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OPINION: Gendered inequality is real

Illustration: Robin CowcherTHE increasing attention being paid to domestic violence is welcome but the root causes of this violence also need to be addressed.
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The individual expression of domestic violence is often dramatic, observable and driven by the perpetrator’s psychology and circumstance.

The machinery of inequality that reproduces the social relations that marginalise and render women vulnerable, however, is often unobserved and therefore appears seemingly natural.

The politicians who now express concern about domestic violence and their liberal feminist allies often argue: “Women are equal now! Why do we need women’s liberation?”

The existence of formal legal rights, the right to vote or even the success of female chief executives, should not disguise deeper forms of gender-based inequality.

The world of work is a case in point and intersections between age and gender in the workforce are revealing.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that the gender pay gap widens dramatically for women aged between 24 and 45.

Presumably that is the age that many women decide to have children and care for families.

Similarly, more women work less than full-time hours – often casually – after they turn 20.

This is largely due to the social expectation that women will start families and take the larger share of care for children, as well as other domestic duties.

Social structures, particularly those related to women’s reproductive biology, are what make us poorer, more housebound and thus more socially vulnerable.

Systemic inequality in terms of a greater exposure to poverty and domestication renders women vulnerable to gender-based violence.

The state and federal government actually encourage this structural imbalance when they defund and close women’s refuges, stigmatise sole parents, and criminalise abortion.

The termination of pregnancy, for example, remains a crime for women and doctors in NSW, unless a doctor believes a patient’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger.

This criminalisation indicates that we still need to win the liberation necessary to end domestic violence and signals that there is an ongoing war on women in Australia.

Reproductive rights, specifically contraceptive and abortion rights, have been a cornerstone of women’s rights since the 1960s.

Feminists argue that access to a safe and affordable abortion is a fundamental precondition to having control over one’s life, and should be an inalienable right.

In this context, the governing of our bodies and reproduction, as a specifically gendered oppression, cannot be ignored.

It is interesting how liberal feminism uses male-centred rhetoric in its campaign for women’s rights – that women are “your” mothers, “your” sisters, “your” wives, “your” daughters.

This approach frames women in relation to men and not as individual humans who deserve equal rights.

It is also concerning because it just does not work.

If gendered oppression could be resolved by individual soul-searching, why then are we still living in a reproductive prison subject to unequal pay and domestic violence?

The perpetuation of women as the carers and bearers of children, and the main labourers in the home, means we are prevented from becoming a political force that can challenge our role as second-class citizens.

It also saves the capitalist system a load of money.

A study released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2000 found: “the value of unpaid work – 91per cent of it unpaid household work – was about $261billion in 1997, equivalent to about 48per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product. Unpaid household work contributed $237billion (or 91per cent) to the total value of unpaid work in 1997. Females accounted for 65per cent of the value of unpaid household work.”

These statistics on the monetary value of unpaid labour in the home are a little dated because they are no longer made available publicly.

Campaigns against domestic violence need to challenge the forms of structural violence represented by strict gender roles and women’s domestication, and by laws controllingour bodies that we originally enacted inthe 19th century when we didn’t even have the vote!

Mia Sanders will be speaking on a panel on ‘‘Fighting misogyny and sexism today’’ on Saturday, October 24, 2pm at the Newcastle Resistance Centre

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