Saturday, October 30, 2004

Do we need the OSW?

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, has an article in today's Age defending the Office of the Status of Women (OSW).

Mrs Goward begins her article by complaining that the OSW only has several dozen policy officers compared to several hundred generalist policy officers. This, in itself, is a revelation. John Howard has retained 35 or more feminist policy officers to comment on and scrutinise all cabinet submissions.

This is yet more evidence that the Liberal Party is what its name suggests, a party based on a liberal, rather than a conservative, philosophy (all the talk of left-liberals, that Howard is a 1950s kind of guy, acts like a kind of smokescreen, obscuring the fact that the Liberal Party leans more toward feminism than against it).

In her article, Pru Goward argues that there are four reasons for preserving the role of the OSW. These are:

1. Women are physically weaker than men and so are more likely to be the victims of domestic violence. The national programme against domestic violence must therefore specifically consider the issue of gender.

The problem with this argument is that the great fault with the national programme on domestic violence is that it focuses too exclusively on male violence against women. If any reform of the programme is needed it is to recognise not only that men are at times the victims of domestice violence, but that women are frequently the perpetrators (not just against men, but against children and other women).

Is it likely that the feminists at the OSW will rectify this problem and thereby justify their existence? I think not. They are, in fact, part of the problem.

2. Pru Goward also argues that women are economically disadvantaged. She uses as evidence the fact that men have more retirement savings than women, and that sole parent mothers are not especially wealthy.

These, however, are weak arguments. Of course men have more retirement savings than women: men are in the workforce longer and thereby accumulate more superannunation. But presumably much of this "male" superannuation will be spent to support both the husband and the wife in their retirement. It is, in fact, in the interests of most women to encourage their husbands to accumulate additional retirement savings.

And of course single mothers won't be counted amongst the wealthiest in society. Many will be on a government pension, and the rest won't have the advantage of a husband's wage. But how could this be different? Pru Goward suggests giving women more educational advantages, but as she herself admits, females are already outperforming males at school and university. Do we really want this trend to be even further intensified?

A better option would be to try to reverse the trend toward single motherhood, but again, the feminists at the OSW are not exactly the right people for the job.

3. Pru Goward also suggests that as a small country Australia must lift its female workforce participation rate in order to compete economically.

This is further proof of the fact that feminists, despite officially promising "more choice" for women, are usually opposed to the choice of women to stay home to care for their families. (I've explained this further in an article at Conservative Central, "Is family a valid feminist choice?")

Do we really need more mothers in the workforce? The evidence suggests not. Pru Goward states that Australia has a relatively low workplace participation rate. And yet Australia's economy has been one of the strongest in the world for a decade or more. This hardly suggests that there is a vital connection between participation rates and economic growth.

4. The final argument Pru Goward makes is that Australia needs to lift its fertility rate, and that "Wherever you look in the Western world, countries that provide support for working motherhood enjoy higher fertility rates than those which do not."

This is simply a feminist myth. The Western countries which provide the most support for working mothers are the Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden. The Western countries which intervene less in the family are the Anglophone ones, particularly America, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.

If we compare the two groupings we find that fertility rates are generally lower in the Scandinavian countries. In fact, out of the 28 OECD nations the two countries with the highest fertility rates are America and Ireland, then Iceland and then New Zealand. Norway and Denmark are 6th and 7th, Australia is 11th and Sweden is 13th.

Not only does Sweden, the most feminist of all nations, come in a middling 13th in the fertility stakes, it also has the dubious honour of having the world's second highest divorce rate. It is hardly a model for countries like Australia to follow.

It's also instructive to look at recent research by Dr Bob Birrell of Monash University. He studied Australian fertility data and concluded that the key problem was a decline in marriage, rather than a failure to support mothers in the workforce.

Women are still having children once they marry, but fewer women are marrying and those who do marry later. According to Dr Birrell, a key factor in the decline in marriage rates is a growing underclass of men with insufficient education and poor incomes. So if we really want to improve fertility rates, a key focus ought to be helping to improve the employment prospects of low income men.

Once again, I doubt if the feminists at the OSW will offer their services to support this aim.

So do we really need an OSW? Not on the basis of Pru Goward's arguments. It is wrong, I believe, for feminists to be privileged the way they are now. It is not even the case that most women identify as feminists, let alone men. What then is the justification for having feminist policy officers scrutinising all cabinet submissions?

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