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The war must go on
This essay will focus on the gender wage gap between men and women in Aotearoa through a Marxist-feminist lens. Firstly, giving a brief history of what life looked like for both Māori and Pākehā prior to industrialisation in Britain considering pre-colonisation and post-colonisation in Aotearoa. It will explore the beginnings of the Women’s liberation movement and acts introduced to minimise equality for women concluding with how women a placed today in society.
Oxford (2018) defines feminism as the “advocacy of women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes.” Traditionally, deriving from the west the word was considered based on the struggle for equal rights between the genders (Okome, 1999).
Furthermore, Adewolo (2012) States, that the origins of feminism derived from the “logic of a patriarchal nuclear family” and its roots are interwoven in western ideals, values and histories (Gwendoyln, 1995).
Marxist feminism (MF) is a branch of feminism that is particularly focused on the ways that women are oppressed through systems of capitalism and private property (Srivatsan, 1999); drawing its theoretical bearings from the work of Karl Marx and Fredrich Engle’s, it considers the systems of capitalism that promote the exploitation of labour, alienation of women human as beings, and the debasement of their freedom (Stefano, 2014).
It argues, that gender and class reflect the oppressive relationship between men and women in society; focusing on the earlier systems of human organisation and mentioning the relationship between men and women were equal and domestic roles the responsibility was shared by both. Man was the hunter, woman was the child bearer (Ross & Sawhill, 1977).
However, with the onset of industrialisation the family ceased to be unit of production but changed to become unit of consumption; men left the home and became the bread winners elevating their societal status. In contrast, a woman’s place was now in the home and her role became one of subordination (Sellers, 1991).
“The overthrow of mother- right was the world historical defeat of the female sex”(Hartmann, 1981).
Engle’s compares males to the bourgeoisie and women to the proletariat within the system of capitalism. He mentions men’s labour, was productive and in return for their services they were rewarded. In contrast, women’s labour was reproductive and work at home such as child bearing and managing the home were not acknowledged and no reward was given (Engle’s, 1902).
A critique of MF from other feminists, is that the liberation of women happens through socialist revolution and that a change for women will occur after the revolution. Feminist argue that MF efforts will be undermined by liberal feminism as it strives to improve condition for the working class (Miles et al, 1981).
Historical Britain and New Zealand
Prior to Industrialisation, In English society’s most of the work took place in the home. The family was a functioning unit where everybody contributed and depended on each other. The women within the family unit were described as ‘the household manager’ as women usually oversaw the economic survival more over the daily running of the household (Simonton, 1998). Workers gained independence through common land. land was rented by farmers from the gentry; labours that worked the lands, had access to common land. Common land was a plot of land where labourers could graze cattle or grow vegetables. However, with the closing of common land due to cultivation; workers lost the little economic dependence they had and had to rely on the landowners for money and housing. Some women made their money in the home, selling their handcrafts for an extra income this would lead to the beginning of the cottage industry (Tepapa, 1998).
Specific areas in Britain became renowned for their cottage industries such as, Oxfordshire made famous by its gloves and Bedfordshire which specialised in lace-making. However, with the onset of the industrialisation era the cottage industry dwindled out. This gave women a few options, they could ether find employment in a factory or seek out a domestic service; Or they could move out to one of the English colonies. Single women were encouraged to move to the colonies as there were numbers of single men (Tepapa, 1998).
Prior to colonisation in Aotearoa life was much different for Māori women. The roles that men and women played were equal. Sustainability, of the Iwi, hapu and whānau came first. Relationships within tribal culture existed around the balance between the spiritual realm, the environment, and people (Gemmell, 2013).
Everyone was interconnected with each other, with the ones that had passed, with the ones that were present and with the ones that were yet to come. In order for the tribe to survive men and women had to support, love and work together (Durie, 2001).
However, Dominy (1990) mentions that this was not the case through the eyes of some researchers; claiming that Māori society was one of patriarchy and that women were subject to subordination; the process of Tikanga for example, on some Marae excluded women therefore making women inferior to men in Māori society.
In contrast Pihama (2001), believes that these arguments derive from a western individualistic lens and are based on an outsider’s perspective that looks within.
With the introduction of capitalism and western ideological belief system; life dramatically changed for Māori women in New Zealand. The patriarchal dominant European culture defined Māori as savages and uneducated. Forced assimilation, would see Māori women subject to the churches belief system that opposed Tikanga and ultimately viewed women as property of the husband; a women’s place was no longer one of equality but one of servanthood to their male counterparts (Mikaere, 2003).
Gender discrimination was clear for both Māori and Pākehā women in the 1880s. Māori women often took cleaning jobs or worked in European households as house maids; working long hours for a minimal amount of pay. These jobs reflected the positioning of Māori in neo-colonial society.
In contrast, Pākehā women pursued teaching and nursing careers earning a considerable amount more than their Māori counter parts (Gemmell, 2013). Women were silenced through European systems of patriarchy and racism.
After many decades of silence women began the process for their voices to be heard.
Consciousness raising (CR) a think tank that formed on the back of the civil rights movement; was essentially the backbone of the women’s created by radical feminists in America in the late 1960’s. CR became an essential part of the group therapy movement its purpose was to inspire change in its practitioners (Rosenthal, 1984). CR widely used by feminist groups in Aotearoa. Women shared their experiences and developed an understanding of oppression that was present in their own lives (Cook, 2011).
From CR was the inspiration to the women’s liberation movement (WLM); which is referred to as the ‘political alignment of women and feminist intellectualism’ (Bullock et al, 1999).
Women’s Liberation Movement
Upon the WLM a few women’s liberation groups emerged out of existing left-wing organisations. These Marxist-feminist based groups included the Women’s Unions in Auckland and Wellington and the Working Women’s Alliance which set up in the mid 1970’s. Marxist-feminist groups argued that the women’s movement disregarded the working class. So, the focus of these groups was centred on law changes and the working-class women, publicising their situation moreover working alongside them to improve it (Cook, 2011).
‘There is no difference in the work to be done. The same standards have to be taught and the same examinations passed … How manifestly unfair then to have two rates of pay for the same work, merely because one of the workers is a woman’ (Sheppard, 1892: 6)
Equal Employment Act (EEA), The EEA in 1972, would be a step in the right direction for Marxist/Socialist/Liberal Feminism. Campaigning by Feminists and international trends would see employment rights and human rights working together to ensure pay equity. However, despite efforts; New Zealand would come under criticism for its lack of compliance on “equal pay for work of equal value” (MSD, 2004).
Liberals and Marxists worked politically and socially that would see acts introduced to address the concerns of women. Domestic Purposes Benefit introduced so that families of one parent (mainly women) would get government support. Matrimonial Property Act introduced so that upon divorce the equitable division of matrimonial property would be ensured. Human Rights Commission Act introduced to address the discrimination of women. Maternity Leave and Employment Protection Act, allowing women to take 26weeks paid leave during or after the birth of a child. State Sector Act Which actioned equal employment making sure that steps we put in place (ministry of women’s affairs, 2019).
The Acts are attributed by the efforts of feminist’s who have battled long and hard for social justice. They have been reviewed and amended to ensure the process of liberation and equality for women by not only MF but all branches of feminism so that the voices of women will be heard.
A Household Labour Force Survey conducted by Stats NZ concluded that as of 2018 the gender pay gap was 9.2 percent based on the economic indicator used to measure pay equality. (Stats NZ, 2016)
Research pertaining to the New Zealand gender pay gap concludes that 80 percent cannot be explained. It reveals that unexplained difference includes discrimination moreover unconscious bias. Motherhood also plays as an important factor in gender pay gap in New Zealand (Ministry of Women, 2018).
Sin et al (2018) discovered that on average women returning to work as mothers had 4.4 percent decrease in hourly wages and that for mothers that return to work after a year, the average decrease is 8.3 percent.
Women remain under-represented in both higher-level and managerial positions also attributing to the gender pay gap. Additionally, women make up 59% of the workforce moreover 24% of the chief executives (Human Rights Commission, 2014).
As of 2019 we are seeing women more in positions power and receiving wages that reflect their labour. Our current female prime minister Jacinda Addern currently earns NZ$471,049 per year and is currently the seventh highest paid prime minister in the world (News Hub, 2019). Her predecessor, the honourable John Key (questionable) slightly made less $459,739 (NZ Herald, 2016).
Through a MF lens we can see how women (proletariat) have been ignored, unacknowledged, discriminated against within the capitalist system under a patriarchal system. Feminists Radical, Marxist, Social, Liberal have worked to address and introduce reforms to inspire change and equality between the sexes. Even though, its impossible to get a full measure of the wage gap and the full reasons behind it the fact remains. That there is still a gender wage gap between men and women and as long as this continues women will always hold a position of subordination.
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