Equality before the Law – you think?!
When the Family Law Act came into being in 1975 it was hailed as one of the most progressive pieces of family legislation in the Western world. Australia was one of the first western nations to bring about ‘no-fault’ divorce. And it was a momentous moment for women. At last they could leave unhappy and abusive husbands without the trauma of proving fault.
However, there remains one significant fault with the concept of equality within the family law arena – the fact that men and women, mothers and fathers are not equal.
Just look at the recent figures that came out from the Hilda survey in the last couple of weeks.
Male breadwinners continue to dominate within heterosexual couples with 75% of men continuing to earn more than their female partners. Women were less likely to earn more money than their partner if the couple had dependent children.
And women continue to do the bulk of unpaid work.
Women are considerably more likely to be unpaid carers than men, with 9.1% of females aged 15 and over providing unpaid care on an ongoing basis in 2011, compared with 5.8% of males aged 15 and over.
The survey also found that gender roles in households are persisting, with women doing 15 hours more housework each week than men, and 12 hours more child rearing.
Check out the article in the Guardian
Women constitute 69.9% of all part time employees, according to the Australian government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
Once separated many women as single parents are left in poverty. The cuts to single-parent payments over the past decade have coincided with a rise in child poverty.
So when a couple separate women are at a disadvantage economically and often socially and physically. They take on the responsibility of parenting both emotionally and physically at a greater rate than men. This often involves sacrificing their own careers and future financial stability. They make an emotional commitment to parenting that men are not obliged to make. Men have the option of opting in or out of parenting, which women do not.
We hold women responsible not only for ensuring the care of children, but also of maintaining the family. We herald women as mothers as the core of the family unit – “Good on you Mum”. But when things go wrong we blame women – for not holding a family together, for not being available to their children, for aiming for more than motherhood.
And yet even when families separate women are held responsible for ensuring that children continue to have a positive relationship with their fathers. And when they don’t do this – most often because of fears of their children’s safety in the care of an abusive father, or concerns for the children’s well-being with a father who has shown little interest in parenting in the past – they are punished by a family law system that hails fathers’ rights as being paramount.
We hold the concept of the mother-child bond as being on the highest pedestal – but only when she is firmly ensconced in a relationship with the father.
We know that a child’s bond with its primary parent is essential to a child’s ongoing emotional and social development. And yet the family law system is deliberately structured to ignore past behaviors within the family and focus on the future – a future which often involves damaging the attachment between the primary parent (mother) and the child to ensure that fathers maintain their patriarchal rights over children.
We need to examine the basis of the patriarchal family and how this is the driving force behind such inequalities for women and scrutinize how the structure of the patriarchal family can be a perilous place for women and children.
I will be writing more on this issue – there is so much more to write!
For more information see articles and research at the WEAVE website.
And Women’s Safety After Separation website.