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Gender Equality Won’t Just Improve Women’s Lives — It’ll Improve Everyone’s

gender equalityIn a recent Huffington Post article, Business Reporter Shane Ferro asked “What would the world be like if we achieved true equality for women?” Her answers may surprise some readers.

For starters, she argues that the global economy might be stronger. Yet that transition would have to involve some trade-offs — rethinking traditional gender roles and changing public policies to support a more equitable and balanced family life.

Ferro isn’t just speculating in her article. She draws on data from a recent report from McKinsey & Company which calculated that if women across the globe gained economic parity with men — meaning they clocked in the same hours and earned the same total pay and compensation — the resulting global economic output would total $28 trillion in gross domestic product per year.

Yet what the report doesn’t address is who would take over the sizable amount of unpaid labor that women do on behalf of their households and families every day.

Women, of course, aren’t the only ones who provide childcare, look after aging parents and sick relatives, or do the cooking and household maintenance. Yet on the global theater, women still act as the default caregivers in many places. So more women  pursuing careers and professional leadership roles would mean more men needing to rotate into those caregiver roles. What’s more, governments and employers would need to recognize the importance of caregiving and provide benefits to compensate and encourage it.

This is the argument made by foreign policy expert Anne Marie Slaughter in her new book, Unfinished Business, which comes as a sequel to her seminal 2012 Atlantic piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

Last week’s event hosted by the New America Foundation (Slaughter serves as their CEO) featured Slaughter in a conversation with New York City Council member Christine Quinn on the topic of “infrastructure of care.” In the U.S., this infrastructure barely exists. In decades past it was upheld largely by generations of women who stayed at home. Yet as women have gone steadily entered the workforce, families have had to cobble together ways to provide care for young children and ageing parents — with less and less time to give.

As Slaughter wrote in her book, “We need an equal infrastructure of care: a set of arrangements and institutions that allows citizens to flourish not only in the pursuit of their individual goals but also in their relationships to one another.”

For example, we build and maintain roads as a society because we understand that the majority of people will need to use them – or will benefit from their use by others (by having goods delivered, having protection by ambulances and fire trucks that use them, etc). Why, she asked, do we not provide “high-quality paid care” for those who need it in our society: children, sick people and the elderly?

Both women and men, she explained last week, have to somehow balance their work and family lives in a society where the workday is never really over (think emails and job duties that extend into evenings and weekends), where paid family leave is not guarantees and where childcare can cost more than rent. “We should think of this not as a women’s problem, but as a care problem,” Slaughter insisted before her audience.

She also noted that while men need to be taking on bigger family roles to promote greater workplace equality, re-engineering society at large is a more comprehensive policy problem that exceeds the struggles of ambition in wealthy families. People from many different classes and backgrounds need more support than they currently have access to for caregiving tasks.

Slaughter’s book goes into detailed discussion about one of the most progressive organizations in subsidizing care: this is, ironically, the Pentagon. The Department of Defense provides high quality on-site day care for children of both men and women who work there. They also cover day care expenses for employees.

“[T]he part of the U.S. government most directly responsible for upholding national security recognizes the need to pay wages that can attract and retain college- and graduate-school-educated workers to provide care and early learning to the children of all employees from birth onward,” she wrote.

In fact, Slaughter said in both the book and at last week’s talk that she feels care for young children is important enough to be a national security issue.

“Children’s brains are shaped most in the first five years of their lives, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that the care and education of our children from birth to age five is a national security issue,” she wrote in her book.

 

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Emery Reddy