Rethinking ‘Domestic Purposes’: Do we need a new approach?

Byron Clark

As the government ramps up attacks on welfare recipients defensive actions have happened across the country as those on welfare and their supporters advocate for their right to dignity and a living income (not that benefits can really be called that). The status quo we are defending, however, is a much less than ideal situation, what we need is to change the way our society defines and values ‘work’.

The Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), which is one of several to be merged into a new ‘job seeker benefit’, was  formed through the Social Security Amendment Act in 1973 with the first payments starting in May of 1974. It was originally set at a level that would enable single mothers to care for their children as a full time job without having to enter the work-force. A year before the Social Security Amendment Act, American feminist Selma James launched the wages for house work campaign, arguing that the work done in the home should be financially compensated.

While the DPB only applies to single parents, New Zealand must have looked somewhat progressive in the early 70s. Several decades later however, there is an enormous stigma in being a ‘DPB mum’. Back in 2002, six years before he would become prime minister, John Key described women receiving the DPB as “breeding for a business”. Work done outside of the wage-labour system- and being a parent is a huge amount of work- is not recognised by the likes of Key as having value. Even from a purely economic perspective, the reproduction of the next generation of the workforce is a service capitalism is getting on the cheap.

One nation has taken steps to ensure that this work is valued. In 2006 Venezuela began paying the nation’s poorest housewives 80% of the minimum wage for work done in the home. “The world is beginning to recognise and value women’s hidden contribution to society but Venezuela goes further” wrote James at the time. “This is finally a wage for housework, something we have demanded since 1972!”  [Read more…]

Women, class and revolution

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A presentation given by Wellington Branch Member, Kassie Hartendorp on October 9th, 2012.

The general view circulating the Western world is that women have it all. Women’s oppression is a relic of the past; we have independence, freedom and lions (see picture) We forged our way out of the kitchen, paved our path up the career ladder and scaled the ivory tower. There’s no doubt that we’ve made tremendous gains, on the shoulders of our courageous forebears, yet something still doesn’t seem quite right. Maybe it’s that glass ceiling that we find ourselves bumping our heads on in the workplace, it could be the harassment we encounter as we walk through our supposedly reclaimed streets, or the double shift we bear when we come home from work just to start our second unpaid job in the home. Maybe, your life seems pretty swell as an identified, independent woman; free of all of these pesky problems – I can’t speak for each of us individually. But I can point to a wider system of oppression, which continues to exist on a structural level despite our gains, our wins, our slow, but significant triumphs.

What does women’s oppression look like?

So what does the oppression of women look like in 2012? How does it manifest itself? Let me give a bit of background into the larger picture.

While women in the Western world are entering higher education in their droves, education is still an issue for a large number of women worldwide. On a global level, women account for two thirds of the world’s 774 million adult illiterates, with this being unchanged over the past two decades. Women have historically been actively barred from education, with major changes only happening within the past half a century. Even among those in higher education, women are still underrepresented in disciplines that offer the highest paying and highest status jobs.

In terms of work, women now make up a large percentage of the paid labour force in most countries. However, they are notably overrepresented in the lowest paying jobs, with men holding the most wealth, status, power and authority in their occupations. Horizontal and vertical job segregation has contributed to a global gender pay gap, which while is closing in some countries, still remains the same if not worse in others.

While women have increased in their participation in the paid workforce, they are still doing twice the amount of unpaid work as men are in all regions in the United Nations; resulting in a double burden of both paid work and family responsibilities.

According to UN gender reports women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of its food and earn a whopping 10% of its income. And they own just 1 percent of the world’s property.

Women still have little official influence and power when it comes to decision-making. In national parliaments, women make up only 17 percent of the total seats; only 7 of 150 elected Heads of State in the world are women, and 11 of the 192 Heads of Government.

In the private sector, women are beginning to make gains, but still, of the 500 largest corporations in the world, only 13 have a female CEO with many experiencing the glass ceiling that acts as a barrier to women wanting to rise through the ranks.

Statistics also indicate that universally, women are still subjected to violence, on a physical, sexual, psychological, and economic level. Many regions of the world still adhere to customs that beat, mutilate and kill women in ways that are dissimilar to how men are treated. Women are subjected to intimate violence in every single region of the world. In Aotearoa, 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence at the hand of a partner in their lifetime, while the Government continues to provide a lack of funding to offer support to survivors. Rape culture is still a rampant force that acts to blame the victim, rather than the perpetrator, thus refusing to acknowledge the true issue of sexual violence.

According to the UN, “Poor infrastructure and housing conditions as well as natural hazards disproportionately affect women from the less developed regions in terms of unpaid work, health and survival.” More than half of rural households and about a quarter of urban households in sub-Saharan Africa lack easy access to drinking water, with women taking on this burden. In these cases, as Angela Davis says, clean water is literally a feminist issue.

In less developed regions, poverty is often a burden that affects women and girls the hardest, with women having lower proportions of cash income than men. Existing laws still restrict women’s access to land and other types of property in most countries in Africa and about half the countries in Asia.

While Beyonce’s singing that we all run the world, women have next to no control in terms of economic resources. In fact, we don’t even have control over our own bodies most of the time. Access to quality healthcare, abortion and contraception are still a major issue in many regions of the world. The right to abortion on request only exists in 29 percent of the world’s countries, and even among those, there are still rigid requirements for what a woman chooses to do with her body

This is just a snapshot of women’s status in the world today. This probably isn’t news to most of you here, but when we lay it out like this, we can stop thinking of our problems, however ‘first world’ they may seem, as isolated and individual phenomena, but rather underlying threads of a wider structural issue that permeates the far reaches of the globe, albeit in different ways.  [Read more…]

Gender and Video Games

Kassie Hartendorp

Anita Sarkeesian

Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian

Earlier this year, feminist media critic, Anita Sarkeesian created a Kickstarter project to raise funds in order to explore tropes of women within popular video games. The project raised a backlash from the male gaming communities who launched a vicious online attack against Sarkeesian. This included abusive emails, blog posts, and social networking comments of a sexist and racist nature. The attacks also involved the creation of hate sites, Wikipedia vandalism (editing her page with crude messages and porn until it was locked) and hacking/DDOSing her website. There was even an online game made called ‘Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian’ which allows the player to ‘beat the b**** up’ until bruises and welts appeared on her face.

Many observed the events in shock and disgust as the attacks rolled in, while others were sadly unsurprised at the outpouring of misogyny towards a seemingly small and harmless venture. To feminist critics, especially those involved in gaming and the internet, this backlash was a manifestation of a wider problem. As background, the gaming industry itself is widely understood to be a male-dominated sector, with only 11 percent of gaming developers being women. There are many contributing factors to this; some argue that technology and gaming have historically been seen as the domain of boys and men. This perception (reinforced by the lack of outreach to females) is argued to have been a barrier to girls playing and enjoying video games, and therefore, creating a lack of motivation to pursue work in the industry. With few women involved in the development process, the cycle tends to continue over and over again. [Read more…]

Protest Report: Slutwalk Dunedin

By Jessica Ward

The first of September was a cold day in Dunedin.  I got dressed in the sluttiest clothes I felt comfortable in; a short red velvet dress with a pair of black woolen tights and a splash of red lipstick. As I walked through the central city towards the dental school where the rally was to begin I saw no signs of fellow “sluts” along the way.  The town seemed almost dead with only a few couples littering the sidewalks.  Arriving at the designated meeting point outside the Dental School I was disheartened to see only a few people, mostly girls wearing fur coats which I imagine were keeping their body temperatures above freezing before the walk began.  But slowly the crowd began to grow.  Signs, badges and lists of chants were handed out. The signs, placards and patches had kindly been hand-painted by the organising committee and distributed to anyone committed to adorning themselves with pro slut propaganda.

 

[Read more…]

Wellington event: Women, Class & Revolution


A facilitated discussion led by Kassie Hartendorp.

6pm October 9th, 19 Tory St.

Occupy Christchurch Womyn’s group

In recent months a new space has opened up for radical women in Christchurch to hold discussions and organise around social issues.

The Occupy Christchurch Womyn’s group first met several months ago when Occupy Christchurch remained active, but general assemblies had become tense and the safer spaces policy overlooked.

Over the course of the movement, Occupy became a difficult space for many activists to work in with its increasing inward focus, disorganised and poorly attended meetings and individuals dominating the discussion with their own agendas, often unsupported by the group.

For women in the movement, the atmosphere of Occupy Christchurch was discouraging and, at times, openly confrontational.

Though these dynamics were not limited to the movement in Christchurch and were noted by womyn around the country (see  Why Have Women Left the Occupy Movement in the April 2012 issue of The Spark or online at http://bit.ly/HZoOCy), Christchurch activists have worked to create a welcoming space alongside the wider Occupy group to discuss issues specifically impacting on womyn in our communities. [Read more…]

Safer Spaces in Political Organising

“Safer spaces” began in forms such as consciousness-raising groups

Kassie Hartendorp is a Workers Party member, founding activist of the Queer Avengers, and works as a youth worker for a queer youth organisation. This article is adapted from a talk presented at the Workers Party annual conference.

What is a safe space?

As background, safe spaces began in forms such as consciousness-raising groups within the second wave feminist movement. These were spaces which allowed women to openly discuss the discrimination or abuse they were subjected to and strategise ways to fight against issues relating to sexism. The safety of these spaces was important as they provided an opportunity for women to come to terms with issues such as domestic violence or sexual abuse, within a supportive environment. They were also a space that addressed the issue of male domination within wider political groups and as such, often excluded men with the intention to minimise the chances of abuse or marginalization, so that those involved could move forward in their fight against oppression.

Nowadays, safe spaces are often associated with the women’s movement and the queer community. They were formed on the basis that women and queer people were often not physically safe within mainstream groups, and in these environments, people could feel confident expressing their identity or just existing without the threat of violence or verbal abuse. [Read more…]

The War on Women, NZ edition: Beneficiaries and Contraception

This article was written by Anne Russell, originally published at Scoop.co.nz and reprinted in the June issue of The Spark. 

Sue Bradford will speak on beneficiary rights on the opening night of Socialism 2012.

The battle over publicly-funded contraception in the US has led to many women breaking ranks with the Republican Party, who like to deny women autonomy over their bodies. At first glance, the National Party seems to be moving in the opposite direction from its US counterpart. The government recently announced proposals to put public funding towards contraception for beneficiaries. Not for poor people, mark you although many low-income earners also struggle to afford contraception—just for people who receive state support. While easy universal access to contraception would be a splendid idea, this particular policy does not appear to have autonomous women’s best interests at heart. Indeed, it arguably plays a part in controlling the reproductive lives of female beneficiaries.

While US Republicans apparently want all women to have more babies, National wants only certain women to stop reproducing. Minster for Social Development Paula Bennett said on TVNZ’s Q&A last June that while she was a fan of long-term reversible contraception for beneficiaries, “I don’t think we’re quite at compulsory sort of stages,”—as though it is a stage that might be reached at some point. The implication is alarming; as one person put it on Facebook: “The state deciding who is allowed to have children: historically, not awesome.” [Read more…]

Responses to “why have women left the Occupy movement?”

Our article in last month’s issue (also available online here) looking at why women have left the Occupy movement elicited several responses. They are printed here to continue this important discussion.

As part of our Socialism 2012 conference, the Workers Party will be holding a session on “safer spaces in the left,” concerning how to make left groups welcoming and inclusive. This will be facilitated by Kassie Hartendorp at 11am Saturday the 2nd of June, Newtown Community Centre.

 Still supporting the movement

How do you know they left the Occupy Movement to even start asking the question? Has there been some kind of research done? Occupy Auckland was, after all, in the CBD, so naturally it comes with the regular experiences that come with transients and those who drink and take drugs in and around the city, I had one frightening experience one particular night I was there, but it didn’t stop me supporting the Movement or going back, sleeping in the middle of the city poses its risks, irrespective of whether a person in an occupier or not, it’s all just part and parcel of sleeping rough, though I admit, the safer spaces policy did kind of go out the door during the latter part of the occupation.

-Alison Withers  [Read more…]

US and New Zealand: The struggle for access to abortions and contraception continues

Vita Bryant, Workers Party, Wellington

In the heat of the campaigning for the Republican Primaries, Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown, a well-respected Catholic university in Washington DC, applied to make a submission to the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee had convened to discuss whether or not to amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which would allow employers to opt out of providing insurance coverage for contraception on religious grounds – in other words, regardless of an employee’s religious belief, their employer can mandate whether or not their insurance will cover access to contraception. In a country where the costs of medicines are largely covered by private insurance arrangements, such an amendment could leave the contraceptive choices of hundreds of thousands of women in the United States to the whims of their employers. [Read more…]