'50 years of International Women's Day and we still hold responsibility for most of those invisible, unpaid, unappreciated every day tasks that hold families and societies together'

In her weekly column, Sue Russell reflects on what International Women's Day means to her
'50 years of International Women's Day and we still hold responsibility for most of those invisible, unpaid, unappreciated every day tasks that hold families and societies together'

Women fill any spare brain capacity and time that they have with the minutia of everyday life, says Sue Russell

“I HAD no idea it was Sean’s birthday yesterday,” admitted my young friend’s husband the other day.

“I did,” said his wife promptly, “I know all the birthdays of our kid’s friends.”

And there you have it. After almost 50 years of a formal International Women’s Day , women still have responsibility for most of those invisible, unpaid, unappreciated every day tasks that hold families and societies together.

Over the course of the years, most of the major discriminatory laws and practices have been done away with. Various legislative acts have outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender – a woman is entitled to be paid the same as a man for doing the same job; women can open bank accounts without a husband’s/guardian’s signature; women don’t have to quit their jobs upon marriage.

A lot has indeed changed.

And yet, in a myriad of small ways – like knowing all the neighbour’s children’s birthdays – women fill any spare brain capacity and time that they have with the minutia of everyday life. 

They remember to organise school lunches; they plan dinner the night before; they co-ordinate play dates, plan after-school activities, remember bin night. By keeping the domestic wheels turning, women keep the world turning.

It is what has been called the work of ‘love, care and solidarity’ and it is carried out disproportionately by women. It is the small, everyday things that most women do without even thinking about it and that most people do not even see.

So why does it matter?

It matters for a number of reasons. It means that for most women who have paid work outside the home, they have in fact two jobs: the one they are paid for and the one that pays no money at all.

It often means that should a woman consider, for example, going forward for job promotion, or taking extra responsibility (and extra pay) at work, she might have to think twice about it. She might think about how she can keep all those balls in the air and still stay sane.

It affects a woman’s mental health. If one of those two jobs you are doing is completely undervalued – aside from the obligatory Mother’s Day cards – it has a knock-on effect on your self-esteem and self-confidence.

When society measures us by our economic productivity and pay packet, it can be very undermining to be on the outside of that world.

And even if you are paid for caring – as in health or child care – again the work is underpaid and undervalued. Compare the pay scale of child care workers, responsible for our most precious possessions, with someone who works in, for example, IT.

Do we really value our computers more than our children?

I do know that things have changed for the better since I went on my first International Women’s Day march in 1975. I know that my little granddaughter will have better educational opportunities than I did. I know that she won’t have to leave her job if she were to marry. I know that she will have aspirational role models and encouragement to fulfil all her dreams and achieve her full potential.

But if her life partner is still offering to ‘help’ with the housework, if she is still driving to work while making mental shopping lists, if she is the only one organising play dates, birthday parties and laundry lists – then breaking the bias will still be a long way off.

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