No one writes about the issue of women in Jersey. None of the "macho" Jersey bloggers would ever dream of mentioning feminism. The female members of the States of Jersey remain indifferent and mute on the subject. So why do women’s issues count for so little today?
Back in the 90's there were active campaigns around reproduction rights and the legalisation of abortion. There was even a magazine dedicated to women's issues called "Née". I was interviewed on the campaign alongside another young lawyer by the name of Christopher Lakeman and there I set out the arguments for a women's right to choose. I helped to found the group "Pro Choice".
A few days ago, as part of a Reform Jersey voter registration campaign, I knocked on the door of a single mother in central town and part of District 1 St Helier and she told me she was utterly bored looking after a toddler and wanted to return to work. She could not afford to do so because the cost of child care was so high. Social Security told her she was better off financially to remain on Income Support and not bother returning to work.
Caroline the Nursey Nurse
Work is what Caroline wanted. She knew it was what integrated her into society. She missed her colleagues. It is ironic that Caroline is a Nursery Nurse. Potential wages are so low that she cannot afford to the nursery care that would enable her to return to work as a Nursery Nurse. What a crazy economic system!
One answer might be a State and Parish child care scheme that would allow women to return to work. Why is it not in place? Why is it not top priority for politicians when it is the single most talked about obstacle for families regardless of their social background?
State and Parish subsidised child care would assist mothers, but it would also be a subsidy to employers who are paying wages too low for women to enter the work force. What women need are pay rises.
What Caroline needs is a job with decent pay that would enable her to bring up her child and the child care to enable her to achieve that.
It is sometimes said that the middle class have children whilst the working class just “breed”. Such prejudice might well be found amongst those who despise single mothers. Yet the right to have children should be a Human Right, not one confined to those with the wealth to afford them. Why should the working class be denied the right to have children on the basis they cannot afford to keep them and should therefore not have them?
Recently a group of middle class Feminists organised a conference in the Grand Hotel around the theme of advancing women in society and politics. They would not call themselves Feminists, no doubt because such a term might, in polite society, be regarded as rather vulgar.
At the conference there was much talk about the “glass ceiling” that prevented women getting onto the Boards of companies and entering the States Assembly, where there are only a handful of women currently. What struck me was that there was no discussion of where was the “floor”? By that I mean the position of working class women, who suffer from low wages and part time work whilst being responsible for child care. There is a recognised 19% pay gap between men and women, but the issue for working class women is low pay.
What is to be done?
So what is to be done to improve the situation of working and non working women?
The issue of maternity rights would be a starter. This exists in the UK having been introduced by a Labour government in the 90’s yet remains to be implemented in Jersey by a government that lacks the will to deliver.
As mentioned, state and Parish organised child care facilities should be a popular policy for any politician seeking to address the needs of working families.
The field is wide open for discussion yet few take it seriously. Elections are only around the corner in 2014. Women must put themselves on the political agenda. By asserting themselves they will emancipate us all.
Oh, and Happy New Year.
Oh, and Happy New Year.