it might seem to him that he had won and reasserted his authority. He eventually gave in to my friends threats to smash his phone. He knew he couldn’t take it much further before someone else arrived on the scene. Although he had attacked me it does seem I had been right – he didn’t have that full power to do anything to me.

I was so angry afterwards. Shaky too, but I never felt he would get away with much more than he did.  A French friend of mine called me. He was concerned. He said variously “I told you” and “I wish I had been there to protect you” during the kind phone call. I texted him later to say thank you, but these comments made me even more frustrated that Saturday night. I don’t need protection. I like to think this. I looked after myself and lived alone in Paris. I was an exchange student. Yet, physically, to some extent I really do need protection sometimes. A boy to walk down the streets with at 3am. I have to accept that. Or the only way to protect myself is not to go out at night. To learn judo perhaps, but that doesn’t deter the physical attack in the first place. It just means if the man in the metro had actually tried to do worst I could have fought back. Nails and biting are sufficient given that I wouldn’t have gone anywhere worse than the metro whilst I was in Paris.

I was angry more so because this seems to still be a way to treat women.  I had actually got very upset earlier in the week, with a male friend who laughed at me as I got heated about a feminist argument. I study politics – this is my life. I think the whole experience that Saturday night in the metro made me upset as I linked it into a wider web of maltreatment that many of my fellow females have experienced. I put it into a bigger picture of rape as a weapon in war and honour killings, stonings – the things that are so important in my studies. This justified why I got so upset with my friend earlier in the week. There’s nothing funny about the way men look at you in the street or the metro sometimes. There’s nothing funny about the fact that the primary responsibility for bringing up my children will still rest on my shoulders when I am a mother in the future. It’s true that that can also be a personal issue to work out between me and my future partner, but I will struggle to balance a career and motherhood. I think about it even now as I finish my degree, knowing that my male friends don’t. I’m pretty sure my friend who had laughed at my flustered face earlier that week wouldn’t like me as much as he did if my hair didn’t shine and my dresses didn’t fit the way they do. I am a contradiction. It’s painful to navigate my way through that. My choices are mine, but the shape of the world I make them in is not all of my making.

Why are women still the primary objects of violence, the focus of a man’s ego, the most disadvantaged groups in war and poverty? I won’t see the man who attacked me again, nor would I recognise him if I did, so it is best personally to put it in the past. My only direct follow up is journalism. Journalism has always been my strongest weapon in any situation. What rocked me about being attacked and why my friend had unnerved me earlier in the week is an extrapolation of the reasons I started to study politics three years ago. I have the hope that good politics can make some classes of men less angry and can make women freer from needing protection. Also I hope that women can become freer to dress as they want without fear or reproach. Yet, freer from that way of dressing today that makes them the objects of men’s gaze they both do and don’t want to be. Like me.

Boobs on Bikes TODAY!: Steve Crowe vs Lisa Lewis

Steve Crowe vs Lisa LewisStripper Lisa Lewis and Boobs on Bikes founder Steve Crowe
 Tue, 22 Sep 2009 7:31p.m.
Boobs on Bikes will take place on the streets of Auckland tomorrow. So what do the women who participate in this hugely popular parade earn for their efforts?

For appearing in the Boobs on Bikes parade, plus working two twelve hour days and one eight hour day at the Erotica Expo, Lisa Lewis – arguably New Zealand’s most famous stripper – would be paid a total of $1500 cash. Plus $8.50 for every photo she poses for, topless, with members of the public.

Ms Lewis asked for more. Steve Crowe, the porn purveyor behind all this said no. Ms Lewis wrote about it in the Waikato Times, and Mr Crow replied: “consider yourself blacklisted from future Erotica events”.

Lisa Lewis and Steve Crow join John Campbell to discuss the issue further

McCully NZAID policy does little for women dying in PNG

Troubling news – as a good international citizen and friend to the Pacific what can and should New Zealand do to encourage the PNG government to address maternal deaths in childbirth and make good on their commitments to their citizens and their international human rights obligations? 
Posted by Phil Twyford on September 21st, 2009

Women in Papua New Guinea  are dying in childbirth at 23 times the New Zealand rate. That is 1500 women dying preventable deaths every year, and 30% of them are teenagers.

It is one of the most shocking indicators of a country in crisis.  The maternal death rate  in PNG, one of our closest neighbours, is on a par with Afghanistan. And there is no sign of improvement.

PNG has its share of problems: poverty, HIV/AIDS epidemic, corruption, and appalling governance. It’s the last on that list that is the big driver. The failure of the state to provide basic health services to its citizens is what has caused the skyrocketing rates of women dying in childbirth.

PNG health workers at a parliamentary hearing today on maternal health in the Pacific testified the key factors behind the figures are the collapse of rural health services, and now a dire shortage of trained midwives. Continue reading

UN Secretary-General Urges Action to End Violence and Abuses Endured by Women

06-07-2009trafficking15 September 2009 –

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today spotlighted the “shocking” abuse, violence and discrimination suffered by women, in a call for action to empower the gender that make up over half the world’s population.In describing the diverse world population, “I would have to explain that fully half of those people face shocking abuses and discrimination,” Mr. Ban told the launch at United Nations Headquarters in New York of Half the Sky, a book depicting the violence and other abuses suffered by women worldwide and proposing action to combat the scourge.

“They are forced into slavery and prostitution,” said Mr. Ban at the launch, organized by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Only by standing up for fundamental rights everywhere can we expect to achieve lasting change

Women are denied the right to “speak their views, wear what they want, or pursue an education or a career,” said Mr. Ban, adding that they “are burned to death or scarred with acid with little or no punishment for the perpetrators.”

Mr. Ban noted that even with the technological advances in today’s modern world, women all too often die from easily preventable diseases as well as during childbirth. “The casualties dwarf those of most wars, [and] the costs are too high to put a figure on.”

The Secretary-General told how he was moved and angered when he met a girl in a hospital where he heard of how the 18 year-old was brutally raped at gunpoint by four soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Half the Sky, which was written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Sheryl WuDunn, details stories of sex trafficking and forced prostitution; honour killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality in the developing world, and proposes action to combat the scourge.

“Only by standing up for fundamental rights everywhere can we expect to achieve lasting change,” Mr. Ban said as he welcomed yesterday’s General Assembly decision to streamline all four UN women’s entities.


UN News Centre