When the Future is Female
An article by Moira Were AM
The pandemic arrived decades after western women had won the right to vote, heard and learnt all the words of Helen Reddy’s I am Woman, and just as the #metoo movement was starting to morph beyond movies to legislation and class actions. The pandemic has made every system’s weaknesses visible and gender differentials that perhaps have been camouflaged are now easier to see, and some that we thought were fading away are getting a second life. The pandemic is a disruptor and the perfect time to disrupt patriarchy once and for all, however we need to be vigilant we don’t go backwards and have to recover ground already won.
Let’s pop a gender lens over what we already know.
Have you ever wondered if gender bias is built into a municipality’s use of a snow plough? This unlikely scenario was explored by Karlskoga in Sweden and is beautifully documented in Caroline Criado Perez‘s book Invisible Women. If you want to help your planners, designers, community builders how gender consequences are reflected in their decisions you will find plenty of evidence to draw on in this book. However, you don’t need to read a book to notice how gender bias shows up in a pay packet or perhaps closer to home in the domestic chores. Inside jobs tend to be for women and outside for men, and in Australia we have one of the most gendered workforces in the world. Men hanging around one the BBQ outside and women inside making the salads and looking after the kids is still a default on many summer afternoons in my home country of Australia.
The impact of COVID 19 is particularly gendered with women on the frontline as cleaners and nurses, childcare workers and teachers. The international research emerging as each month of the pandemic passes is being documented by a number of institutes including the Australian’s Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency. They are calling for more data and analysis on the gender differentials as they notice trends around employment, income and financial security,, work inside the home and domestic violence disproportionately impacting on women.
Globally, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) have experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months. Emerging data is showing an increase in rates of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, since the onset of COVID-19. Women’s Safety NSW is seeing the impact of COVID-19 through an increase in violence, an increase in the number of clients and an increase in the complexity of cases, among other issues, and data from Google shows a 75% increase in searches about family and domestic violence. There is concern that victims of domestic violence may not receive much-needed support during COVID-19 with essential services disrupted, and individuals unable to make calls to helplines while in the same space as an abusive partner.*
Women working from home were more likely to be taking the load of children home from care or school with kitchens and bedrooms blurring the lines between business and family. The so-called pink recession is about to hit with women cutting back their hours to meet family needs and expectations. It is a no brainer, women make up the majority of the workers in sectors that have been most impacted by the pandemic – retail, accommodation and food services. These are also the workforces which are dominated by casuals in low paying jobs.
The different styles of leadership during the pandemic have shown up some significant traits between the genders. Merkel, Ardern, Solberg were among the women being celebrated for their leadership and management as a contrast to leaders like Bolsorano, Johnson, Trump. Several common themes in their leadership and actions included prioritising saving lives, testing for health workers on the front line and speedy responses to lockdown and quarantine measures. There was little evidence of prevarication, attention to calm and consistent reporting, holding press conferences with children and from children’s perspectives were other features.
In Australia, the opportunity to access superannuation has been part of our public policy response to COVID19. There is evidence of women accessing these funds, to top up their livelihoods and removing what little protection they might have had for their later years. In contrast, women hold powerful levers to disrupt this current state of affairs. Women make more than 80% of all the household consumer decisions. This means ignoring women is ignoring market power. We also know that businesses led by women are more likely to have workplace flexibility and less likely to have a gender pay gap. We also know that we are on the cusp of an historical wealth transfer. Women living longer than men is a feature of this phenomenon as well!
Approximately $30 trillion in wealth is set to change hands in the next three to four decades, and women are poised to inherit a sizable share from their spouses and aging parents.**
There are new (or old) economic models emerging such as Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and revisiting the work of Marilyn Waring’s Counting for Nothing. In the context of the challenges facing our planet and species, bringing a gender lens to data, analysis and policy making will support equity and justice. This approach will need to be coupled with racial justice and decolonisation to be fully expressed and realised in new social, economic and environmental models.
Tesla pointed to the empowerment of women as one of the most significant effects of technology on the world of tomorrow, and while this is growing technological entrepreneurship, investment in female founders and the bias intrinsic in many of the algorithms still needs addressing. It was a woman, Katherine Johnson who did all the calculations to get a man to and from the moon, women continue to be underrepresented in the fields of science, technology and engineering. Applying a gender lens to your efforts has the potential to open up new ideas and unearth what Nikola Tesla predicted: the future is female. We are seeing this future emerge through a range of community wealth building and capital raise initiatives here in Australia and worldwide. Using equity crowdfunding platforms Shebah and Food Connect had stellar raises with more than 90% of their capital coming from women. Also the platforms arriving in the market include female founders such as Anna Guenther from Pledge Me and Jill Storey from Ready Fund Go. One model that is creating its own system is SheEO founded by Vicki Saunders where this transformative approach brings together crowdfunding, wisdom of the crowd, expertise and peer support to build female entrepreneurs and enterprises through the principle of radical generosity and vision to raise a $1B perpetual fund.
Applying a gender lens is a start and for many is seen as low hanging fruit. It hopefully will be out of date very soon as a practice as binary ways of seeing the world start to fade. But that time has not yet arrived and so getting practice in applying a gender lens is a step everyone can take.
At Ethical Fields, we are noticing trends in community wealth building, with many women leading transition on their farms, in co-operatives and in community leadership. We are also noticing economic models and environmental approaches that are drawing on feminist principles and practices. We are also aware of the rise in collaboration and decline in competition and desire to solve problems that build capacity along the way and fuel creativity and innovation.
We’d like to help you get started with these seven questions to apply to any issue you might be examining or experiencing:
- Is there any gender specific data?
- Are there any gender differentials in the analysis?
- What are the differences in the way structures, policies and processes impact on women?
- Could this decision impact differently on men and women?
- Will this decision take a step towards or away from inclusion, equity, justice?
- Have women been included?
- What women are missing from the conversation?
- What lessons from women leaders in the pandemic might be applied to a crisis you are encountering?
Full disclosure: As well as being on the Ethical Fields team, Moira is a SheEO activator, Shebah shareholder and recently sung I am Woman at a Hen House open night.