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OP-ED | 09-03-2019 02:09

Editorial: The long march to gender equality

Female emancipation cannot be placed in the same box as other so-called “minority issues.” For a start women are not even a minority, at least not in this country.

International Women’s Day, marked here yesterday by a massive march amid a worldwide evocation, is now over, but there are those who say that every day should be Women’s Day. We agree and have tried to do our humble best in that direction. A weekly has obvious limitations against everyday coverage of any issue but it has been a recurrent theme during our 18-month existence. And not only when it hits the top of the news, as occurred with last year’s abortion bill between its origin as the big surprise in President Mauricio Macri’s 2018 state-of-the-nation speech just over a year ago and Senate rejection in August.

For example, exactly one month ago when other newspapers were highlighting the charges against prosecutor Carlos Stornelli, President Macri’s 60th birthday and the general economic and campaign buzz, we made our lead story the alarming 26 percent surge in femicides when measured against a 2018 with a femicide every 29 hours, as we reported towards the end of that year. If the femicide rate is every 29 hours, a girl aged under 15 gives birth every three hours, as we placed on our front page a fortnight ago – in recent weeks we have also devoted considerable space to the barbarous new twist in the abortion debate given by the caesarean sections performed on pre-teen rape victims “to save two lives” in some northern provinces, despite qualifying even under unreformed abortion legislation. Even our sports pages make us perhaps the only newspaper in Argentina to pay more attention to the gross inequalities facing female footballers (whose miserable stipend is only a fraction of the minimum wage or pension) than to Lionel Messi. But apart from these extreme or fringe cases, we have also addressed a core issue affecting the majority of women even if stubbornly kept off the radar – namely the gender pay gap (a forgotten promise of that 2018 state-of-the-nation speech). More on that below.

Female emancipation cannot be placed in the same box as other so-called “minority issues.” For a start women are not even a minority, at least not in this country – the 2010 census gave Argentina’s population as 20,593,330 females and 19,523,766 males, or over 51 percent in a world where around 49.5 percent are women (in large measure due to China’s former one-child policy heavily favouring male births) although a superior female life expectancy of 52 more months on average should soon change that balance within an ageing world population. Secondly, while all minorities protest against some social injustice or discrimination, women also face a unique biological injustice with Mother Nature conspiring against her own gender – they have to do all the work in bringing children into the world with even the best-intentioned male partner helpless here.

Gender equality is an illusion without addressing that basic fact. The gender pay gap is a case in point. Women earn 25-30 percent less than men on average but the problem is rather more complex than discrimination by sexist bosses – only around two percentage points of this gap is due to direct violations of the “same pay for the same work” principle. There are specific factors such as exclusively male miners earning several times more than overwhelmingly female teachers due to their filthy job but the root problem is women being stereotyped into lower-paying, non-executive jobs. If less than half women work an average of 32 hours outside the home as against 70 percent of the male population working an average of 42 hours, the obvious culprit is a grossly unfair division of domestic labour. These problems must be addressed by a whole raft of legislation including paternity leave and childcare facilities too extensive for this space.

In conclusion, the key word here must be “choice” in a deeper sense than just a mere pro-choice stance over abortion, with no “one size fits” feminism. And crucially, the abortion debate must be dominated by women on both sides because it is so much a woman’s issue with both sides understanding that “pro-life” is also a choice and that “pro-choice” is another form of “pro-life.” Equal opportunity in the workplace is a must but if a woman finds creating a family more personally fulfilling and chooses to resist feminist militancy and capitalistic pressures for expanded labour and consumer markets, then all power to her. There is no one correct choice but women must always be able to choose.

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