News Comment

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Men have made it impossible for women to do well at work and care for those we love

Barbara Scully

Published 20/06/2014 | 02:30

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It's a struggle to balance work and family
Barbara Scully

It is very difficult to talk on the phone and steer a double buggy at the same time. On a nippy afternoon I was walking around our local park, trying to hold a conversation with a former colleague. She was in work, in an office we had shared up to the previous week.

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"Where are you?" she asked.

"I am pushing the double buggy around the park while the chicken roasts," I said.

"It's well for you," she said.

It was one of those rare eureka moments. It was indeed well for me. Balancing the phone on my shoulder while needing two hands to manage the double buggy was difficult but it was nowhere near as difficult as juggling a full-time job with a baby, a toddler and a young teenager.

I was about to drop all the balls, so we decided that I would resign my job to take a year out to be with the children, who were costing a fortune in the creche anyway.

It was probably the scariest decision I ever made. I had always worked. I never dreamed of being a 'housewife'.

Recent reports suggest that women are coming under increasing amounts of stress in the workplace.

Friends First is the country's largest income-protection insurer and it recently analysed its data for 2013 and discovered that women made up 54pc of the income-protection claims.

Claims due to psychiatric illness are also on the increase and it is women who are making 64pc of psychiatric claims.

So what is happening to women in the workforce? Are we just not able to cope with the cut and thrust of modern working life?

Or are men to blame because they still don't do their fair share of domestic duties and childcare? Or is it our biology that is making the difference?

To me it's clear that our biology can cause us enormous problems as we try to fit into a world of work that was created by men for men who had wives at home doing the caring and the domestic duties.

Women are, generally, by our very nature, the carers and nurturers. And that element of our being is not something we can easily switch off. The mistake we make as women is that we see this as a weakness instead of a strength.

It is that urge to care for those we love that causes us such difficulty in the workplace. The stress of waking up on a morning when you have an important meeting or presentation or trip to make and finding that your baby has a temperature has to be experienced to be understood.

Our society is increasingly organised on the basis that caring, which was traditionally done silently and invisibly by women in the home, is something that we can now shift into the periphery. But caring is a fundamental part of life.

We will all need to be cared for at some point, whether it's as babies, or when we face some serious illness or when we are old.

In Ireland, we place little or no value on the work of caring. The pay level of those who work as care assistants, either in creches or nursing homes, is proof positive of this.

I applaud senator Susan O'Keeffe, who unfortunately caused all kinds of problems for government but nevertheless was upfront about wanting to return home to Sligo to support her daughter through the Leaving Cert.

These things are important. We need to stop apologising for demanding them.

Women will never experience true equality as long as we attempt to subjugate the very part of ourselves that makes us women.

Caring doesn't create financial or material wealth. But it is a vital function in a healthy society. Women need to demand that it be given priority. We must stop apologising for needing to take some time out to care.

Having gained (more or less) equality in the workplace, women must now fundamentally change how the workplace operates.

It's not just about affordable or subsidised childcare – although that would be a great start. It's about subsidising care – all care – in the way we do education.

It's about ensuring care is of the highest quality. It's about putting caring at the very centre of the life of the country instead of shoving it off into the shadows.

And boy, do we in Ireland know a thing or two about shoving issues we don't want to deal with off into the shadows.

Irish Independent

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