Everybody's business

Nov 12 2012 07:06
* Mandi Smallhorne
THERE's a joke doing the rounds: why does the Mayan calendar end in December 2012? Because their soothsayers predicted Mitt Romney would win...

It’s getting a lot of mileage among women, who across the world have expressed relief that the next POTUS will not be the candidate who apparently has very archaic views on what’s commonly called "women’s issues".

That term amuses me somewhat, given that quite a few "women’s issues" are things women don’t have issues with. I mean, stop just about any woman on a city street and ask her how she feels about equal pay for equal work. It’s really a no-brainer, she’ll tell you.

But certain men have issues about equal pay – men steeped in the kind of dinosaur thinking Romney displayed when he used the word "if" several times in debate: “If we are to have women in the workplace...” Hey, Romney, we’re here – get over it already! 

Exit polls apparently showed that more women voted for Obama than Romney. That’s no surprise. It turns out that women don’t cotton on to being treated like second-class citizens.  

If Romney had wanted a flavour of how many women felt about his ideas and those of his political buddies, he could have done worse than watch the Renegade Raging Grannies and their witty response to Republican Todd Akin’s "legitimate rape" remark. (“If we are raped we can rest unafraid/’Cause we can’t get pregnant if forcibly laid...” sung to the tune of Zippity-do-dah.)

"Women’s issues" are often treated as secondary in the USA (and South Africa); the Real Stuff is, you know, the economy and foreign policy and defence spending and other muscular issues.

On many of those matters, there’s little discernible difference between politicians: their policies are the creations of cookie-cutters, the only difference being the colour of the Smarties you use for the eyes.

But Obama and Romney were worlds apart on issues such as equal pay (in one of his first acts as president, Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law), equal opportunity and autonomy on reproductive issues.

Voting Romney into power would have meant possibly taking a giant leap back into the early 20th century for women as workers and mothers – and that would be an appalling and tragic waste of potential.

The move by women into the workplace (the office and the laboratory and the hospital and the factory floor and much more) has been crucial, indispensable, to the creation of modern economies and societies.

If you want a snapshot of the government you are considering voting into power, if you want an idea of how much respect it will have towards you as a citizen, and how much it will care about and fight for your quality of life and that of your family, you could do worse than check out the Big Man’s record on those despised "women’s issues".

"Women’s issues" are in fact the stuff of which life and the economy are made.

You see,"‘women’s issues" are very often not as limited in scope as they sound. These are issues that in the end affect us all, in our pockets if not in our hearts.

Take just one example: getting men to take responsibility for the kids they father is regarded as a "women’s issue" (question: why? Parenting is a 50/50 deal, after all); but when a father doesn’t, at the very least, pay maintenance, he saddles society with a human bill that will reach deep into the next generation.

It is a bitter fact that single-parent homes, especially those headed by women, are poorer than those headed by single men or ones in which two parents, married or not, blood relatives or not, same sex or heterosexual, are present and take responsibility for the children. (In 2011 the average female-headed household earned just over half that of their male counterparts – R67 330 versus R128 329, according to the census.)

Children who are disadvantaged by growing up in poverty are at greater risk of  problems like malnutrition or poor education which then affect their own children (the child of a person who only made it to Grade 10 will also likely be poor).

Please note that poverty is the issue here, rather than the gender of the parent.

Is that a "women’s issue"? No! It’s yours, it’s mine, it’s an issue for future employers, for the development of small business and science, for everything we mean when we sing, “I believe the children are our future”.

So your government’s policies on "women’s issues" are a litmus test for the health , resilience, well-being and indeed happiness of your society as a whole.

“Happiness is systematically lower in nations where there is discrimination against women,”, writes  Ruut Veenhoven of Erasmus University, Rotterdam, in Measures of Gross National Happiness, repeating a message that has been conveyed in dozens of studies.

Before the next election comes up in 2014, it might be an idea to interrogate those issues locally. Which parties actively and vigorously defend and promote the rights of women? They’ll be the ones that do more real work for you and yours.

- Fin24

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on twitter.

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mandi smallhorne  |  equality



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