Entrenching privilege: Child-care, parenting and politics

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A Father's Day Reflection  










The  story of Sarah Coral Hanson-Young illustrates two intersecting themes that entrench male privilege - the representation of gender in politics and the imbalance in responsibility for parenting. It is of concern that many (but not all) legislatures under-represent women, ensuring a cycle in which women's interests remain a low priority and decisions that are gendered continue to be taken. Yet so long as women carry an unequal burden of domestic and child-care responsibility this is unlikely to change appreciably.

Sarah Hanson-Young tried to make some changes. Elected to the Australian Senate in 2008 at the age of 27, she represents the State of South Australia for The Greens. Her career represents many firsts including being the youngest woman ever elected to the federal parliament.  As a politician her portfolio responsibilities include childcare, education, human rights, sexuality & gender identity, status of women and youth. One might therefore expect her to be well informed on these issues.

However Senator Hanson has a two year old daughter, Kora, who she takes to work with her. Unfortunately there is a rule in the Senate that when a Division is called for a vote, no 'strangers' are allowed in the chamber. The Senate President therefore ordered Kora to be ejected, and parliamentary staff grabbed the child who had been unobtrusive to that point, screaming from her  mother's arms. Kora thus became the youngest person ever to be ejected from the Australian parliament.


This incident has sparked an international debate with reactions ranging from condemnation of the Senator and calls for women to stay home with their children, to demands for family-friendly workplaces and Senate reform with questions about whether this sends a strong signal that women should not consider entering politics at all. 


Technically the Senator has a case for discrimination in the workplace, however this story raises many questions in an ongoing debate about women in the workplace. Recently women politicians in the Australian parliament were actually allowed to breastfeed. Workplace rules for politicians are bound to create precedents for other workplaces, but unless we make accomodations to facilitate women fulfilling their potential in society, gendered decision making through a male lens will continue to be the dominant discourse. 

The real issue is of course much broader than this - how can we ensure that legislatures adequately reflect the diversity of the population they represent, and what accomodations are necessary to create that reflection.

Link to this with: http://tiny.cc/80Zd9