Recent Resources for Feminists
Pakistan: Govt blames women to duck blame for widespread death toll of children in Thar Print E-mail
Sunday April 17th, 2016

Health: The state’s misogyny

By Moniza Inam

Horrifying stories abound in the media, about the widespread death toll of children in Thar; unbearable images of malnourished and stunted children in incubators and hospital wards have been displayed on our TV screens, day in and day out. According to press reports, 398 children died in 2015, and based on anecdotal evidence, this year shall once again see such a high mortality rate.

As more of these breaking stories are highlighted in sensational headlines, the government continues to vehemently deny responsibility for the crisis, claiming that these deaths are normal and occur every year.

There was a lot of hue and cry in the national media when the advisor to the chief minister on information, Maula Bux Chandio, said that children are dying in Thar because of the carelessness of their mothers, and underage marriages ­ while another minister blamed a Thari mother for not practising family planning, and having a large family.

The government states that malnourishment and death of Thari children is business as usual, and has resorted to woman blaming tropes in their statements, but health experts counter that it isn’t the norm ­ nor should it be

What these unfounded allegations sweep under the carpet is the failure of the state to provide awareness about, and access to, healthy eating practices and family planning. Another glaring oversight by the government is the lack of initiative in combating famine, prevalent in Thar due to years of drought in the region.

Interviews with doctors, paramedical staff, Lady Health Workers (LHWs), the district health officer, NGOs and a tour to the District Hospital Mithi, indicate that while factors contributing to the Thar health crisis are numerous, they are also, for the most part, preventable; such as access to basic health facilities, and programmes aimed at decreasing malnourishment.

Clinics, clinics everywhere but not a doctor in sight
Most mothers present at District Hospital Mithi displayed symptoms of chronic malnourishment. Unfortunately, such women often live in far-flung areas of the desert, and transport facilities are few and far between, so seeking medical intervention is beyond their reach.

While on paper there are 250 dispensaries in the district, only 160 are functional. In addition, since a majority of Tharis reside in remote villages, accessing basic medical services is difficult. The solution ­ to have these services closer to where Tharis live ­ is proving elusive due to a shortage of medical staff, partly due to the government’s inability to hire doctors at low salaries.

Kathau Jani, a journalist working in the area, claims that part of the reason demand hasn’t met supply is due to the authorities’ haphazard hiring practices: “As appointment through the Sindh Public Service Commission was taking time, there were some ad-hoc appointments, and 70 doctors were appointed on contract. After their contracts ended they were not renewed, and these doctors are very upset about it”.

The doctors in Thar also have their own list of grievances, stating that they are severely overworked, as no new appointments have been made, even though hundreds of positions are currently available. As Dr Arjun Kumar, District Health Officer Mithi, points out, “There is a growing need for lady doctors, resident doctors, LHWs, staff nurses, etc but 300 doctors’ posts are lying vacant”.

In addition, Shaikh Tanveer Ahmed, chief executive of the NGO Hands, points out that 20pc of health facilities are non-functional.

Even as many clinics remain devoid of staff, the government has plans to open more; something Ahmed says shall be of no use unless they can attract health professionals to work at such sites. “Two new nutrition centres in Chachro and Nagar Parkar [are to open], but no one is willing to serve there. There should be additional compensation for doctors and paramedical staff to work in such areas,” he claims.

In addition to improving its hiring practices, and providing incentives for healthcare practitioners to work in such remote areas, other innovative solutions such as mobile clinics and dispensaries could also be explored.

For instance, Javaid Nisar Syed, the patron-in-chief of Medibank, an organisation that supplies free medicines for patients across Pakistan, points out that they successfully “initiated a mobile dispensary to reach people residing in inaccessible areas”.

He adds that they are taking a multipronged approach in Thar; and are also working on providing water distillation services, and a deworming campaign, for children.

Last in line
In patriarchal Thar, women’s low standing in the social hierarchy also means that they have little say in family planning, when they get married, and are less likely to access nutritious food.

Dr Sikandar Raza Hanjano, a paediatrician working in District Hospital Mithi, says, “These girls are married off at an early age, have repeated pregnancies, and don’t have a nutritious and balanced diet, which results in underweight and weak babies, who die from preventable diseases.”

Endorsing his views, Dr Bhawan Rap, who is also a paediatrician working at District Hospital Mithi, says, “If the mother is weak, then the child will also be weak and will be [born] prematurely.”

But Dr Kumar argues that Thari women’s malnourishment stems from the diet they follow due to religious beliefs, and customary practices. “Most women follow a diet rich in vegetables but poor in proteins, and are therefore not able to get the calories they need,” he adds.

However, one can argue that it shouldn’t be too difficult for the government to work with local doctors to come up with guidelines for a vegetarian diet that meets the daily protein requirement.

Knowledge is power
In addition to working towards improving access to healthier food, experts argue that better family planning services, and teaching women to be more creative in providing nutritious diets for their newborns, could go a long way towards mitigating the health crisis in the long-term. The key, according to health experts and the government, is creating more awareness.

“There is an urgent need to educate and synthesise the communities about hygiene, balanced diet and nutritious food, especially the nutritional needs of babies after the age of six months, when mothers should give them semi-solid foods to meet their growing needs,” states Dr Hanjano.

Dr Rap also explained that most babies are malnourished as mothers usually feed them a diet which is inappropriate for their child’s age. “They should be taught about the food requirements after six months, as they should feed the [child] cow or goat milk, fruits, vegetables, pulses, etc,” he adds.

In addition to providing children with a nutritious diet, health experts point out that better family planning should lead to improved health for women and their babies.

Lewanti Bai, 45, who works as an assistant district coordinator for the National Programme for Family Planning and Healthcare, a government-run initiative that trains women to provide healthcare services at a community level, said that the major reason for the high infant mortality rate are large family sizes and a lack of birth spacing. While they are working on increasing awareness about family planning, it’s proving to be an uphill task: “Only 40pc of the district is covered by LHWs, and there is one LHW for 1,000 people,” she adds.

In addition to increasing the number of LHWs, many experts, including Dr Sono Khangharani, chief executive officer of Hisaar Foundation, point out that dais (traditional birth attendants) should also be trained, and that the medical facilities and equipment at District Hospital Mithi need to be improved.

Dr Deesha Kumari, a gynaecologist working in District Hospital Mithi, says, that they are also working towards ensuring better family planning practices among Thari women, through more frequent medical follow ups: “When women deliver a child we ask them to come back after every six weeks for family planning, and if they fail to come we do not take their case in this hospital.”

Not that there is much resistance from society ­ the older generation of Thari women seem very supportive of family planning. For instance, Sukhio, a resident of a remote village, and a grandmother, says that she “gave birth to 13 children out of which only eight survived, but advises [her] daughters and daughters-in-law to practice family planning and have fewer kids”.

Deputy Commissioner Mithi, Nisar Ahmed Memon, points out that cases such as Sukio’s aren’t isolated ones, and that the government has seen a wider trend of Tharis adopting ‘modern’ medical treatments. According to him, people are going for immunisation, polio drops and child birth in hospitals.

“All these factors signify change in their thinking and attitude, though at a very slow pace,” he says. He adds that the government “is trying to strengthen the institution of LHWs [through] refresher courses”.

Pakistan: Women & Girls reclaimjng ownership of public spaces via 'Feminism Over Chai' Print E-mail
 Sunday Magazine April 17, 2016

Feminism over chai

By Anuradha Sengupta
  Girls at Dhabas' aims to encourage women in Pakistan to reclaim the ownership of public spaces. (Special Arrangement():

When Sadia Khatri Instagrammed a picture of herself and her friends at a dhaba, she had no idea #girlsatdhabas would become a thing in Pakistan

A Tumblr blog from Pakistan has been making waves and trending on social media around the world. The blog, ‘Girls at Dhabas’, features photos of women hanging out at dhabas, drinking chai, eating, reading, and just being as an act of liberation. It all began when Karachi-based Sadia Khatri posted on Instagram a photograph of her hanging out with some friends at a dhaba, drinking chai, with the hashtag #girlsatdhabas. It was soon trending. Some suggested that Khatri turn it into a series. A Tumblr account was started and soon women from all over Pakistan began sending photographs of themselves in tea shops and other public places, engaged in activities traditionally considered ‘male’, like riding motorcycles, cycling, playing cricket or driving rickshaws. The idea was for women to reappear on streets. In an interview, Khatri speaks about mobility, unlearning gender identities, and drawing inspiration from feminists in India. Excerpts:

What is the idea behind selfies at dhabas?
In addition to being a public space, dhabas represent a break of sorts from the daily grind without having to necessarily buy the experience. It is like people sitting at streetside coffee shops or in other public spaces simply to hang out ­ have a cup of coffee or chat. Taking a selfie or photograph is important, too, because it implies ownership of the space. Women are frequently told to stay out of, or remain invisible in public spaces. Putting all those prescriptions aside to take your own photo in a space you are traditionally not supposed to be in ­ there is a moment of reclamation there.

‘Girls at Dhabas’ wasn’t necessarily a preconceived idea. Our growth has been very organic. The hashtag found resonance after we started documenting photos at dhabas. The hashtag has now come to symbolise a lot more in terms of the conversation around reimagining public space for women in Pakistan.

We are around 10 girls across Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad who manage the page, plan events in our city and co-ordinate with different groups to raise some noise about women’s participation in public space.

We come from varying socio-economic backgrounds and work across fields. Some of us are working full-time, some are in undergrad or grad school, one is a journalist, another, a filmmaker, teacher, graphic designer, and several work with NGOs and research collectives.

Have you been influenced by parallel movements in India?
We have definitely found a lot of strength from ‘Why Loiter?’, as well as other groups such as BLANK NOISE and ‘Feminism in India’. It’s reassuring to know this work isn’t being done in isolation. It’s particularly encouraging to know that there is a history and context to gender dynamics in public spaces in South Asia that many people are trying to battle. Since starting the group, we have connected with feminists, rights workers, NGOs, anthropologists, designers, businesswomen and social workers. It is incredible and relieving to know there is a bigger support group and resource base than we realised, that so much more can be done when we do it together.

Even in terms of situating ourselves as a group, ‘Why Loiter?’ turned out to be an essential resource. Reading the book, we felt like Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade (members of ‘Why Loiter?’) had taken all of our thoughts and articulated them with logic, reason and relevance. Soon After the hashtag #girlsatdhabas received a lot of attention, they reached out to us and we have been in touch, trying to scheme some cross-border collaborations. In December, we hosted #WhyLoiter simultaneously as the folks organised it in India, both online and offline. Since ‘Why Loiter?’ has been around for a while, it is more instantly recognisable than something like #girlsatdhabas. We are definitely taking a lot of cues from them.

What has been the reaction like so far?
For the most part, it’s been fantastic. Submissions haven’t stopped coming in. Girls and women are very enthusiastic about the page and what it stands for. We are constantly getting more stories and ideas and requests for collaborations ­ which shows that the issue of gender and public space resonates with a lot of women. The best are the messages from women, even young girls in school, thanking us for bringing up issues of everyday misogyny.

“I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels like this,” they say. There is a lack of spaces, online and offline, where feminists can connect with each other. The response we’ve got convinces us that we need to keep the community going, because it is clearly filling a gap.

A few months ago, some postgraduate students emailed us because they were doing a project on urban space in Karachi and wanted some context on how to view street norms from the context of gender. We had some fantastic conversations with them, and their project conversely has given us new food for thought.

Have you been able to involve men?
There have been a few men actively involved with #girlsatdhabas from the beginning ­ a circle of friends that has been supportive by helping us with male allies and being there as a sounding board.

The conversation has to take place among all genders because public spaces affect us in different ways, and our interaction with it affects others’ interactions. Amongst our friends, for example, we have discussions about how men, who are extremely comfortable in public space, might be contributing to creating a hostile environment for women. What are the ways in which they can be conscious of their behaviour? How can men interact with other men and make them more sensitive to issues of gender in public space, and gender norms generally.

Audience wise, men are probably the biggest critics of #girlsatdhabas. There is the popular argument based on religion, where we are told our narrative doesn’t fit into the one Islam has prescribed for women; there is the quick dismissal by elite, progressive and ‘secular’ men who feel threatened and can’t figure out why women want to sit at a dhaba and have chai, why it is even an issue ­ but there’s a long way to go before any of those mindsets can be eradicated or addressed.

We are trying to ‘educate’ by example and personal stories because a series of online and offline arguments have convinced us that getting into a ‘debate ’ takes the conversation nowhere.
Anuradha Sengupta is a freelance journalist whose work focuses on issues affecting women’s issues, youth, environment and urban subcultures.

Canada; Indian Immigrants maintain masculized sex ratio at birth, 4,472 'missing girls' Print E-mail
 April 11, 2016


Sex ratios at birth after induced abortion

Marcelo L. Urquia, PhD, Rahim Moineddin, PhD, Prabhat Jha, MD, DPhil, Patricia J. O'Campo, PhD, Kwame McKenzie, MD, Richard H. Glazier, MD, MPH, David A. Henry, MD, Joel G. Ray, MD, MSc
Correspondence to: Marcelo Urquia,

Background: Skewed male:female ratios at birth have been observed among certain immigrant groups. Data on abortion practices that might help to explain these findings are lacking.

Methods: We examined 1 220 933 births to women with up to 3 consecutive singleton live births between 1993 and 2012 in Ontario. Records of live births, and induced and spontaneous abortions were linked to Canadian immigration records. We determined associations of male:female infant ratios with maternal birthplace, sex of the previous living sibling(s) and prior spontaneous or induced abortions.

Results: Male:female infant ratios did not appreciably depart from the normal range among Canadian-born women and most women born outside of Canada, irrespective of the sex of previous children or the characteristics of prior abortions. However, among infants of women who immigrated from India and had previously given birth to 2 girls, the overall male:female ratio was 1.96 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.75-2.21) for the third live birth. The male:female infant ratio after 2 girls was 1.77 (95% CI 1.26-2.47) times higher if the current birth was preceded by 1 induced abortion, 2.38 (95% CI 1.44-3.94) times higher if preceded by 2 or more induced abortions and 3.88 (95% CI 2.02-7.50) times higher if the induced abortion was performed at 15 weeks or more gestation relative to no preceding abortion. Spontaneous abortions were not associated with male-biased sex ratios in subsequent births.

Interpretation: High male:female ratios observed among infants born to women who immigrated from India are associated with induced abortions, especially in the second trimester of pregnancy.
 Thursday April 14, 2016

Study records 4,472 ‘missing girls’ among Indians in Canada

By R. Prasad

Proportion of males rose according to birth order among Indian mothers.

If an Indian immigrant couple in Canada has already had two children, the likelihood of the third child being a girl is less likely.

A paper published on April 11 in the journal CMAJ Open notes that the skewed sex ratio among Indian immigrants in Canada has resulted in about “4,472 missing girls”. The actual number of missing girls may be much higher given that the calculations based on the ratios did not factor in repeated induced abortions of female foetuses. The deficit in the number of newborn girls to Indian immigrants in Canada is around 200 per year.

Unlike in the general trend of 103-106 boys per 100 girls, the proportion of male children increased according to the birth order among Indian-born mothers. The majority of missing girls occurs at the third and higher order birth. Indian mothers, who already had two children, gave birth to 138 boys per 100 girls. It increased to 166 boys per 100 girls when Indian mothers in Canada already had three children.

Dr. Marcelo Urquia, the first author from St. Michael’s Hospital, Ontario, and others note that the presence of an Indian-born father skewed the ratio towards more boys per 100 girls at the second and higher birth orders immaterial of whether the mother was born in India or not.

“It is a woman’s right to undergo an abortion in Canada. No questions are asked regarding the reasons. Induced abortions are legal and free in Canada,” Dr. Urquia told in an e-mail to The Hindu. “Implantation of male embryos are not allowed under Canadian law. However, there is no law preventing women to undergo an abortion for any particular reason, even if it involves sex selection.”

The paper says that the sex ratio among Indian-born mothers with two previous daughters was 196 boys per 100 girls overall. The study examined birth certificate data of 5.8 million births to Canadian-born women and 1,77,990 Indian-born women between 1990 and 2011.
~ Tuesday April 12 2016

Baby boy boom among Indian immigrants in Canada

  Photo for representational purpose only. ­(Thinkstock)

Washington DC: A recent study has found that Indian-born women in Canada, who already have daughters, are giving birth to more males than expected, making the sex ratios skew toward boys.

The likelihood of male births increases if women had had an induced abortion before the male birth. The natural odds of having a boy are in the range of 103 to 107 boys for every 100 girls.

Researchers looked at the data from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and the Citizenship and Immigration Canada permanent resident database on more than 1.2 million births in women with having a third child in Ontario between April 1, 1993, and March 31, 2012. Of the total group, 1,53,829 (12.6 per cent) were immigrant women from Asia.

Among women born in India, who already had two girls, the ratio of male to female babies for the third birth was almost double the average, with 196 boys born for every 100 girls.

If an Indian-born mother with two daughters had had an abortion before the third child, the sex ratio increased to 326 boys for every 100 girls and to 409 boys if the mother had had multiple abortions.

If a woman had an abortion at or after 15 weeks, when ultrasound can determine sex of the fetus, the sex ratio rose further, to 663 boys for every 100 girls.

"Among some Indian immigrants, the practice of induced abortions is associated with subsequently having a boy, especially at the third birth and among women with two previous girls," states Dr Marcelo Urquia with coauthors.

The researchers suggest that these findings "provide details about specific factors associated with this practice." They concluded that further research may clarify the social and cultural forces that influence some immigrant couples to have more sons than daughters, particularly in the Canadian context, which is a more sex-egalitarian society and where the given reasons for preferring sons are supposed to be undermined.

In a related commentary, Dr Abdool Yasseen and DR Thierry Lacaze-Masmonteil wrote, the results suggest that prenatal sex selection is likely present among first-generation immigrants to Canada from India and provide strong evidence that suggests induced abortions are being used to select infant sex in Canada.

He added, “We hope that these findings stimulate discussion toward the re-evaluation and development of public health policies aimed at eliminating the practice of prenatal sex selection in Canada." The study appeared in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). ­ANI

Australia: Royal Commission's Face of Family Violence - 34 yr-old Australian born male Print E-mail

 Thursday March 30, 2016

Family violence: Portrait of an abuser

By Bianca Hall /Legal Affairs Reporter for The Age

Family violence royal commission urges more safety hubs

Watch Royal Commissioner Marcia Neave call for new one-stop safety hubs among other recommendations for the Victorian government. (Video courtesy ABC News 24)

Family violence has a face and we now know what it looks like: an unemployed, 34-year-old Australian-born man.

The Royal Commission into Family Violence - a vast compendium of more than 2000 pages and seven volumes - draws on a wealth of data about the perpetrators - and victims - of family violence, collected over more than a decade.
The average violent partner is 34, unemployed and Australian, but he can come from all walks of life.

Thanks to that data, we now know that it is a small proportion of domestic abusers who account for most of the abuse.

Similarly, most incidents of domestic violence happen only once - or, perhaps, are only reported to police once.

Between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2014, Victoria Police recorded 403,991 family violence incidents against 197,822 offenders.

Of those, more than 60 per cent - or 125,044 people - never came into contact with police for family violence again.

But those dangerous men who bash their partners or ex-partners, and then do it again, display common risk factors that often accompanied their repeat offending.

They were more likely to to be unemployed, with a history of depression or other mental health issues. Their partner was pregnant, or there was a newborn in the home. He drank too much or struggled with drug addiction. Some combination of these issues, or some other stressor, led to an escalation of disputes in the home.

"Though they only represented 9 per cent of all unique perpetrators, the 16,914 recidivist perpetrators who were recorded for five or more incidents accounted for 34 per cent of all incidents," the report notes.

But for those who did, they became more and more likely to assault again.

Chillingly, the presence of children in the home at the time of a violence incident made it more likely there would be another violent episode.

In 65 per cent of incidents where a relationship was recorded, the violence occurred between current or former partners. In the other 35 per cent, another family member - perhaps a child - bore the brunt.

But those who abused their partners or ex-partners were more likely to repeat their abuse than those who assaulted another family member.

Scanning five years of emergency department data from 2009, the commission could trace common injury patterns - more than half the women (56 per cent) reporting family violence at a hospital had been struck by or collided with another person.

The 9 per cent of perpetrators who committed five or more family violence crimes between 2004/05 and 2013/14 were responsible for 34 per cent of all family violence incidents, the Royal Commission found.

"Perpetrators with one to two prior recorded family violence incidents are 2.26 times more likely to be recorded for a recidivism incident than those with no prior recorded incidents. Perpetrators with three or more prior recorded incidents are 4.5 times more likely to be recorded for a recidivism incident."

In one year alone, 2010-11, Victoria Police recorded 30,695 individual abusers.

Despite the assertions of some who would have us believe women are just as likely to abuse as men, where police recorded the offender's gender, they found 77 per cent were male, and 23 per cent female. Women were more likely to assault another family member, while men were more likely to assault their current or former partners.

Based on data provided by homelessness services offering support to people fleeing violence, hospitals, courts and men's behaviour change programs, male offenders are overwhelmingly Australian-born.

Australia: Gender pay gap begins in childhood, pay-secrecy widens the gap in the workplace Print E-mail

 Melbourne ~ Tuesday March 8, 2016\

Girls get less pocket money

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons /Money Editor

The gender pay gap starts in childhood.

Boys get more pocket money, even though 10 and 11-year-old girls do more housework than their brothers.

When I was at my children's school this week, a little girl in my son's kindergarten class started chatting to me.

She told me proudly that she had $2 in her pocket and was planning to buy a fruit jelly cup at the canteen.

Our family hasn't started pocket money yet. The currency at our house is Woolworths animal cards, but I suspect we'll graduate to gold coins before long.

About age five or six seems to be typical for starting a regular allowance, though some parents even give pocket money to toddlers.

By late primary school, two out of three Australian children get pocket money, according to the CensusAtSchool study by Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Research by Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) suggests that regular pocket money helps develop financial literacy. Parents also have to track what their children spend it on, and model good behaviour by being responsible with their own finances.

There are different schools of thought on whether to link pocket money to chores. Of course, it's good to teach children that money is something you earn, but children should also do chores simply to be helpful members of a household.

Whatever you decide, it seems that pocket money can be a force for good. The idea is that if children have to budget income and expenditure and save for financial goals, it teaches better life lessons than simply giving them money when they need it, or want it.

This isn't about how much Lego your kids can buy, it's about their future solvency.

Which is why I found it deeply disturbing to discover there's a gender pocket money gap in Australia.

Boys earn $13 a week in pocket money on average, while girls get $9.60, according to a survey done for the Heritage Bank and released in time for International Women's Day this week. The bank made similar findings in 2014.

That's a whopping 35 per cent more dosh for boys – worse even than the 17.9 per cent pay gap for grown-ups identified by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

The survey didn't probe the reasons, though it revealed 29 per cent of kids have to complete chores before they get paid.

Perhaps families are dividing housework along gender lines and boys are doing chores with more perceived value. Is washing the car worth more than cleaning the bathroom?

Or perhaps there is a greater expectation that girls will help with the housework without being paid for it. The AIFS has found 10 and 11-year-old girls do more housework than boys.

Or maybe boys just drive a harder bargain, helping them develop the negotiation skills that see them strike better salary deals from graduate level right through to the c-suite.

Whatever the reason, we're selling our girls short.

I don't believe it's a coincidence that young women are so freaked out about money. The annual survey of wellbeing by the National Australia Bank found women under 30 suffer higher levels of anxiety than everyone else, mainly because of financial worries.

In our country, men hold the economic power, dominating lists such as the BRW Rich 200 and Young Rich. Meanwhile, women are more likely to live in poverty, ABS figures show.

Women earn less on average even for full-time work, are less likely to invest the money they do earn, and reach old age with vastly different retirement savings. Women aged 55-64 have just over $180,000 saved in super on average, compared with nearly $322,000 for men, ABS figures show. Yet women over the age of 50 are much more likely to live alone, according to the AIFS.

Given the economic inequality of men and women, parents need to work harder to ensure their daughters have the financial skills they need for life. Pocket money is just the start.

At least I know the pocket money gap won't happen in our house – we have boy-girl twins, which makes questions of fairness and gendered expectations much more obvious.
 Melbourne ~ Tuesday March 8, 2016

Pay secrecy lets employers get away with paying women less

Michelle Brown and Leanne Griffin

Forcing workers to stay quiet about pay keeps women’s wage rates lower than those of men in equivalent jobs

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

It's International Women's Day and again we lament the pay gap between men and women. In Australia, the gender pay gap stands at 18.2 per cent. In other words, women must work an extra 66 days each year to earn the same amount as men. Disturbingly, the gender pay gap is getting worse. Back in 2004, it was 14.9 percent. What's going on?

Occupational choice, part-time employment, and underrepresentation in management are regularly rolled out to explain why women are paid less. An often overlooked cause is pay secrecy.

Pay secrecy is the practice of prohibiting employees from sharing pay information. In Australia, more than half of all employers enforce pay secrecy policies. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency analysis shows the pay gap is largest when pay is secret, in an individual agreement (20.6 per cent) and almost non-existent when pay is transparent via an award (-2.5 per cent). In between awards and individual agreements are collective agreements. Under a collective agreement the gender pay gap is 16.9 per cent.

The gender pay gap is wider than ever. (Jim Pavlidis)

Employers use pay secrecy to compartmentalise pay intelligence: each employee knows what he or she is paid, but not what anyone else in their workplace is paid. Through pay secrecy, employers control pay information and keep employees in the dark.

Pay secrecy allows conscious or unconscious bias and stereotyping when making pay allocation decisions. This means managers are free to apply criteria that disadvantage women, such as using lack of "face time" (that is, arguing men spend more time in the workplace than women), or "perceived similarity" (that is, with most managers being male, they rate other men as having greater value to their organisation than women).

Unequal access to information makes it difficult for women to detect when they are underpaid. Take the famous case of Lilly Ledbetter in the US. For 20 years, Ledbetter was the only female supervisor among 16 male supervisors for Goodyear Tire in Alabama. She earned less than all her male colleagues, including those with less seniority, yet she did not know that she was underpaid because her workplace prohibited employees from discussing their pay. It was only after she received an anonymous note that revealed the earnings of her male colleagues that she realised she was underpaid.

Unfortunately, Ledbetter's case is not unique. Ask most women and they will recount stories of gender pay discrimination. Without relative pay information, women such as Ledbetter cannot identify and challenge illegal practices such as pay discrimination or seek better pay elsewhere.

Pay secrecy also places women in a precarious position whenever they do suspect pay discrimination. They are hamstrung: they cannot present evidence of discrimination to their employer without revealing that they have also breached pay secrecy policy. In Australia, penalties for employees caught breaching these policies range from informal warnings to dismissal.

Unfortunately, it is not simply a case of women negotiating their way to fairer pay. Under pay secrecy, employers control pay information and with it, enjoy an imbalance of power. Without pay data, women occupy a weak bargaining position. They must rely on other negotiating tactics. But pay negotiations can be a minefield for women. Effective negotiating tactics such as self-promotion (widely used by men) are shown to backfire for women.

Women are socialised not to negotiate – they assume they will be recognised and rewarded for good performance. Managers, believing that women will accept less than men, typically make lower opening offers to women.

Pay decisions go unchecked as organisations do not need to justify their decisions. Decision-making quality and ethical behaviour deteriorates when transparency is low. In the absence of accountability, the incentive to correct existing pay inequity also diminishes. Certainly, our research indicates many organisations are aware of pay inequities but lack the urgency to correct them.

So, how do we combat the effects of pay secrecy? Abolish pay secrecy and give employees control over their own pay information. Unless we make employers accountable, we cannot expect gender pay equality to improve. If history is a judge, we cannot rely on employers to self-regulate pay parity.

The law changes behaviour. Right now legislation is before the Senate aimed at ending pay secrecy. It safeguards employees' right to share pay information and prevents employers from punishing those who do.

The legislation marks an important step towards improving gender pay parity. If passed, women will be able to use pay data to negotiate better pay outcomes. Employers will also become more accountable as they relinquish control of the flow of pay information. Greater pay transparency provides the best hope for reducing gender pay inequality driven by bias, discrimination and nepotism.

Opponents of the bill argue that pay secrecy promotes workplace harmony and provides organisations with greater wage flexibility. They forget that performance-based pay is already well established in Australia. It is widely understood that individuals are rewarded differently for good and bad performance. Increasing pay transparency should only enhance organisational productivity, since pay secrecy blocks pay signals that stimulate job performance.

The tide is turning on pay secrecy. Governments in Britain and the United States have recognised the link between pay secrecy and gender pay inequity. Both countries have already legislated against this practice. Pay secrecy laws do make a difference.

Eleven states in the US have legal provisions covering pay secrecy. According to Marlene Kim at the University of Massachusetts, compared women's pay in states that prohibit pay secrecy compared with those that do not. She found that women's wages are higher (between 4 and 12 per cent depending on how the data was analysed) in those states with pay secrecy laws compared to the non-pay secrecy law states.

Pay parity is urgently needed. We all stand to gain. The traditional notion of the male bread winner is folklore as more women return to the workforce or never leave it. All Australians would benefit from earning "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work".

Professor Michelle Brown and Leanne Griffin are researching pay secrecy at the University of Melbourne.
 Melbourne ~ Tuesday  March 8, 2016

ACT has second lowest gender pay gap but it's still unacceptable, advocates say

By  Clare Sibthorpe /Canberra Times reporter

Equality advocates are calling on less talk and more action to reduce the gender pay gap in the ACT and the Australian workforce.

International Women's Day on Tuesday reignited a national discussion over gender inequality. And when it comes to equal wages, Canberra is doing significantly better than the rest of the country – except for South Australia.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed full-time average earnings for ACT men were 11.5 per cent greater than those of full-time working women as of November. The national pay gap was at 17.3 per cent, which equates to a full-time average earning difference of $277.70 a week.

The ACT's gap remained stagnant from the previous year. But during the recent period of November 2014-15, SA overtook the ACT with the lowest gender pay gap, most recently 10.3 per cent.

The figures seem to reflect the large proportion of the city's workforce in the ACT public service, which revealed a gender pay gap of 2 per cent in its last State of the Service Report.

Australian of the Year David Morrison said the public service had paid close attention to pay equality, but said a gender imbalance in both the public and private sector was high.

"You would expect a gender pay gap to be illustrative of that bias towards men holding more positions than women," he said.

"It would seem that across various workplaces, there is a much more significant issue around women just simply being paid less for the same work their male peers are doing.

"And it's not just your fortnightly pay here, but with an average wage across an average lifetime, the difference between superannuation between a man and a woman can be as much as $700,000."

He said two urgent solutions were "relatively simply": Put measures in place that ensure all employees are paid equally for the same work, and improve financial security for women to ensure a manageable work/life balance.

This entrenched gender bias was highlighted by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which found that among top tier managers in Australian organisations, men are paid on average $100,000 more a year than women. It also found a $27,000 difference between what male and female employees earn in an average year.

The director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Libby Lyons, is calling for a gender pay gap analysis in every organisation.

"Once they have determined what their gender pay gap is, then they need to really work on developing an action plan to systematically address that pay gap," she said.

Ms Lyons stressed that having biases "doesn't make you a bad person, it just means you're normal" and they can be minimised by consciously noting them when recruiting, promoting and giving bonuses.

Interestingly, research released this week by Australian Council of Trade Unions found that the gender pay gap begins early in life.

They claim that girls receive 11 per cent less pocket money than boys, and female graduates earn 5 per cent less than male graduates – despite females making up 60 per cent of graduates in Australia.

The gap widens with experience, as female post-graduate salaries are 82 per cent of male graduates.

While the ACT's gender wage gap is low when compared nationally, Canberra Business Chamber chief executive officer Robyn Hendry believes 11 per cent is still unacceptable.

"Our numbers have stagnated, so that suggests that we've picked some of the low hanging fruit and done the obvious things such as recruiting from a range of backgrounds, and females are a part of that," she said.

"But then we are so used to discounting – maybe completely subconsciously – that pay negotiation area."

Like Ms Lyons, Ms Hendry agreed tackling cultural attitudes and inbuilt language is crucial for change.

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