Our homes are integral to the cultural and social make-up of our society. They are where values are first instilled and where we are taught the nature of relationships with others.
The home sets the expectations of what our society looks like and how it functions. Yet in 2022, women largely are still charged with the majority of caring responsibilities.
Currently, women are entitled to 90 days of paid parental leave while their partners are only afforded 10 days of leave. This is a powerful indication of how the Government views the roles of men and women. Men are identified as responsible for the income of the family and women are the caregivers. This is outdated and out of step in 2022. Indeed, it has been inconsistent with what many families have wanted for a long time.
The inequality of parental leave has broad and lasting impacts. Not only does it mean children grow up with a lived experience of gender stereotypes, but it also minimises fathers’ potential to benefit from caring roles.
If men were expected to share caring responsibilities equally, would someone like Scott Morrison have had to ask his wife Jenny how to empathise with victims of sexual violence?
Sharing parental responsibilities is an essential step to fostering the values of equality and removing the prescriptive gender roles.
Rather than our current outdated maternity leave policies, we should promote an equitable paid parental scheme that prescribes responsibilities to both partners - irrespective of gender.
As supported by the Grattan Institute, the Government should put in place an equal paid parental scheme - six weeks reserved for each parent plus 12 weeks to share between them, paid at the current rate of the minimum wage.
In addition, if both parents use at least six weeks of leave, a bonus of two weeks’ leave would be available to be used by either parent, making a total of 26 weeks available to each family. This compares to a total of 20 weeks available under the current scheme (18 weeks Paid Parental Leave plus two weeks Dad and Partner Pay).
Single parents should also be entitled to the full 26 weeks.
This proposal encourages and ensures that caring is a shared responsibility.
But we also need a more nuanced policy around parental leave that allows for greater flexibility and accessibility.
Both parents should be able to take government paid parental leave alongside paid leave from their employer. Fathers should no longer be required to negotiate unpaid leave from their employer in order to get government parental leave.
Parents should continue to be able to use their leave entitlements concurrently or separately, to best meet their family’s needs.
When it comes to procedural processes at Centrelink, these should be streamlined to make application for Parental Leave much easier to complete in a single online transaction, and so payments can be made much faster. Furthermore, employers should no longer be the paymaster. Instead, all payments should be made directly by Centrelink.
This paid parental leave should continue to be flexible to suitably address needs, with regular reviews after every 36 months.
Another crucial element to boosting equality in the home that would support paid parental leave reforms would be, as the Minderoo Foundation states, “a national commitment to develop an evidence-based early learning system that is universal, accessible and high quality, delivered by securely employed and properly paid educators and coordinated from infancy through to primary school.”
Greater access to early childhood education, a crucial element of Australia’s economic infrastructure, along with a more equal paid parental leave scheme, would allow greater accessibility and flexibility for parents to re-enter the workforce.
The cultural benefits of women re-entering the workforce in such a way would be enormous. This would help dismantle the antiquated notion that men are the traditional breadwinners, and dismantle the outdated assumption that women have to put their careers on hold to raise children.
Children would grow up seeing the capacity for adults to exist in the workforce irrespective of their gender, truly promoting the notion that children can grow up to be anything they want to be.
These two reforms of paid parental leave and universal child care would shift many outdated gender assumptions, promoting strong notions of equality, dismantling hierarchies, and changing the paradigm for most men to develop a more caring mindset.
From an economic standpoint, reforms in this area would be incredibly positive and productive. It is clear that gendered care is a roadblock to greater economic equality. The World Economic Forum ranks Australia 70th in the world on gender equality in economic participation and opportunity. The economic benefits from higher workforce participation would be felt immediately. The Grattan Institute estimates that such reform would see GDP increases in Australia of about $1.50 for every $1 for incremental investment in ‘use it or lose it’ leave for fathers.
Moreover, the untapped potential of a gender-equal workforce could see even greater economic benefits in the long term. When it comes to education for women, Australia is already a world leader. It is largely the disproportionate load of unpaid care carried by women that is the main barrier for Australia’s highly qualified working women to enhance Australia’s economy.
One of Australia’s greatest resources is its enormous human capacity, and we need to make sure we utilise this to the fullest for the benefit of all Australians. "Removing barriers to participation deepens the talent pool and makes the best use of a country’s human capital."
Increasing women’s capacity to enter the workforce would boost gender balance across all sectors and increase overall productivity as well as closing the gender pay gap.
Another important value of a more gender balanced workforce would be providing women with greater economic security. With women having to bear the brunt of caring responsibility, this often leaves women financially exposed in the event of a relationship ending.
Reform in gender equal care and accessible childcare would create greater opportunities for women to advance their careers, boost their earning capacity and improve their superannuation balances, thus providing greater financial security.
It's simple and it’s a win-win for all.
And it will certainly improve gender equality, thereby bolstering the safety of women.