The future lives of women have changed drastically. As a growing number of women agitate for change, this new book, edited by Jamila Rizvi and Helen McCabe, contends it is time to demand what women want. Through the lenses of work, love, and body, this powerful and essential essay collection asks: Will the Australia of tomorrow be more equal than the one we were born into? Or will it be a country where women and girls remain left behind?
I’ve hit Jamila up here with a few pithy questions about this new work.
What is the premise of Work.Love.Body.? What need did you see for this book?
We know that in the wake of cataclysmic global events, incredible progress is often made as governments seek to invest for the future. Australia can use this opportunity one of two ways; we can either strive towards gender equality or ignore the problem. Work. Love. Body. sets out what the opportunities are for Australian women if our governments, businesses, and community see fit to invest in their potential. It also reflects on the varied experiences of women during the pandemic to draw out the need for policy approached that respond to that diversity of experience. We hope very much it will be read by governments, policy makers and opinion shapers, as well as women who want to find solace in the shared experiences of others. Will the Australia of tomorrow be more equal
Covid magnified many gender inequalities which already existed in our society. Tell me more about that, as it’s explored in this work.
We spoke to dozens and dozens of women for Work. Love. Body. Each of them generously shared her story in the hope that it might ultimately help others. Jane was perhaps one of those whose experience most interested me. Jane is a single mum with two children and finds it tough to make ends meet. She was almost embarrassed to admit that 2020 was a better year for her. She was able to make rent, to pay her bills in advance and take advantage of the discounts that come with that. She could get food on the table even in the days immediately ahead of receive her income support payments.
The increased funding from government during 2020 for people who were out of work made Jane’s life manageable for the first time. She was freed from the stress and anxiety of financially making things work and that left her able to properly search for work.
What this tells me is that while the pandemic has magnified gender inequalities, our response has also shown what is possible. If only governments had this kind of will in ordinary times, to look after our most vulnerable citizens.
My worry is that women ALWAYS postpone looking after themselves and take care of others first. How does your book address this?
The data shows – and the experiences of women we spoke to for Work. Love. Body. affirm this – that women were the first ones out of the workforce when the pandemic hit. While the unemployment rate is very low right now it hides a multitude of problems, including that women are underemployed and many have exited the workforce – and the search for work – entirely. Why women have stopped working is unsurprising. It is not about the availability of work but the availability of their time. Women are picking up the lion’s share of unpaid housework, childcare and home schooling. Santilla Chingaipe explores in her essay the fact that taking care of themselves becomes not so much a priority but a laughable proposition. We were shocked and worried by how many women we spoke to were close to or at the point of burnout. As well as the sad reality that the pressure on psychological and counselling services means getting the help they need is hugely difficult.
As well as bearing the brunt of the huge domestic load, women were also the frontline workers of the pandemic. How did this play out?
The pandemic is a single life changing event that has impacted us all but our experiences of it are quite different. This is true for women also.
While most people who lost work during the pandemic were women, they were also most workers on the front line who continued to leave the house each day to do their jobs. The caring professions have always been dominated by women and the pandemic showed us just how critical that work is. While childcare, aged care, disability care and nursing are all woefully underpaid and undervalued, they are also quite literally essential. Even in a deadly pandemic, we could not do without them.
Jane Gilmore considers in Work. Love. Body. whether this will change the status of caring work into the future and sadly conclude that is unlikely to be the case. The country is likely to revert to the status quo of considering these as jobs which are done for ‘love’ and therefore don’t deserve the same financial compensation. This is a narrative we have to end.
Sometimes gender inequality seems like such an intractable problem. What hope and/or joy does your book offer?
Work. Love. Body. offers a surprising amount of joy given the heavy subject matter. Women have been remarkable contributors during this difficult time in history and their stories of supporting one another are heart-warming. Importantly, the pandemic has been a time where things governments and businesses told us were ‘impossible’ were suddenly deemed possible. Childcare was provided free of charge to parents for a period of several months and guess what? The sky didn’t fall in. Women who were sleeping rough were given the opportunity to live in hotel accommodation, without charge, to keep them and the community safe. And women who had asked for flexible work arrangements and been denied them for years because it was ‘just too hard’ discovered it was completely fine. The challenge for this country is to learn from these experiences as we move forward.
I notice this book is essentially a collaboration of five female writers and editors. And this is generally how you do things at Future Women (which produced the book!). Why do you choose to work like this? What statement are you wishing to make?
Future Women is an organisation that prides itself on bringing incredible women together. In our community every day new support is offered between working women, new connections are made, and new lessons imparted. We want to practice what we preach. We hire, contract and work with diverse women with a range of experiences and backgrounds. We know that creating a book using multiple women’s voices means it is more likely to be inclusive, expansive and illustrative.
Please note: Feature image of a childcare worker is a stock photo