Time to work and time to care: Policy levers to enable gender equality

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It can be argued that time is the crucial element in securing gender equality. Women work longer hours than men, but most of these hours are unpaid. Meanwhile, men spend increasingly long hours at work, resulting in promotions and pay rises unrelated to productivity or competence. In today’s federal election series, Sara Charlesworth of RMIT (@RMITCPOW) shares an overview of the Australian Work + Family Roundtable’s election benchmarks, which provides an evidence-based framework for addressing the root causes of inequalities.

The Australian Work + Family Policy Roundtable is a research network of 32 academics from 17 universities and research institutions with expertise on work, care and family policy. The goal of the Roundtable is to propose, comment upon, collect and disseminate research to inform evidence-based public policy in Australia.

In the lead up to the 2019 Federal election, the Work + Family Policy Roundtable has proposed a set of research-informed Policy Benchmarks against which election proposals for improving work, care and family outcomes in Australia can be assessed. These Benchmarks arise out of our collective research expertise and discussions at workshops held in April 2017 and September 2018 and are our fifth set of election Benchmarks.

The overarching policy theme of our 2019 Election Benchmarks is  Time to work and time to care: Making gender equality possible, which incorporates three main elements; increased investment in high quality integrated care infrastructure; a strong regulatory system fit for purpose; and gender equality.

A range of targeted policy levers would enable women to better balance work and caring duties, closing the gender pay gap.  Photo credit: Pexels.

A range of targeted policy levers would enable women to better balance work and caring duties, closing the gender pay gap. Photo credit: Pexels.

Australian households face numerous challenges as they negotiate their work and care responsibilities. Current policy settings will not make this task any easier in the future. National policy settings for work and care do not support women and men to participate as equals in the labour market or in the home. Instead women continue to shoulder the majority of unpaid domestic and childcare work, and men the majority of paid work. The highly gendered structure of our labour markets, tax and transfer systems, workplace cultures and social norms mean that while the majority of Australian women are now engaged in paid work, it is often on a part-time basis. This is especially the case for women with dependent children. Over the life course, particularly following relationship dissolution, these gendered work and care patterns exacerbate mothers’ financial insecurity reflected in single mothers’ high rates of poverty and homelessness in later life and separated fathers limited involvement in their children’s lives.

Policy settings for a prosperous, healthy and equal Australia must provide households with time to work and time to care in a way that suits their circumstances. Australians are very clear about their care preferences: family care is highly desired, but so too are high quality formal care services delivered professionally in both centre-based and in-home settings. To support women, men and families in Australia to work and care in a way that reflects their needs, values and aspirations, we require strong and coherent investment in care infrastructure. This will include:

(1) provision of publicly funded care services for children, the elderly, those with disability and those who are ill;

(2) formally legislated care policies that allow for informal family and community care – such as paid parental leave, flexible working hours and domestic violence leave; and

(3) decent work and wages for our growing care workforce.

Our Election Benchmarks 2019 provide a detailed set of research-informed policy recommendations in key policy areas that will support Australian households to secure time to work and time to care in ways that encourage gender equality. The demand for gender equality has become increasingly urgent in Australia and around the globe. Policies that provide both men and women with time to work and time to care are essential to promoting a more equitable gender division of labour and to achieving gender equality in employment. In the lead up to the 2019 election all major political parties have gender equality policies as part of their electoral platform. This is welcome. Bold policies for decent work and decent care will deliver gender equality, peace, prosperity and wellbeing for all. There is much to be done.

The Work +Family Policy Roundtable 2019 Benchmarks and our policy recommendations can be found here.

This post is part of the Women's Policy Action Tank initiative to analyse government policy using a gendered lens, and this piece is part of our Federal Election series 2019. Photo credit for the voter’s box in our logo: Flaticon. View our other policy analysis pieces here and follow us on Twitter @PolicyforWomen