Jane Caro

John Howard’s comments: lack of foresight, lack of understanding

Approx Reading Time-11John Howard’s recent comments regarding women show how much there is left to be done, and how little that he understands the issue.

 


A few days ago at the National Press Club, ex-Australian PM, John Howard, claimed that it was just the “truth” that women would never achieve 50% representation in our parliaments (or anywhere else, I imagine) because of their caring roles. Well, Mr Howard, there is one area where women are rapidly approaching 50% representation and that is among the ranks of the homeless. It is estimated by those who work in the sector that 44% of the homeless are women. The fastest growing group without a roof over their head, in fact, are women over 55.

And I am sorry to be so blunt, Mr Howard, but I think it is attitudes like yours that have played a significant part in putting them there.

The idea of woman as the “natural” carer; the member of the family who will put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own; who willingly – lovingly even – takes the burnt chop; is a pernicious one. It makes women terrifyingly vulnerable and allows the rest of us to exploit, ignore and neglect the women we claim to love.

It enables legislators to create superannuation schemes that take no notice of the very different shape of women’s working lives, leaving far too many women eeking out their old age on the single pension – currently at around $390 a week. Try living on that, Mr Howard. It enables the more fortunate to rationalise a lifetime of fewer opportunities, lower wages and more insecure work for one half of the human race as inevitable and simply a fact of life – as you have done. They, like you, shrug their shoulders, congratulate themselves on their own (ahem) merit, and turn their backs on the terrible (yes, terrible) position their patronising and self-serving attitudes have placed so many women. But you did more than just shrug, didn’t you, Mr Howard. You indulged in a little social engineering via our tax system. Through Family Tax Benefits you created a real disincentive for women to give up their caring roles and return to the workforce leaving them even more vulnerable to poverty in old age.


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The reasons women find themselves catapulted into homelessness are not the same as those given by men. The number one reason is that they have had to flee domestic violence, the second is a health crisis or the loss of a job and inability to find another one – often because they are both too old and low-skilled. A lifetime of interrupted work to care for others, followed by part-time work and consequent low incomes predisposes women to toppling into homelessness. When things go wrong, Mr Howard, they literally have less to fall back on. As Betty Friedan said when confronted by women eulogising the housewife, helpmate, caring role for women: “Well, ladies, that’s all very well, but you are just one breadwinner away from the poverty line.” And so it has turned out for a growing number of desperate women.

And they are really desperate. Recently I participated in a callback segment on older women and homelessness on ABC radio. The stories we heard were hair-raising. One caller, Maree, 64, who had experienced homelessness and who wept as she told her story, is still living in very insecure housing.

“Every day I am facing homelessness. I worked really hard, I studied hard, but the main working period of my life after the kids are gone, I find myself too sick to work…but I won’t face homelessness ever again. I will definitely commit suicide before I have to do that again.”

Another caller who volunteers in the sector said she heard the same story often.

Not only must we have 50% of women in our parliaments and in every other corridor of power, Mr Howard, we must also have 50% of the caring responsibilities shouldered by men. Only then will we have a society that fairly distributes the responsibilities and the rewards.

Women are disproportionately finding themselves facing poverty and desperation in their old age precisely because they have relied on men to take care of their interests, while they were busy caring for others. They weren’t just relying on their husbands, either, they were – and still, sadly, are – relying on men in positions of power in government, business and every other sector of society to make decisions that took, and take women’s lives into account.

And, frankly, Mr Howard, you blokes have let them down. Every older woman facing the possibility of living in her car is proof of that. Women must take their seat at the decision-making table in equal numbers to men. Only then will they have any chance of improving their own lives.

Only then will they have any chance of improving their own lives.

 

Jane Caro

Jane Caro has a low boredom threshold and so wears many hats; including author, novelist, lecturer, mentor, social commentator, columnist, workshop facilitator, speaker, broadcaster and award winning advertising writer.

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  • billie

    In Amsterdam social housing is in converted shipping containers which can be converted in factories and stacked in situ

  • billie

    I also faced discrimination when I applied for a home loan as a single woman in 1982 but I thought times had changed.

    I moved my account to another bank, wrote a letter of complaint to head office pointing out that I was from a landed rural family (without mentioning acreage) as well as reminding the bank of my savings and earnings history.

    The bank responded by sacking the bank manager and inviting me to take out a mortgage with them. I used to feel guilty about the bank manager but not now

  • andrea

    Howard said he doesn’t think it will ever be 50-50. Ever? That’s a bit odd.

  • andrea

    Labour doesn’t last a decade.

  • Anthony

    The simple fact is that candidates for major party preselection are overwhelmingly men. They are also overwhelmingly the applicants for senior executive positions in business and government.
    Effort should be made to increase the number of females who are able to be candidates but to introduce quotas would effectively mean poorer MPs and executives because organisations would be required to recruit from a much smaller talent pool in reaching their 50% quota.

  • darren manitta

    I think people are approaching this situation from the wrong direction. Rather than trying to achieve equality we should be starting by excepting that men and women are different and have different needs and problems. First example is obvious. Why isn’t the pension higher for woman but lower for men to make up for the fact that alot woman will end up spending a big chunk of there working lives having to do unpaid work. Thereality is that woman will always be the primary care givers because ultimately they are the ones who give birth.

  • Brett Melverton

    hmmm..? Not sure John was saying that women shouldn’t make up 50%. Have we passed the point now that we are not allowed to assume that women make up the majority of in home carers?
    I’m a stay at home dad who works part time. I know the understated value of women (or blokes like me) who stay home, keep home and raise the kids. Jumping down a mans neck for a comment like that is drawing a long bow.

  • KO

    This story really worries me. Despite working since I was 17. I got my first full-time permanent job when I was 21 after I finished university. It was the early 80s and I remember applying for my first home loan in a country town, it was knocked back because I was not married.

    I tried again for a home loan in the 90s but was knocked back even though I had an unbroken work history, excellent credit history and good deposit but I didn’t have a loan guarantor.

    I come from a poor family, my father was very ill for most of his life with work related emphysema. Though my parents would have put there very small modest house up as guarantee for me if I asked, I couldn’t ask that of them, it would have been unthinkable to risk their house.

    Suffice to say I didn’t have the confidence to apply for another home loan until last year.
    I’ve always been on a small modest income but also have a very modest lifestyle and managed to save a good deposit and contribute more into super and have no debts. But guess what, I was told it would be rejected as I’m and too old now.

    The reason I was given it that with the tightened lending recommendations they are reluctant to lend to people who are going to retire in the next 10 years to have loans over a primary residence. In case it needs to be sold to cover the remaining debt. Not a good look for banks if they are making people homeless apparently. This is despite the fact my super when available, would have easily covered the debt.

    Ironic policy as it also stops you from buying a first home and keeps you in unsecure renting.

    Now I don’t know what to do. I’m saving furiously to try to buy a very modest house, hopefully in a small country town, as all I dream about is my own garden, but the property market is outpacing me and it will be further and further away from health care.

  • julie Boyd

    One very simple solution would be to provide unemployed women over 55 with a Centrelink allowance equivalent to the aged pension. It is possible to live on that. It is not possible to live on Newstart which is what widows and older women were relegated back to by the Abbott govt. The problem is that older women have no voice- and no-one will allow them one. This problem all harks back to women who are now older not being allowed to put anything into superannuation, then losing out in divorce settlements as the bloke’s super was not considered as part of any ‘property settlement’.
    It’s an appalling state of affairs. So many can’t get jobs- even though they have higher ed quals (over-qualified!), can’t get money (Newstart is not possible to live on) and can’t even die (suicide and/or euthanasia is illegal!). Our dogs get treated better than mothers and grandmothers- unless you’re a greyhound!

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